When Dutch-Canadian Teunis Kwak moved to Melbourne in 1972, he needed a place to live. “He thought he would either have a house in the city or some land in the country,” says his wife Dorothy Kwak. Fortunately for wine aficionados, Teunis opted for the latter, laying the ground for what is now the couple’s Panton Hill Winery in the Yarra Valley.
A geologist by trade, Teunis used the sandstone found on the property to construct his own piece of bucolic paradise by hand. The resulting building is a charming, rustic stone complex that includes an Italian-style country house and winery. It’s all tucked into the idyllic Diamond Valley region of the Yarra Valley, less than 45 minutes’ drive from Melbourne.
Except for a brief foray into home winemaking at the age of 14, Teunis was as green as the grapes he’d yield when he started the business. But by the 1980s he’d given up his day job as a university teacher and planted more than 10,000 French “clone” grapes across his property comprising different varietals including pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and merlot. The lean, rocky property dotted with bushes and kangaroos was an ideal place to start a small family winery with ambitions for excellence over scale.
“We provide a different experience to the big commercial wineries,” says Dorothy. “It’s our home as well as our workplace. Which has a lot of appeal to people these days because there are getting to be fewer and fewer destinations where the viticulture is done by the owners. We’re never going to get big because we want to keep it family-run. We could never run it like a factory, it wouldn’t be any fun.”
Tastings at the winery happen behind a giant wooden door, Panton’s cellar room. Inside the team offers guests a 10-selection wine tasting curated and presented by the couple.
Dorothy says it’s different from your run-of-the-mill tasting. “If you’re educated in wine in the right way you can really enjoy it [more],” she says. “It takes away the pretentions and things people find a little bit daunting about wine tasting.”
For example: Dorothy says the first sip of their 2010 pinot noir starts off a little different to most reds. Being an older drop, it comes alive with plumb and cherry notes once the tannins have washed away. There’s also its distinctive 2014 chardonnay, which has a soft acidity due to a precise malolactic fermentation process.
The Kwaks will detail these insights and more at a special upcoming wine tasting. They’ll also insight into how they decide whether or not to harvest a particular vine each year, what conditions determine a preferred drop, and back it up with a lunchtime wine pairing that begins with a “grazing platter” of antipasti featuring seasonal delicacies procured from around the area. This includes locally made pecorino and smoked buffalo mozzarella, baked brie in local honey, and imported Paglian and Sicilian olives.
“We cover all of Melbourne to collect interesting bits and pieces,” says Kwak of Panton Hills produce.
Guests at the wine tasting will also enjoy homemade pizzas, such as Venetian-style pork with fennel from the garden, homegrown fresh tomato and basil pesto, and homegrown potato and rosemary. The dessert options are tiramisu, sticky date pudding and almond-meal walnut chocolate brownies. Each will be paired with a selection of Panton Hills’ fermented wonders: a 20-year muscat, an aromatica and an Orams Wish chardonnay liqueur.
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