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Twenty Years of Yarrh

Twenty Years of Yarrh

My goodness, our 20th anniversary!  Starting out as “Yass River Vineyard”, we planted our first vines, Cabernet Sauvignon, on 22 November 1997, in an old sheep paddock off a dirt road.  Three more plantings over the next three years saw the vineyard completed.  Six hectares were duly trained, watered, weeded and fed, giving us our first small crop in 2001.

Our first vintage was a small batch of Cabernet Sauvignon made with borrowed equipment in the garage.  Not bad for a first try, either.  Not sure that we have any left, which is always a good sign.

Next was the winery.  We wanted long term sustainability and a building that blended into the landscape, finally settling on a passive solar design featuring straw bale, rammed earth, and classic aussie corro.   It works well, not only as a place to make wine and serve our guests, but also as a magnificent bush retreat for friends and family.  How’s the serenity!  

We opened our doors in December 2004.  Friends, family, neighbours and colleagues gathered to witness our welcome to the land by Eric Bell (now deceased), one of our local aboriginal elders.  It was a moving ceremony, reminding us that we are just temporary custodians of this land within a timespan of profound immensity.

Some highlights over the years:

  • Grafting in two new clones of Sangiovese, now some Fiano
  • Exporting to China, Norway and Vietnam (although we now concentrate exclusively on the domestic market)
  • Introducing a new label
  • Transitioned to a hybrid conventional/organic farming regime
  • Discovering the world of “natural” wines (or “natchies”)
  • Being rated a 4 ½ star winery by James Halliday
  • Helping Hartley Lifecare and our local bush fire brigade with their fundraising

And here’s a few rough numbers from the last 20 years:

  • 13,000 vines planted, trained and managed
  • 400 tonnes of grapes crushed
  • 200,000 litres of wine bottled
  • 500 tonnes of compost made
  • A couple of thousand Wine Club packs delivered
  • 30-40 medals awarded
  • 33 wine festivals celebrated
  • 90 monthly food and wine matching lunches served
  • 13 winter solstice bonfires lit
  • Thousands of happy (well, mostly!) customers, many now long term (thank you, you know who you are)

“Why do you do it?” people sometimes ask.  It’s not for fame and fortune, that’s for others.  It’s certainly tremendously satisfying to make award winning wines from our own vineyard, and see these wines bring so much joy to our customers. 

Maybe a better question is - does the world need Yarrh Wines?  We think so.  Delicious, food friendly, Canberra District wines, estate grown and bottled (paddock to plate, vineyard to bottle) made and presented without pretention, for a fair price – that’s a combination Australian wine lovers need.

Finally, a potted history of Yarrh wouldn’t be complete without an acknowledgement of our past partners – Peter McGregor (now deceased) as an early partner in our vineyard venture, and Peta and Chris MacKenzie Davey (now trying to retire!), who took the leap of faith from their cosy cottage in Leeds, UK, to set off on their own adventure in the wilds of Murrumbateman, Australia.  Then of course there is our beautiful daughter Julia, who’s grown up at Yarrh, and in her gap year is now pruning vineyards across the district.  Thanks to all!

 NM and FW

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