A Winederful Chat with Michael at Bindi
History of Bindi
Since the first plantings in 1988, Michael and the family have created a strong brand with a loyal following. The land was originally bought by Michael’s grandparents in 1958 and it was used for grazing sheep. Michael’s parents built the house in 1968 and farmed the land.
Michael’s parents both had farming backgrounds. His father Bill came from a farming family in Punjab in India and his mother Kaye can trace her maternal family (the Dixons) in Gisborne back to 1853. In 1958, Bill moved to Australia to complete the necessary two years at Ballarat Grammar School in order to start studying at Melbourne University. During this time, he was mentored by Kostas Rind who was the leading physics and maths teacher.
Over the years that followed they became great friends and Kostas shared his passion of wine and winemaking. Bill was keen to plant a vineyard and in 1988 with the help of Michael (who was studying economics at the time) and his university friends they planted these first vines; Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which goes into the Kostas Rind, Quartz Chardonnay and some of this Pinot goes into the Dixon Pinot.
As Michael acknowledges, “It has been a great fortune to build a brand and reputation.” They now make 2,500-3,500 cases a year. It wasn’t always possible to sustain themselves just on the land. Therefore Michael’s parents both ran businesses in Gisborne for 20 years. Bill set up and managed Gisborne Squash Courts and Kaye ran a craft shop (Wool and Wheel), the sign now hanging proudly in their “lunch room” alongside the vineyards with the glass panels from the squash courts as one of the exterior walls.
The Bindi team
After completing his degree, Michael worked alongside a number of international winemakers making the wine off site. Then followed time spent in Europe every year for about six years doing the vintage across the Rhône Valley, Champagne, Tuscany, Burgundy for 4-5 months every year and working in Australia for the 7-8 months. Michael also worked as assistant winemaker to Stuart Anderson from 1991 to 1998 and spent a few months working at John Coppins with Steve Perry (of Swanbourne Cellars).
After six years, Michael took over the responsibility for family business. The winery was then built in 1997 ready for the 1998 vintage. Today the team consists of Michael, wife Wendy, Ian and Dave. At specific times of the year, they also have a team of up to 18 to help them in the vineyard (picking, wire lifting in the vineyard and pruning, shoot thinning).
Where did the name ‘Bindi’ come from?
“My father came to school in Australia from Punjab in 1958. Bindi is the symbol for ‘wisdom’ and ‘humility’. It is also an Aboriginal word, meaning ‘butterfly’ or ‘beautiful place’ depending on the language. It is a nice tie between Aboriginal and Indian. Bindi is our place.”
A Passion for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
“I have a passion for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I spent time in California and Oregon and NZ but mostly in Burgundy. I have visited over 100 producers there in Burgundy over the years. We do not try and emulate, we like to learn how people farm in different ways and do the things that we think work well for us.
We find out how people make wine in different ways. We just had our 30th vintage in April and we are still learning.”
With all that Michael and his family have achieved and the popularity of their wines, I find his continued desire to learn a forthright modesty which belies his exceptional winemaking abilities.
I wanted to understand what minimal intervention means to Michael. He explained “We don’t consider ourselves to be active winemakers. It is the vineyard sites that give the fundamental character to the wine. We like the wine to be bright and beautiful and clear and age really well.
If a wine needs a bit of sulphur or if a Pinot might have a high PH we will add a bit of tartaric acid if needed but it is not about adhering to a particular philosophy apart from ours.”
Michael adds, “We plough under vine and do not use herbicide but if there is high disease pressure, for example once every 4 or 5 years, we will use a systemic spray instead of using copper if necessary. We are forthright to our customers with that we have done in the vineyard or winery and happy to be judged on being simple and factual.”
The coronavirus pandemic has affected so many businesses this year including those tied to hospitality. Michael admits they have been fortunate with the fact that their mailing list bought more wine and a number of online retailers. Overall they sold more to all their customers who must have been pleased to have more Bindi wines in their cellars and wine racks!
Expression of soil
Michael explained that this region is challenging with the wind (disrupting flowering), the high altitude, the threat of frost but it is good for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They want the wines to reflect the land in which they grow.
“With all of our wines, we don’t like to use a lot of new oak. We don’t want to macerate the wines. We want to do everything in a gentle and balanced way and have the wine and vintage come through rather than the technique.”
The land plays a key role in this. The volcanic soil with its fertility at Bindi gives more vigour to the vine and fruitiness. As Michael pointed out to me, there is lots of quartz rock on the stony soil and with the absence of top soil means there is less nutrients for the vine to grow strong so they have to dig deep. As a result they develop smaller bunches and berries meaning more concentration and more powerful fruit.
What are your plans for the future? Do you want to expand the range or increase production?
Here we have 420 acres and we will get up 22 acres of vines which will be two more vineyards. We want to leave the rest as it is; indigenous bushland and grassland. We don’t want to disturb other areas of the property.”
As Michael explains, “With the attention to detail that we do, that is sufficient for us as a business.”
Pyrette & Dhillon
In addition to making wines from the estate, Michael and the team also make wines from two other vineyard sites. The labels are Pyrette (Shiraz) and Dhillon (Grenache & Shiraz). Have a look for these online too!
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not making wine?
As in his wines, Michael looks for balance when he’s not in the vineyard; time with friends, holidays by the coast and maintaining a sense of well-being.
We stock a selection of wines from Bindi at Swanny Cellars. Pop into store to find out more.
Text written by Ruth Turnbull, Swanny Cellars’ Roaming Reporter.
About the Roaming Reporter:
Ruth Turnbull is the Roaming Reporter for Swanbourne Cellars. Having studied the WSET Advanced Certificate and WSET Diploma in Wines and Spirits, Ruth has worked in the wine trade in both London and Perth for over 15 years. While living in WA, Ruth was a regular Panel member on the Liquor Barons Panel and managed the digital marketing for Swanbourne Cellars. Now based in Melbourne, with COVID restrictions easing, Ruth is meeting winemakers in order to highlight and share their story on the Swanbourne Cellars blog and social media channels.