“Can you feel the soil is a little bit spongier?” asks winemaker Shashi Singh as we squelch through her Mornington Peninsula vineyard. “It’s another improvement that’s happening, slowly,” she smiles. “Microbes are working and aerating the soil.”
Shashi Singh has been growing grapes biodynamically on her Red Hill South property since 2005 and, slowly but surely, the patch of the earth from which her shiraz vines grow is finding its own balance.
“Nature has its own way of solving its problems,” says Singh as we continue walking the property. “It’s humans who are the ones who break down the chain.” It’s this simple ethos, substantiated by knowledge, experience and hard work that is seeing her new wine label, Avani, produce some exceptional shiraz, or as they refer to it by its French name, Syrah.
Shashi Singh moved from India to Australia with her husband Devendra (who is a chef) 30 years ago. They opened and operated an Indian restaurant, Siddhartha, in Frankston before relocating the business to Somerville eight years ago and changing the name to Tulsi. While Singh has a background in chemistry, being involved in hospitality also exposed her to wine.
“I have a degree in chemistry,” she explains. “When my kids came along, they were my focus as well as helping with the restaurant, but in my mind, when the kids started to grow up I knew I’d need to do something for myself.”
Singh started visiting wineries, reading about wine, completed a certificate course and then a degree in winemaking. Another pivotal piece in the story of her wines is her time learning and working with award-winning winemaker Phillip Jones from Bass Phillip Wines. “I started working with him in 2004,” she recalls. “I learnt so much and he encouraged us to plant just shiraz here.”
When the Singhs bought the property, there were shiraz, chardonnay, pinot noir, some cabernet and merlot vines planted growing on the land, but it was the shiraz that was “consistently good”.
“It took me a few years to believe Philip,” she smiles. “But he was right.”
Singh explains that this patch of Red Hill South takes to shiraz “as it’s a little bit warmer here than other parts of the peninsula. Driving up the hill, we notice it can be up to three degrees warmer.” The soil the vines thrive in is red clay loam at the top, then brown, then gray. “Shiraz likes that red clay soil,” she explains.
With four vintages made and only two released so far (the 2009 and 2011), the beauty of this wine lies in its personality and its makeup. You know you’re sipping a person’s story, not just a mass-produced, anonymous bottle. 2009 was the intensely hot year of the tragic Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria and the 2011 was “one of the hardest vintages on the peninsula in years,” Singh says.
Singh produces a shiraz that is indicative of these environments and of her character. There’s complexity but there’s gentleness too. These aren’t big, ballsy red wines that Australians often think of when they think of shiraz. Rather, they are wines with fresh red fruits. “The flavours are crunchy fruit flavours, like a plum that is not too overripe… No greenness – they are ripe but on the crunchy side.”
To sip Avani is to sip Shashi and Devendra Singh’s journey and their 12-year relationship with their 15-acre property. Avani is Sanskrit for Mother Earth. Singh tells me she can connect with the name, and the way she speaks of the spongy soil and Mother Nature’s problem solving abilities, you can’t help but believe her.