Yarra Valley vintage ends in joy for two Club Members

It’s been a tough few months for Club Members Brad Atkins and Matthew Davis, but the end of vintage has a silver lining.

How many nine-year-olds can boast they have their own wine label? As well as adapting to remote learning during the COVID-19 situation, Sebastian Atkins-Davis has embraced everything there is to learn about his parents’ boutique winery in the Yarra Valley.

The son of Steels Gate winemakers Brad Atkins and Matthew Davis, the Grade 4 student is about to bottle his first Merlot and demand for the limited release may mean there isn’t time to let it age in the bottle before being sold.

sebastian picking grapes in vinyard
brad and matt in vinyard

“We helped him pick the grapes, but he plunged every day before and after school and did all the chemistry and foot stomping and designed his own label,” Brad tells Highlights.

There will be about 380 bottles under the new “Atkins-Davis” label and it will be sold to the winery’s wine club members. Sebastian will sample the wine so he can understand how the taste evolves, but it will be strictly educational.

This achievement at the end of the 2020 vintage has brought joy to the family after many challenging months. First, they had to deal with unseasonable cold weather and hail over summer, which put the fruit at risk of disease.

Then the COVID-19 situation forced them to close, just as they had finished major renovations of their cellar door and restaurant. They were fortunate that seven of their staff qualified for the JobKeeper allowance, but they decided to pick the grapes with remaining staff instead of using a casual crew.

“We’ve used this time to get to know each other better and it has been good to go, ‘You know what, we’ll get through this together’.”

“The poor weather meant there was a lot less fruit in the Yarra Valley, but it looks like the quality of the fruit is outstanding,” Brad says. “That’s the silver lining.”

As RACV Club members, Brad and Matthew are missing the chance to go swimming and relax in the Members’ Lounge at Healesville Country Club & Resort.

But an important part of their business is contributing to the local community and in response to the lockdown they have joined forces with two other wineries to create “isolation packs”.

They have also partnered with Hop it (local tourist bus company) and Curvee Chocolate to run virtual wine tastings via Zoom. “Our first one was very successful, and a lot of fun. I think it broke up a lot of people’s isolation issues,” Brad says.

Steels Gate Wines is known for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but this month will release two Iberian red varietals, Graciano and Bastardo, which have been sourced from their partner vineyard in Nagambie.

He hopes the winery, which is surrounded by national park, can reopen before spring. “We’ve got this beautiful space that we want to share with everyone,” he says.

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