Thirteen years ago, Dylan McMahon made a shiraz named after his granddad, Dr Peter McMahon. The tradition has continued, but that first, 2010 drop is still a standout.

Max Allen

Drinks columnist, Australian Financial Review

Jul 26, 2023 – 5.00am

During the pandemic lockdowns, winemaker Dylan McMahon asked me to write a short history of Seville Estate, the vineyard his grandparents founded in 1972 in the cool red-soil country of Victoria’s Yarra Valley. I jumped at the chance, not just because it was a welcome writing commission in those uncertain times, but because I have long had a soft spot for Seville Estate, and particularly for Dylan’s grandfather, the late Dr Peter McMahon.

I’d like to share some of that history here because Dylan has just released the latest vintages of two wines he makes as a tribute to Pete.

One of the most remarkable reds I tasted very early on in my wine-drinking life was a Seville Estate shiraz that the doctor had made from then young vines in 1985: I tasted it blind in the early 1990s as part of a wine guessing competition (the things we wine geeks do for fun, right?!) and I picked it as a top-quality Côte-Rôtie or Hermitage from France’s Rhone Valley – not a humble young-vine red from the Yarra.

A few years later, on a visit to the winery one cold winter’s morning, the 1997 shiraz, tasted out of barrel, had a similar life-changing effect on me: as I wrote at the time, “the flavours – of white pepper, spice, black cherry – leapt over themselves to get into my mouth and nostrils”. I can still taste that wine, over a quarter-century later.

And then, in 1998, when I was working on a book about the Yarra Valley, Pete generously took me on a tour of the region, pointing out historic landmarks like the sites of long uprooted 19th-century vineyards, reminiscing – eyes twinkling – about the early days in the ’50s and ’60s when he was a GP in the valley, making wine in his kitchen sink, partying with fellow GP Dr John Middleton (who would go on to found another top Yarra winery, Mount Mary).

“One of the things I loved about Pete was his sense of humour,” Dylan told me when I interviewed him for the history. “I was scared of him when I was growing up. He had this pretty amazing presence in the room. As a young kid, it was quite daunting. But he also loved taking the mickey out of everybody, which made you realise that, oh, there’s a softness here about this person; he’s not taking himself too seriously.”

When Dylan started working at the winery in the late 1990s, his grandfather would stand over his shoulder, watching him clean a drain or wind up a hose, telling him that’s not the correct way to do it.

“My first impressions of working with Pete were diabolical. I thought, this man’s a lunatic. Little did I know he was trying to teach me about attention to detail. Back then, I didn’t give a shit about attention to detail. I was trying to get the job done.”

Dylan learned fast, and by 2004, became Seville Estate’s chief winemaker.

“I realised that attention to detail actually does make a difference,” he said. “Cleaning things properly does make a difference. Getting picking days right does make a difference. It was one of those things where you had to make some mistakes on your own to really understand what’s going on.”

In 2010, Dylan made a special batch of shiraz as a tribute to Pete, to be released a couple of years later to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the vineyard. He wanted to make a wine that expressed Pete’s attention to detail – but in a way that would also gently take the mickey out of his grandfather.

“Making it the most absurd way seemed appropriate,” he told me. “Hand-picked, and then 100 per cent whole bunches, hand-loaded into barrels for fermentation. All techniques he would have hated.”

Dylan let the wine ferment naturally, too, using wild yeasts, which Pete, being a GP and understanding the microbiology, would have considered “the devil’s work”. He knew his grandfather would disapprove of all this, so Dylan kept the wine secret. But eventually, once it was safely in bottle, he showed it to Pete.

“And he loved it,” said Dylan. “Then I told him how it was made. And his eyes were wide open, and he thought it was extraordinary. But I think the biggest thing that touched him was the fact we named the wine after him.”

The 2010 Dr McMahon Shiraz was launched in 2012, at the 40th anniversary celebration dinner in the winery restaurant. I remember tasting it that night and feeling much the same as I did when I tasted that unforgettable 1997 shiraz: it was – still is – a remarkable drink, sturdy, sinewy and spicy, with a long, lingering finish.

There are some very good wines in the latest line-up of vintages from Seville Estate: the 2021 Pinot Noir ($60), for example, is full of red and black berries and to my taste more satisfying at this young stage than either the sinewy 2021 Old Vine Pinot Noir ($100) or the super-ethereal Dr McMahon Pinot Noir ($195), both of which need a few more years in the bottle to reveal all of their delicate complexity.

But the stand-out wine, for me, is the 2010 Dr McMahon Shiraz. And this is based on tasting it blind, not just because of my sentimental attachment to the wine, as outlined above. It’s quite reserved and brooding at first, with hints of black fruit and the deeply peppery spice I so strongly associate with the old shiraz vines at Seville, but time in the glass and plenty of air causes the wine to unfurl its tannins and deliver more and more dark juicy layers of flavour and earthy richness. Great now but will develop beautifully in the cellar for many years. $195

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