It’s been a long journey from the sports field to the vineyard but former footballer Rob Dolan now scores with his vinous skills.
"Making wine is a team effort, it's not a ‘one-man band’. It’s a relationship business with everyone working together and contributing - grape growers, contractors, winemakers, cellar staff, sales, marketing, logistics, distributors."
ROB Dolan is one of the sages of the Australian wine industry. A big man with a big personality, Dolan has seen it all and done it all over 35 vintages as a winemaker.
Known as “Sticks” during his days as a ruckman for South Australia’s Port Adelaide football club where he was a two-time SANFL champion, Dolan is today a leading light in Victoria’s Yarra Valley, with a focus on pinot noir across four different price points, from $25 to the first of his Signature release pinots at $80.
In the decade since he launched Ron Dolan Wines, he’s had numerous successes, including the launch of the Signature series last year. The Rob Dolan 2017 Signature Series Pinot Noir was recently named Winestate’s Pinot of the Year.
“The majority of fruit for the 2017 Rob Dolan Signature Series wine is from the same grower I have worked with since 1991,” he says. “Winemaking is not an overnight success story – it takes time and persistence.
“Our aim has always been to craft wines that reflect the magic of the Yarra Valley.
“The Signature Series range is a culmination of 35 years in the wine industry and is a result of utilising carefully selected vineyard sites and soils that have been lovingly tended to by our top-grape growers, and is made only in the finest vintages.”
In 2011 he purchased the Hardy’s Yarra Burn winery located in South Warrandyte, just 30 minutes from Melbourne’s CBD. The winery came well-equipped and runs as a fully functioning state-of-the-art winemaking facility capable of processing more than 1000 tonnes each vintage.
Dolan’s first experience in the Yarra Valley was as senior winemaker at Yarra Ridge Winery, a period during which he managed the entire Victorian winemaking operation for industry giant Mildara Blass (Fosters). He went on to build two more contract winemaking ventures and launched two highly successful Yarra Valley brands – Sticks and Punt Road. Nowadays he’s surrounded by a highly-experienced team, along with two sons, Max and Ben, and daughter Tess.
“Extreme drinkability has always been our goal,” Dolan says. “Our team of diversely skilled winemakers ensures we balance purity of fruit expression, sophisticated balance and depth of flavour. We learn from each other on a very experienced team; and we learn from each season.”
Dolan says time has taught him to be patient when it comes to quality. “Try to be flexible, patient and listen to other opinions,” he says. “Then you back your experience and judgement, and don’t always follow the crowd.
“Rob Dolan Wines is a multi-faceted winemaking business with fruit sourced from 30 vineyards across the Yarra Valley. We make wines for 15 other wine companies and have supply arrangements with other wine companies.
“Making wine is a team effort, it’s not a ‘one-man band’. It’s a relationship business with everyone working together and contributing – grape growers, contractors, winemakers, cellar staff, sales, marketing, logistics, distributors.
“We need to ensure people grow and challenge themselves. We had half our cellar team working vintages in Burgundy, Napa Valley, Oregon, New Zealand gaining valuable experience and knowledge.
“It’s a tough business and we need to let people grow and let them fly, allow them to make their own wine and find their own place in the wine world.”
Dolan sources fruit from all over the Yarra – a region he has grown to love and respect.“The Yarra is unique,” he says. “The grape-growing region is more than 80sq/km – soils vary and sites are diverse. It’s the grape growers who are the key. We source quality grapes from passionate and dedicated growers.
“Without them we are all stuffed and this vintage will test everyone – believe me, to tell a grower that we can’t pick a $800,000 grape crop owing to smoke taint is not an easy task. We are in it together and rely on long-term relationships. In some situations as long as 30 years through the good and tough times.
Dolan has seen lots of changes in his four decades in the industry. “The days of meat and three veg are behind us – it’s now the age of share plates and enormous cultural diversity,” he says. “The wines and styles have needed to change and adapt, and this is occurring.
“Packaging has changed, new varieties are hitting the market from Greece/Portugal/Italy etc – this is an exciting time to be in the winemaking game.
“There’s a place in the market for everything and this is happening – so I guess it’s ‘whatever rocks your boat’, and obviously Yarra pinot noir is at the forefront.
“The variety that has performed the best in the Yarra Valley over the past five vintages has been cabernet sauvignon – perhaps a comeback is possible.
“We are processing more fruit in a shorter time span each vintage. Climatic change is occurring and we need to adjust quickly and change our winemaking techniques to suit the market.
“Grape varieties planted will change to adjust – barbera, gamay and sangiovese look like interesting options.”
ENJOY A GLASS ON THE DECK
THE Rob Dolan Wines cellar door is set on over 60ha of rolling farmland and vineyard at South Warrandyte.
Visitors are welcome to taste, purchase wine to take away or enjoy on the deck – or in the gardens over a game of bocce.
A selection of local produce, including Stone and Crow cheese is available seven days a week, along with accompaniments such as City Larder pate and terrine, Mount Zero olives, crackers by The Farm Yarra Valley and an in-house range of Rob Dolan pickles, pastes, relishes and jellies. Tea, coffee and non-alcoholic drinks are also available.
Rob Dolan Wines, 21-23 Delaneys Rd, Warrandyte South; phone (03) 9876 5885 or visit www.robdolanwines.com.au.