How a love affair with Italian grapes changed Australian Murray Darling wine

McCarthy’s new role took him to Mildura, where Southcorp began sourcing pinot grigio for the rapidly expanding T’Gallant brand. And one of the biggest suppliers of pinot grigio was Denis Pasut.

“I spent a lot of time talking to Denis,” McCarthy said. “And one day I said to him — basically as a throwaway line, ‘You don’t have a friulano, do you?'”

“You don’t have a friulano, do you?” McCarthy, right, asked Denis Pasut at one point. The rest is history. Eddie Ablett

Quealy met Pasut around the same time at the Alternative Variety Wine Show in Mildura. She visited his vineyard because he told her he had all these “wacky varieties growing there”, and discovered that one of them was Friulano.

So Quealy and McCarthy took cuttings of Pasut, planted them on the peninsula, and began producing wines from them. These are wines that were influenced by another trip to Italy – to Friuli and neighboring Slovenia, visiting producers such as Josko Gravner, who fermented and aged their white wines on skins for long periods of time.

As I wrote at the time, and re-emphasized in this column a few years ago, the couple’s first Australian white skin contact people – Pobblebonk from Quealy, Claudius from T’Gallant – were “tremendously important, brave and inspiring”. Then, in the late 2000s, they were as revolutionary as their first pinots grigios had been 15 years earlier.

McCarthy on the banks of the Murray River. He credits the pioneering thinking of the Chalmers family and Denis Pasut for allowing him to look at this largely dry part of Australia differently.

Today, 15 years later, the wine market in Australia is very different. Whites on skin contact – sometimes amber, often cloudy – are a familiar sight in any bar, restaurant or bottle shop that claims to be even vaguely trendy.

So in early 2020, when Kevin McCarthy (by then a long time departed from Treasury Wine Estates) began dreaming up a new brand of wine in partnership with his daughter, marketer Celia McCarthy, the couple decided to implement value the Italian grapes – especially the skin – contact whites – grown in Mildura.

The first version included a 2021 Friulano, from the vineyard of Denis Pasut, which spent 11 days on the skins. It won the trophy for best wine made from grapes grown in the Murray Darling region at last year’s Alternative Varieties Wine Show.

The recent second release, labeled MDI (“Murray Darling/Italy,” says McCarthy) consists of seven small-batch wines, including five whites that have spent varying amounts of time on the skins. Most of these new wines are made from grapes grown by the Chalmers family at their vineyard near Merbein: the Chalmers have spent the past three decades importing, propagating and distributing alternative varieties to winemakers across the country, as well as to make and sell their own wines. .

McCarthy with her daughter, marketer Celia McCarthy. Adrian Lander

It’s important to McCarthy that winemakers get full credit for these wines. It’s thanks to the pioneering spirit of the Chalmers family and Denis Pasut that winemakers like him can choose from a wider range of varietals and imagine new ways to view warm interior regions like the Murray. Darling.

“Denis was on the cutting edge when he planted friulano all those years ago,” says McCarthy, pouring a glass of wine made from the grapes Pasut grew. “It took incredible foresight. He came back from Italy in the 80s with a vision that was “- he takes a sip -” basically that.

The skin in the game

Three exceptional white wines in contact with the skin from MDI Wines.

2021 MDI Ansonica [Mildura]
I tasted fat, golden ansonica grapes on the vine at Chalmers Vineyard during this year’s vintage, and was completely won over by the rich, exotic flavors of the variety. And I was very excited to find those same seductive flavors in the wine that Kevin McCarthy made from this last vineyard vintage: very dry, but with seemingly sweet, pulpy, and spicy marmalade characters. Wonderful. 17 days on the skins. $29

2021 MDI Favorita Fiano Garganega [Mildura]
Since the early days of their T’Gallant label, Kevin McCarthy and Kathleen Quealy have often embraced the weirdness and darkness when it comes to naming their wines (I mean, “T’Gallant”? What were they thinking? they ?). It is therefore good to see that the tradition is very much alive here: favorita is the Piedmontese synonym of vermentino (an alternative name for an alternative variety: How? ‘Or’ What alternative…), and it’s blended here with fiano and garganega to produce a thrillingly precise, fine, crystalline dry white wine you’d never guess had spent 170 days on the skins. $24

2021 MDI Ribolla Gialla [Mildura]
You can see why ribolla gialla is the most revered white grape variety in the regions of Friuli and Slovenia, where there is a tradition of wines with long skin contact: it spent 192 days on the skins, but the wine is beautifully floral, crisp and utterly delicious. , with a lot of finesse, freshness and concentration and a superb long and creamy finish. “That’s Gravner’s mantra,” McCarthy says. “The longer you leave it on the skin, the silkier it becomes.” $29

In July, MDI Wines will open a cellar door at At The Above, a multi-purpose venue at 198 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy owned by SpaceBetween, the creative partners of the MDI project.

“We will be open the first Saturday of each month and for special events,” says Celia McCarthy. “The plan is to show MDI wines, and some special guest wines, regions, producers and styles that have inspired us.”

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