Since 1996 Yarrabank cuvées have been produced by an ongoing joint venture between Champagne Veuve A. Devaux and Yering Station. Made in the Traditional Method, Yarrabank is now recognised as one of Australia’s top sparkling wine labels. First created in 1993, the venture reflects the committed vision of Champagne Devaux president Laurent Gillet, to produce a benchmark Australian sparkling wine.
Today the Yarrabank partnership combines centuries old tradition from Champagne with a contemporary approach to winemaking. There is a real exchange between the wineries, with winemakers each year traveling from Devaux to Australia to assist with assemblage. Whilst Yering Station winemakers continue to travel to Champagne for vintage to experience first-hand the structure of grapes needed to make great sparkling wine.
The traditional Method used for Yarrabank is a complex and rigorous series of winemaking procedures which takes at least three years to complete. Each bottle is treated individually from the time of tirage* to comsumption.
The exclusive use of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes hand picked with the perfect balance of ripeness and acidity ensures that the Yarrabank style is maintained. Chardonnay fruit gives lightness, elegance and finesse whilst the Pinot Noir enhances palate length and mouthfeel. Our cool climate vineyards in the Upper Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula offer differing soils and exposure to optimise the diverse characters of the two grape varieties. This gives our winemakers a fantastic range of base wine component to produce complex and balanced sparkling wine.
The grapes selected for Yarrabank come from the Upper Yarra Valley (around 500 metres above sea level) as well as from very exposed sites on the Mornington Peninsula. Viticulture in these areas presents challenges as well as rewards.
The challenges are far out-weighed by the rewards, however are interesting to note all the same. In springtime, for example, we often have periods of warm weather - which causes the vine to bud - followed by a few days of intense cold. If the temperature falls below 0ºC, the bud is at risk of being destroyed. Rain and wind sometimes occurring at the end of Spring may impede pollination, meaning the bud fails to produce fruit (coulure ). In summer, although the weather gets warmer, we can experience hail and powerful storms, putting the most delicate parts of the vine, like the leaves and bunches, in danger.
These climates and locations, however, also produce some of the best sparkling wine in the world. Our sparkling wine vineyards are situated on hillsides to receive the best sun exposure for ripeness. Furthermore, these soils are advantageous, providing a very thin layer of organic soil lies over a lean subsoil . The two fundemental advantages are the slow ripening of grapes in the moderate temperatures promoting fine and delicate aromas. And secondly, the perfect level of ripeness - consisting of the desired balance between sugar and acidity - resulting in exceptional freshness of the wine.
How is Yarrabank made?
Sparkling is probably the most complex wine to make as it involves more than a dozen major steps and requires at least three years to achieve. Should any part in the process be mismanaged, the quality of the final product will be affected. Out of a dozen steps, all except two can only maintain the quality inherent in the grapes. One of the two steps where the talent of the winemaking team really shows is blending (assemblage ). The other step is time on lees.
Harvesting - To avoid any damage the grapes are picked only by hand into shallow crates, then tipped delicately into the press.
Pressing - Once brought to the winery the grapes are pressed in small batches of the same variety and the same origin. Only the cuvée is used. The word cuvée refers to the first 512.5 litres issued from a tonne of grapes. This is the finest juice, the most delicate. The rest of the juice (around 200-250 litres of pressings) is discarded.
Clarifying the Must (grape juice) - Suspended impurities are settled by decantation in small vats for 12 hours immediately after pressing.
Alcoholic Fermentation - selected yeasts are added to the must and in the space of one or two weeks they convert the sugar from the grapes into alcohol. The must is turned into still wine. Yarrabank performs this fermentation only in stainless steel vats (which add no foreign aromas to the wine) with temperature control in order to undergo a regular, slow and complete fermentation.
Prevention of Malolactic Fermentation - Yarrabank winemakers do not allow malolactic fermentation, a process which converts the malic acid (found in crisp green apples) into a lactic acid (a heavier and more buttery one). This gives our sparkling wine an unmistakable freshness.
Racking - Before the wine undergoes blending and then bottling, there is a final opportunity to make it perfectly clear, which is essential for the pleasure of tasting! This practise is achieved by stabilisation at a low temperature (-4ºC) for two weeks, followed by filtration.
Assemblage – This practise is the core of sparkling winemaking. Winemakers from the Champagne House of Devaux and the Yering Station winemakers collaborate to ensure Yarrabank is, before all, a very precise and consistent style. The foremost mission of the winemaking team is to marry still wines from the latest harvest with wine from preceding years (less than 15%). These wines will have been aged in foudres (15,000 litre oak vats) in our underground cellars. Despite the variability in proportion of grape varieties and origin, after effervescence (prise de mousse ) and ageing, the cuvée will be virtually identical to those preceding it. Our winemakers must imagine and predict the taste of the cuvée once it has undergone fermentation and several years ageing in the bottle.
Bottling and Secondary Fermentation (*Tirage ) - Once the different cuvées have been assembled they are enriched with a small addition of sweet liqueur and yeast, and bottled. The bottles are taken into the cellar and stacked horizontally. The action of the yeast on sugar causes the wine to slowly undergo a second ferment (5 to 8 weeks) and carbon dioxide coming from this fermentation dissolves in the wine, making it effervescent.
Maturation - The bottles are then left to age in our cellar at a cool and constant temperature. This allows the wines to develop fine aromas, coming from both the wine itself and from the yeast, which bring specific characters of brioche, roasted nuts or mocha. The length of cellaring is a minimum of three years and often four.
Riddling (Remuage ) - The yeast that has allowed the second bottled-fermentation forms a small deposit at the bottom of the bottle. The wine needs to be clarified before shipping. Bottles are placed neck down at a sharp angle on riddling racks, where they are turned. The deposit is thus concentrated in the neck of the bottle.
Expulsion of the Deposit (Disgorgement ) - The bottle is transferred from the riddling rack to a specific unit where the tip of the bottle is dipped in a tub of liquid at –28ºc. An ice pellet forms in the bottle when uncorked.
Liquoring (Dosage ) - Immediately after the disgorgement the Yarrabank winemaking process is finished by the addition of a liqueur de dosage , consisting of reserve wine and sugar. This liqueur is formulated to suit the precise characteristic of the cuvée and bring the exact sweetness that will balance its aromas, acidity and alcoholic perception.
Final Dressing of the Bottle - The bottle is then made completely airtight with a stopper created from the finest cork, kept in place by a wire muzzle. The wine is then left for another 3 months before being labelled and packaged for shipping.