Our family vineyard is the highest altitude site in Victoria. It was planted in 1998; about half chardonnay (i10V1 & 95 clones), the balance made up of pinot gris, pinot meunier and pinot noir (114, 115 & MV6 clones). From the first harvest five years later, the fruit was sold to Yalumba for their sparkling wines, with Brown Brothers & Chandon sourcing fruit from us more recently. Our high rainfall and nutrient rich loam soil means that our greatest challenges are around vigour and mildews - but we’ve been very lucky over the years to have great viticulturists in charge of the day-to-day operation; the result being a healthy & balanced vineyard that is managed with premium wine in mind. Producing on average around 135-150 tons annually, the fruit is allocated each season to various buyers, and of course our own tiny production of about 15 tons per year.
The cold climate of Whitlands translates perfectly to sparkling wine, chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. Cold sites result in long ripening, which in wine terms, translates in delicate aromas, layers of flavour and most importantly, high natural acidity. Acidity is bit like the skeleton of wine - it holds everything together and in place - forming the what I often refer to as the ‘mesh’. It is a key attribute to our wines; no matter their style or variety, the acidity is distinctive. It gives super fine texture, energy, expansiveness and sometimes even a little tingle.
Without being dramatic, Whitlands is absolutely in the middle of nowhere. There is no town or pub, it’s just a 9km plateau which forms the western ridge of the King Valley; between Mansfield & Whitfield. It ranges from 750 to 900 metres above sea level and due to the cold climate, is an ideal place to grow grapes for sparkling wine, pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris & riesling. There are about 400 acres of grapes along the plateau in total.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF BURDERS LANE
On the other side of the hill to the vineyard sits our chapel. A relic from the 1940’s & 50’s when a group of idealistic Catholics embarked upon their own congregation. This was the beginning of the Burders Lane farm, named after Lionel Burder - the patriarch of the Burder family. When the congregation disbanded ten years later, Lionel & his wife Monica stayed in Whitlands and raised their family of four children. Potato crops & logging were the main income sources.
KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY
Despite the remoteness, my parents - David (one of Lionel & Monica’s children) and Sharon have stayed in Whitlands. We have another business on the property in addition to farming a grand total of two Scottish Highlander cows - who we keep around because they are so photogenic.
My approach to winemaking is to try and assemble wines that have a sense of harmony and that connect the drinker to our place. But more than this, our wines are about pleasure, celebration and delight. What is the point otherwise! We are at the beginning of our adventure, experimenting as much as possible to try and build some understanding of our vineyard and the blocks, clones and varieties within it. Every vintage throws us new challenges but that is the fun part: when the fruit is great, the winemaking can be simple. And by doing this, we can try and create a wine that tastes or feels like it came from Whitlands, and that it was made with care. And if we’ve done our job well, you might even feel a little joy :)
THE BACK STORY
As a young teenager I worked in the local pub in King Valley. It was full of local grape growing families, vineyard workers and the first wave of wine tourists. This was the late 90’s, and witnessing the emergence of the local wine tourism industry, led by the Pizzini, Brown & Dalzotto families, was incredible. I was 16 when my Mum & Dad planted our vineyard and I think that was it for me - I’ve been in the wine industry ever since. Eminence started as a hobby really: as an unqualified 23 year old I was afraid to make the wines myself so I commissioned other local winemakers (Ros Ritchie, Joel Pizzini, Glenn Ebervach, Cofield Wines, John Stokes) to create our wines - and I sold them. These makers showed that our fruit was capable of producing great wine, laying the critical foundation for the future. In 2010 we started working with sparkling guru Tony Jordan and through his guidance we have refined our sparkling wine program in blind pursuit of quality.
In those first couple of years of our brand I moved to Melbourne and jumped in the deep end of the wine industry: worked in bars & retail, studied my ass off, tasted, tasted, tasted and slowly started to come to the realisation that I was totally, utterly hooked. I worked for 7 years as a wine educator, wrote a book, travelled the world, met the greatest people in the country, kept studying and kept tasting. Still hooked. Over those years we had our wines made by other people and they were wonderful, but in 2018 I made the move back to the vineyard. How could I not? Taking over the winemaking is my next challenge and beginning of the next chapter. It’s a genuine privilege to have access to fruit of this calibre, so as they say, no pressure. Watch this space.
A WINTER POSTCARD
Our doggos love the snow! The sausages are named Karen & Polly - they belong to my brother. Misha & Mach (not pictured, much too smart to go out in the snow) belong to my Mum and Dad and Panko-Schnitzel-Von-Schnauzer (Panko for short) is my little buddy. For more snaps, check out my Instagram @clareburder.