One of the most recent expansions at Yarra Glen in the Yarra Valley has been the establishment of the Sunshine Creek winery. Sunshine Creek is the venture of packaging magnate James Zhou, whom over many years has worked with Grant Burge, Philip Shaw, Philip Jones, Pat Carmody and Mario Marson was looking for a site to produce wines under his own brand to sell domestically and overseas. In 2009 Mario Marson advised James regarding the purchase of Martha’s Vineyard at Yarra Glen. This vineyard was established in the 1980s and had previously supplied fruit to Southcorp and Sticks Winery.

James was impressed with this site and the age of the vines. He recognised that with its unique micro-climate, ideal soil type and with favourable growing conditions this site had the potential to produce world class wines.

Once the vineyard was purchased an extensive program of grafting was undertaken. New clonal material was introduced to improve the quality of the fruit produced from this vineyard. Sunshine Creek Vineyard produces three wines, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a Cabernet blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. A Heathcote Shiraz is also produced.

Initially this vineyard was set up for mechanisation but it has now been converted to a vertical shoot positioned vineyard. Today the grapes are hand harvested and the resulting improvement in fruit quality has been evident in the wines produced in recent years.

In 2011 Andrew Smith was appointed vineyard manager to continue the work of the early years. Mario and Andrew work in conjunction to ensure that premium quality fruit is produced at Sunshine Creek.

In 2014 the construction of a new state of the art winery was commenced to be completed by the end of 2016. The establishment of this 275 tonnes winery is the next exciting stage in the Sunshine Creek story.

Grape growing

The vineyards on the Sunshine Creek estate comprise of 7 varieties over 22 hectares of vineyard area. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Of these varieties we have several clones of each bringing a level of complexity to the wines. Yields are maintained at a low to moderate level to further aid flavor development. Viticulturally speaking we follow sustainable vineyard practices encouraging mid-row grass growth to support beneficial insects which is slashed and discharged under the vine mid-December to aid in water conservation. The vineyards have a southerly aspect which reduces heat build-up on the vineyard floor. Soil type is duplex clay loam typical of the valley floor and the vineyard lies in a slight rain shadow of the Christmas Hills receiving approximately 600mm annually. The vines are trained using VSP (Vertical Shoot Positioning) to maximize air flow around the bunch zone thereby reducing disease pressure.

Winemaking

Chief winemaker Mario Marson is influenced by the European style of winemaking. At Sunshine Creek he seeks to bring the traditions of the Old World to winemaking in the New.

Mario’s formative years in the wine industry were involved in viticulture in the Yarra Valley where he recognised the interconnection between climate, soil and vine growth and their profound influence on the quality of the wines produced. With a background in both viticulture and winemaking, Mario applies this holistic approach to the wines produced at Sunshine Creek.

As a winemaker, Mario seeks to maintain this connection by regularly walking through the vineyards to observe vine development and periodically tasting the fruit as it progresses to maturity. As well as tasting the sugar fruit flavours of the berries, Mario strongly recognises the importance of the tannin structure of the berries as an integral component of the final wine product.

Mario seeks to create wines that are characteristic of their variety and region. Sunshine Creek’s wines are both balanced and elegant, crafted to be enjoyed at any stage during their bottle maturation.

The Yarra Valley is on the cusp of Melbourne located just one hour’s drive from the CBD and is Victoria’s most visited wine region,  offering its famous restaurants and wine bars ample cuisine friendly wines. Having complex topography and steep slopes at altitudes of 160 – 1,540ft facing all directions, the uppermost slopes are cool and most of the valley enjoys cool nights. Rainfall varies from 600mm in the valley floor to over 1000mm in the upper Yarra with harvest starting in mid-late Feb for sparkling through to mid-April. The soils vary from grey sandy clay loam in the valley floor to vivid red volcanic earth in parts of the upper Yarra.

With a proud and rich history of grape growing and winemaking dating back to the first settlers in 1838 the Yarra Valley reached a moderately height of fame around 1881. Enjoying a rebirth through the 1960’s afforded by a small group of Doctor’s establishing their own individual vineyards, with production being on a small scale setting impeccable standards they built a reputation right throughout and into the 1980’s of silky, age worthy blends. Until the 1990’s the Yarra Valley was an exclusive region and home of the small winery, most of them producing wines in the super-premium category. Today the Yarra Valley enjoys national and international acceptance as one of Australia’s foremost fine-wine regions. By 2012 the number of wineries was over 140, and grape harvest sufficient to produce over 1,200,000 cases.

With around 62% red and 38% white, by 2012 the total of all varieties covered 2352ha. The principal grape varieties in the Yarra Valley are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. Pinot Noir is distinctly one of the Yarra Valley’s best suited varieties, given today the Yarra Valley is even better known for its Chardonnays compliments of its naturally cool conditions in the elevated southern end and Cabernet enjoying the warmer valley floor.

Chris Lawrence

Chris’ winemaking career began in the kitchen, working as a chef for over 13 years; he applied his trade in establishments all over Australia. His time in the restaurant industry forged a deep love of wine and an intrinsic understanding of the wine flavours, aromas, texture and balance.

