The name Yarra Yering has always suggested wines of purity and excellence unsurpassed, and in the hands of a particularly passionate and dedicated winemaker, they can only further flourish.
The name of Sarah Crowe’s Wollongong school, Figtree High may have inspired her early career in horticulture but it was a casual job pruning vines at Brokenwood in 2001 that set Crowe on her winemaking path. After six vintages at Yarra Yering, Crowe’s at the top of her game, an amazing achievement in just 18 years. Not that she sees the winery as the epicentre of her endeavours; it’s the vineyard that’s the focus of her passion and energy.
When Crowe drove up the driveway of Yarra Yering for the first time in 2013, it “felt right”, like she was coming home. Incidentally, it was only her second visit to the Yarra Valley; the Hunter Valley had been her vinous playground. The old Yarra Yering vines were somewhat neglected and in need of re-trellising but the hillside site and the simple concrete block winery were Dr Bailey Carrodus’ legacy. That Crowe came out on top of a lot of applicants is testament to her vision and clear-headed focus. It’s a plum job and undoubtedly the pinnacle of her career so far.
From those early days pruning under the guidance of the (late) legendary vineyard manager, Keith Barry, it’s the vines that have been Crowe’s focus. She studied viticulture at CSU rather than winemaking, completing her degree in 2008. By the time she’d embarked on the oenology course, her boss at Brokenwood, P.J. Charteris, reckoned she’d learn more in the winery than at CSU.
And learn she did, with a shower of accolades along the way. In 2009, Crowe was named Rising Star of the Year at the Hunter Valley Legends and Wine Industry Awards. She was one of the lucky 12 to attend The Len Evans Tutorial in 2010 and in the same year was part of the Australian wine industry Future Leaders Program.
Crowe has judged at the highest level, acting as Chair of Judges for the Hunter Valley Wine Show from 2018 to present along with chairing panels at many of the major city wine shows. Her input into the industry has been seminal, her commitment absolute.
“The rise and rise of Sarah Crowe is writ large in her work at Yarra Yering, where she has made innovation a keystone, as well as carrying on the legacy of this significant producer.” Mike Bennie
Crowe was well equipped to take the reins at Yarra Yering in 2013. She reminded me that 2019 marks 50 years since Carrodus planted his first vines in 1969. She never met him (he died in 2008) but his presence is still keenly felt. Aside from re-trellising, Crowe has added compost to enrich the depleted soils and help retain moisture in the (all-too-often) dry years. A few blocks have been re-worked; a patch of underperforming cabernet replanted with pinot noir and now bearing an east-west orientation to avoid the hot afternoon sun.
Crowe has brought a fresh set of eyes and is putting the vineyard at the front with winemaking taking a back seat. Purity and transparency are her goals with less extraction and less new oak influence. Dr Carrodus was primarily a blender with his No1, No2 and No3 distinctive Bordeaux, Rhône and Portuguese styles respectively. Crowe has crafted the Carrodus Series as single variety wines and focused more on chardonnay and pinot noir – they were smaller players in Carrodus’ time.
Polishing the “gems” is Crowe’s goal however she has a clear eye on Yarra Yering’s next 50 years. She’s mindful of our evolving climate and applauds Carrodus’ vision to plant cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and a mix of Portuguese varieties in what was once considered a marginal climate. Crowe has even made a barrel of tawny from the 2019 vintage. Dr Bailey Carrodus would be proud.
FACTS AND FIGURES
REGION | Yarra Valley
YEARS IN INDUSTRY | 18
ANNUAL CRUSH | 110 tonnes
STAND-OUT WINES | Yarra Yering Dry Red Wine No1