IT’S pretty standard at this point on a winery website to talk about a long-held passion for wine, a romance formed long ago on a honeymoon or post-university trip to Burgundy. I'm meant to tell you I want to make wines that I want to drink, that reflect the place and respect the land. Words like elegance, beauty and nature tend to work well. Maybe a photo of crushed grapes, a vineyard sunset or a close-up of some dirty hands in black and white.
This is all perfectly fine by the way, and Between Five Bells is still many of these things, but it is different to the average Australian winery.
When I first floated the idea with two friends, the wines I was inspired to make came from two fronts. One was the classic field-blend red wines of California, with their flare, deliciousness and wild, rich flavours. And two, (somewhat contradictorily), were the wines of the central and southern Rhone Valley, where, if you look past the big names, reside some of the most natural, rustic, slurpable Shiraz and Grenache based wines anywhere in the world, (think Domaine Gramenon).
These two, (admittedly briefly explained), inspirations took me to Geelong, one of the real marginal climates for growing these varieties well in Australia. It was here I thought I could find a couple of vineyards, some good growers to work with and a small corner of a winery to make them in. That, in a nutshell, is what has happened.
So, the two friends mentioned above, Ray & Josh, are involved and we’ve put three vintages to bed now. In 2010 we were blessed with a solid vintage and produced a tiny amount of one wine, the Red. 2011 was a much trickier, finicky vintage; and whilst patience was strained, we made a lovely Red, a fantastic White and some Rosé. The 2012s look really wonderful; deeply flavoured and very drinkable. The 2013 wines, which are just being released now, are the best we have made.
These are all pure wines; healthy, untampered with and delicious. I’m not sure if we’re changing the face of Australian wine, and I imagine we’ll need to make a lot more to do that, but I’m fairly confident there are few, if any, other wineries that have the same goals as us.
IT'S WORTH IT.
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Between Five Bells are the last three words in the first stanza of Kenneth Slessor’s famous poem, Five Bells. The poem is understood to tell the tale of the death of Joe Lynch, a friend of the poets, and is set on/in/around (it gets confusing) Sydney Harbour. The “bells” are a reference to ship's-bells, rung to announce the time of a ship's-watch, and are used to infer the concept of time, and how time relates to both the poet and drowning death of Joe.
I would dearly love to wax intelligently and broadly about this poem, (mostly for show-boating reasons), but as that is neither possible nor applicable to what I’m trying to say, I’ll leave the poem's description at that. What I will say, (whilst trying to draw a tenuous and undeniably pretentious bow), is that the reference to the bells, and their intangible nature, is what drew me to the name.
We didn’t want a name that suggested the immediacy of something like geography, or the personal, like my actual name. I wanted something that summed up the intangible nature of wine. Something that said- no mater how much we think we know, and how much we think we can control it, wine is, and should be, something mysterious.
To that, the reference in Slessor’s poem to the dead Joe, who “lives between five bells”, resonates with me. This line, because of how the five bells are used in a ship’s schedule, has been interpreted as defining a sort of limbo. It’s this undefined, indescribable state that I wanted to express.
We want to make wines that are in someway, “between five bells”. (I told you it was a long bow to draw).