Geelong's Wine By Farr is the winery of the year. The family-owned winery and vineyard, established at Bannockburn in the Moorabool Valley in 1994, is number one in The Real Review's Top Wineries of Australia 2022 list, published in Good Weekend.
It is a triumph for the Farr family, who have had to deal with low, barely-economic grape yields caused by drier than usual seasons and windy weather. It's also a triumph for the Geelong wine region, which has struggled to grow and has languished in the shadow of the higher-profile and more profitable Victorian wine regions such as the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula.
The biggest challenge of the latest vintage released, 2019, was four days of 40-degree heat during the critical ripening time. The By Farr wines were hand-picked at night, using headlamps, and second-generation winemaker Nick Farr says the quality of the wines justified the trouble they went to. Two of the wines scored 99 points, which speaks for itself.
In 2020, as in most of eastern Australia, the yields were miserably low, and then came 2021 and 2022, when the climatic boot was well and truly on the other foot. These seasons were marked by abnormal rain and humidity – more like Burgundy than Australia.
"Humidity late in the season creates a whole new challenge for disease pressure, but it's a fair trade-off as there is higher acidity and greater finesse in the wines."
"Our production is 90 per cent pinot noir. We have a lot of experience with it."
In the Farr family's favour is that they own the business, they only make wine from their own grapes, so are spared the cost of paying growers, and they have total control over quality in both vineyard and winery.
The vineyard was established by Gary and Robyn Farr while Gary was the inaugural winemaker at nearby Bannockburn Vineyards. Gary was heavily influenced by Burgundy and its wines and steered his vineyard towards the Burgundy grapes, pinot noir and chardonnay, both of which the Farrs produce at the highest quality level. Pinot noir in particular is a difficult grape to produce to a high standard.
"Pinot noir just exists at a high level with a low level of tolerance," says Nick. "Our production is 90 per cent pinot noir. We have a lot of experience with it."
The Farrs produce four single-vineyard pinot noirs: Sangreal, Tout Pres, Farrside and Cote Vineyard, which command prices between $90 and $130 a bottle. All rated between 95 and 99 points with The Real Review's tasters.
The Farrs do things their way and are inspired more by France than Australia. They have no cellar door, seldom participate in regional or mainstream promotions, spurn wine competitions and aren't even members of the Geelong winemakers' association.
While highly respected by their fellow vignerons, the Farrs' dogged determination to paddle their own canoe sometimes annoys people. In reality, they simply move to the beat of their own drum.
As for the French influence, Nick says: "We take the French idea of a true Domaine — all facets of production are completed in-house. We apply what we know about our sites and also what we've learned from Burgundy, as there was no better example of pinot noir in the world until recently."
Gary Farr, who has often been called bloody-minded, says he makes wine that he likes to drink, and if you don't like it, that's your problem. It may be the opposite of market orientation, but it works for them and this latest honour is proof of that.
"Ultimately we believe you can only take out what you put in, and for team Farr it is nothing short of 100 per cent dedication," adds Nick.