Ben Portet was always destined to be a winemaker. Growing up in the vineyards of his father, Dominique Portet, their long family tradition of winemaking dates all the way back to 1720 in Cognac France. Completing four vintages while still at university, Ben has lived and worked all over the world before returning to Melbourne to head up the winemaking team at Dominique Portet Winery in Coldstream, continuing on the family legacy for years to come.
As a 10th generation winemaker, how have you seen the wine industry change over time?
Well I guess the easiest analogy is that we work within a fashion industry so styles and regions come in and out of trend. Recently in Australia we have seen wines being produced that are made to drink now, they can be easy to drink at a young age and most importantly are fun to drink. Classics are always in style so that will never change but I still see no match to opening an old bottle that you have aged yourself over many years and enjoy the secondary and more developed characters that come with it.
What do you look for when making wine?
Elegance, concentration and finesse but most importantly you need balance.
What does a typical day look like for a winemaker?
There’s never a typical day. One day we can be cleaning a barrel and tasting grapes in the vineyard to the next being in the middle of Dubai hosting a wine dinner promoting Australian wine to the world. That’s why I love what I do, there is never a dull day, although we do clean a lot.
Living all over the world, including France, Napa Valley and now the Yarra Valley what do you love most about growing grapes and producing wine here in Victoria? What makes it unique?
Diversity. Australia is huge however the most diverse state to make wine is Victoria. From world class sparkling wine right through to excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, Victoria offers something for everyone. There are so many different climates and soil types in the Yarra Valley that it makes it an exciting region to be part of.
What cool climate wine regions other than the Yarra Valley do you consider as upcoming wine producing areas in the near future?
Although there are iconic producers in both, I would say Tasmania and Gippsland are pivotal cool climate regions at present. Gippsland has enormous potential to grow grapes and as the region has more and more professionals entering it will certainly be a place where seriously good cool climate wines are achieved. Tasmania is getting plenty of attention already and has some exciting wines being produced there already.
How much would you spend on a good bottle of wine and do you have any other favourite vineyards around Victoria?
Too much. But that’s my passion and I guess that’s how I justify each bottle…I have a soft spot for the Pyrenees as I grew up there and know the soils well. I think Gippsland Pinot Noir when done well, can be as good as anywhere in Australia. I’m drinking Yarra Valley Chardonnay and Cabernet at the moment.
How do you know if you’ve got a good vintage?
That takes a little luck, nature generally takes care of that. A wet winter is helpful followed by a dry summer with warm days and cool nights.
Visit the Dominique Portet Winery at 870-872 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream.