2018 Best New Winery of the Year: Dappled Wines

James Halliday by James Halliday

2 Aug, 2017

One privilege of tasting, researching and writing about the 6000 or so wines selected for this year’s Wine Companion (out of the nearly 10,000 submitted) is discovering a hitherto unknown winemaker, winery and/or wine that blows your mind. I’ve never consciously thought through the implications of the combination of all three attributes but, by definition, it has to spring from the Best New Winery group.

Now I mean no disrespect to wineries previously selected, nor do I want to paint myself into a corner in the years to come. But people such as owner–winemaker Shaun Crinion of Dappled Wines come around once in the metaphorical blue moon.

It started in 1999 when he was working with his uncle at Laetitia Winery in California’s Central Coast. A US citizen, Shaun intended to remain in the US, but the GFC made that too difficult for an unskilled 19-year-old.

And so he set off on a magic carpet tour of the world of wine, starting with Devil’s Lair in Margaret River in 2000; followed in ’01 by Corbett Canyon Vineyard, California (US); ’02 Houghton, Swan Valley; ’03 De Bortoli, Hunter Valley; ’04–06 Pipers Brook, Northern Tasmania; ’06 Bay of Fires, Northern Tasmania; ’06–07 Williams Selyem, California (US); ’08 Domaine Chandon, Yarra Valley; and ’10 Domaine de Montille, Burgundy (France). With a wine pedigree like that he could gain employment wherever he wished without even mentioning that he is also an oenology graduate from Charles Sturt University (’01–05).

But in 2009 the magic carpet settled in the Yarra Valley, where Shaun created Dappled Wines (while also working part-time for Rob Dolan, 2009–16).

His longer term ambition is to buy or establish his own vineyard. It was easier, he says, when he had no domestic ties. Now 36, he and partner Catherine have two daughters aged two and four. Shaun, as a part-time house-husband and part-time winemaker, has been able to spend more time with them than most fathers.

When I berated him for not previously submitting wines (after almost 10 years in the Yarra Valley) he responded, ‘I’ve been brought up in wineries with great wines, wines that I’ve wanted to drink, and I wasn’t sure my wines would appeal to you. I’m not a natural winemaker, but I did include some whole bunches in my ’16 Straws Lane Gewurztraminer.’ Well, I am in awe of that particular wine. Then there are the utterly beautiful labels from a graphic designer in Tasmania, with Catherine’s active involvement.

An obvious question is, how difficult is it to buy grapes for Dappled and build continuing support? Shaun was able to buy 10.4 tonnes for this (2017) vintage, the grapes coming from three vineyards. He says he’s greatly indebted to Simon Peirce of Steels Creek Estate, where he made the last two vintages, who sells him up to three tonnes per year. Each of the three wineries supplied chardonnay, more than 50 per cent of his total intake. He’s quick to add he is also indebted to Rob Dolan (Best New Winery 2014) for what he has learnt.