Following his passion, Chris studied an applied science (oenology) degree with the University of Southern Queensland, and upon graduation was dux of his class. Chris honed his skills at Yering Station making premium Yarra Valley sparkling, chardonnay, pinot noir, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. A vintage at Domaine Serene in the Willamette Valley Oregon, USA only deepened Chris’ love and understanding of premium cool climate wine. In 2014 Chris joined the team at Sunshine Creek to work alongside Mario Marson. Utilising the new world class winery facility and premium estate grown fruit, now Chief Winemaker Chris is taking Sunshine Creek's wines to a new standard of excellence.


 

Andrew Smith

Andrew’s involvement in the wine industry began in 1981 when he was given the opportunity to develop a vineyard’s on what was then his parents land just north of Lakes Entrance in Eastern Victoria. Over the ensuing years he worked at his neighbor’s vineyard and winery (Lulgra Winery) and studied Viticulture by correspondence at Wagga Agricultural College.

Andrew’s neighbor’s eventually retired from winemaking and he purchased half of their property, which included a small vineyard and well designed multi level winery. Over the following years Andrew expanded production and focused on exploiting the strong tourist market in the Gippsland Lakes. This involved building a restaurant and further increasing his holdings to include direct access to the Lakes so to enable cruises and private boats to visit.


After 19 vintages change beckoned and he moved to Melbourne with his wife and 2 year old twin boys. Looking to recharge his batteries Andrew worked for several years as a casual storeman before being offered a job as an assistant manager at a premium Yarra Valley vineyard. After one year Andrew was promoted to manager, where he stayed for almost 10 years and during that time they shifted from being a supplier of grapes to several premium labels and onto creating their very own much sought after range.

Eventually by happenstance a change was in the air and Andrew found himself making the move to Sunshine Creek where he and Mario Marson are developing the vineyard into one of the premium sites in the Yarra. They have grafted selected clonal material on the existing old vines enabling the craft of a fine Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They have a singular purpose in creating the finest quality wine possible. After only a few vintages we are seeing the benefits of a personalized, site and variety specific approach to viticulture.

James Zhou

Working closely over the years in partnership with Vinea Marson, Grant Burge, Philip Shaw and Philip Jones sharing in the experience learned from each other, James is now fulfilling his wish to grow and make wine in the Yarra Valley and to promote and build even more awareness of the Yarra Valley internationally. James works in union with neighbors and local Yarra Valley vineyards taking the Yarra Valley status internationally to even greater heights. In 2013 James was awarded Honours as Associate of Wine Protector - France Bordeaux Region.

Summer Tian

Summer leads the team and has extensive experience in the wine industry having owned and operated her own wine clubs and retail shops for many years abroad and in Melbourne. She knows the ins and outs of the industry bringing a wealth of knowledge to the daily runnings of the operations at the vineyard and winery. Knowing full well you cannot make good wine without good fruit, encourages patience and a hands on approach to all staff.

At Sunshine Creek we regard our land as our most valuable resource. We believe our endeavors in protecting our natural resource is evident in the consistent high quality of the grapes coming out of our vineyards, this is mirrored in the quality of our wines, expressing a sense of place.

We encourage local provenance regrowth along riparian zones which gives us a healthy level of biodiversity. This in turn results in a vineyard full of beneficial insects offering us a natural form of pest control. The need for potentially dangerous pesticide use is reduced to virtually zero, with all the spiders, lace wings and lady birds to name but a few taking care of things for us.

In addition to the riparian zone we also encourage native grasses to grow and to seed along our mid rows, this provides an excellent food source and environment for insects. Over 30 years ago vineyards were often devoid of spiders, long grass and mulch, nowadays it would be surprising if you do not walk through a few golden orb spider webs.

Water use is minimized by the use of undervine mulch, in the form of the long native grasses being slashed and discharged under each vine row. At least 50mm of mulch is applied under vine in this way every year. Self-generated compost, comprising of grape marc, saw dust and chook manure is broadcast across the vineyard each winter after aerating the vineyard floor with a spiked roller. The waste water generated by wine production is used to irrigate our orchards, pastures and extensive rose gardens.

Where possible traffic in the vineyard is kept to minimum by the use of multi row equipment and rotation of the “drive rows”. This reduces soil compaction enhancing soil health by retention of structure as well as reducing diesel usage by up to 40%.

The Sunshine Creek winery is designed and built to conserve and save energy. The production hall has double skin panel walls totally separated from each other preventing any thermal connection between them. The production hall has also been lined with cool room panels, in effect it is a building within a building. The south facing wall of production has thermomass panels up to 3 metres high, this is a sandwich construction of two concrete panels with high performance extruded polystyrene in between. Above this is two skins of 16mm Danpalon polycarbonate sheeting that allows natural light into the building, but not the heat.


We have Industrial extraction fans through the ceiling to work in conjunction with automatically operating windows for natural ventilation when sensors are activated. Our barrel vaults are a concrete and steel structure buried under 500mm of earth over 200mm thick high performance extruded polystyrene. Both ends of the vaults have vents for crossflow when needed and all waste is treated and contained on site organically.

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