Pinot Noir in Australia: A Taste of Four Cool-Climate Regions

Several months ago I attended a tasting of Australian Pinot Noir hosted by the San Francisco Wine School. The tasting focused on four cool-climate regions in Australia and brought a taste of the Pinot Noir Celebration Australia, held in the Mornington Peninsula in February, to the US. I attended the tasting and received sample wines as a media guest of San Francisco Wine School and agreed to write a blog post about my experience. As a Pinot Noir lover I was impressed by what I learned and tasted.

According to Mark Davidson, Head of Education Development – Americas for Wine Australia, Pinot Noir’s history in Australia began with the Busby Collection — a large collection of vine cuttings collected by James Busby in Europe and brought to Australia in 1832.

The MV6 Pinot Noir clone hails from the Busby Collection and has become well adapted to Australia’s terroir over time. In the mid-1990s Dijon clones arrived and a wave of exploration followed. Over time the best regions, best clones, best practices in the vineyard and in the wine cellar have resulted in quality Pinot Noir grown in several cool-climate regions in Australia. 

Australia Wine Regions map
Australia’s Wine Regions. Map provided by Pinot Noir Celebration Australia

The Pinot Noir Celebration Australia focused on seven cool-climate regions: Adelaide Hills, Tasmania, Geelong, Macedon Ranges, Yarra Valley, Gippsland and Mornington Peninsula. The focus of this tasting includes the regions most likely to be imported into the US: Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Adelaide Hills and Tasmania. 

Yarra Valley

The Yarra Valley has been the benchmark region for Australian Pinot Noir in terms of the export market, according to Mark Davidson, and has a history of winemaking dating back to 1838. The region is complicated according to winemaker Mac Forbes, a quality he used to curse but now greatly appreciates. It has mountains, forests, volcanic soils, sedimentary and alluvial soils from the Yarra River. It has pockets that have historically been too cold or marginal for grapes that with climate change may offer protection from excess heat and bush fires. 

Photo of There bottles of Yarra Valley Pinot Noir
Yarra Valley Pinot Noir

2022 Yering Station Pinot Noir, Yarra Valleytranslucent ruby color with aromas and flavors of cranberries, cherries, strawberries with fine tannins in a barely medium body with fresh acidity. 12.5% abv. SRP $35

This Pinot Noir is a blend of several Yarra Valley vineyard sites. Quality for the 2022 vintage in the Yarra Valley was excellent but the yield was very small. 

2020 Giant Steps Primavera Vineyard Pinot Noir, Yarra Valleytranslucent ruby with aromas and flavors of red cherries, floral and earth with smooth tannins in a barely medium body with fresh acidity. 13.5% abv. SRP $50

This is a single-vineyard Pinot Noir from the Upper Yarra, a cooler part of the valley at higher elevation, with very old volcanic soils. Giant Steps was purchased by Jackson Family Wines in 2020. 

2019 Mac Forbes Yarra Junction Villages Pinot Noir, Yarra Valleytranslucent ruby with aromas and flavors of raspberries, red cherries and earth with a bit more texture from tannins in a barely medium body with lively acidity. 12.5% abv. SRP $55

2019 was a very dry vintage and a particular challenge for dry farming. This vineyard is one of the coolest Mac Forbes works with and often the latest to harvest. The soils are old clay-loam soils with silt.

This group of Pinot Noir had the most delicate color of all the wines in the tasting. Flavors tended toward red fruit and sometimes floral.

Mornington Peninsula

Kate McIntyre, MW, whose parents founded Moorooduc Estate, provided a detailed picture of the Mornington Peninsula. The region is surrounded by the sea, with a bay on either side and Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean to the south. Cool ocean waters keep the region relatively cool. Elevations are highest in the southern end of the peninsula near Red Hill and Main Ridge where Arthur’s Seat rises to about 1000 feet above sea level. All the soils in the peninsula derive from ancient sea bed but at this end of the peninsula they are volcanic as well.

In the middle of the peninsula, where Moorooduc is located, the soils are alluvial with sandy topsoil and clay under rolling hills. At 95 feet above sea level, Moorooduc Estate sits on the highest hill in the area. The estate totals 20 acres, with 12 under vine, and Kate describes their family winery’s production as tiny.

The first Pinot Noir wasn’t planted in the Mornington Peninsula until 1975. Because the area was settled by the English and Scottish, as opposed to the Swiss who settled the Yarra Valley and brought their winemaking knowledge with them, the Mornington Peninsula was originally planted to apple and cherry trees not grape vines. 

Photo of small bottle of Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir
Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir

2018 Moorooduc Estate Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsulatranslucent ruby with aromas and flavors of red and dark berries, earth and slate in a light body with fine tannins. Great complexity, acidity and balance. 13.5% abv. SRP $48

Lovely flavors and complexity with a bit more dark fruit, but still light on its feet – as a Pinot Noir should be.

Adelaide Hills

South Australia is hot and dry, according to Mark Davidson. But there are pockets of Adelaide Hills that are cooler because of elevation, aspect and, to a lesser extent, cooling sea breezes. All three panelists agreed that location really is everything in the Adelaide Hills if you want to make good Pinot Noir.

Photo of three small bottles of Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir
Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir

2021 Murdoch Hill “Phaeton” Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hillstranslucent ruby with aromas and flavors of red fruit, flowers, dried herbs in a light body with smooth tannins and fresh acidity. 13% abv. SRP $48

2021 Shaw + Smith Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hillstranslucent ruby with aromas and flavors of red and dark fruit in a nearly medium body with fine tannins. A bit more body and structure with fresh acidity. 13.5% abv. SRP $39

A bit more structure with great complexity and balance.


Tasmania has only one GI (Geographical Indication) or wine region, but the region is very diverse. Most of the rain falls on the wild west coast of the island state and along the southern edge of the island leaving the east coast very dry. According to Mac Forbes, who owns a vineyard in the Huon Valley, Tasmania’s unique qualities have been discovered and vineyard plantings are increasing. Until recently the region’s wine industry has been very small even though plantings go back to the 1950s. He feels the uniqueness of place is now being reflected in Tasmanian wine through more careful farming practices.

Photo of three small bottles of Tasmania Pinot Noir
Tasmania Pinot Noir

2020 Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir, Tasmaniatranslucent ruby with aromas and flavors of red fruit, peppery spice and smooth tannins in a light body with bright acidity. 12.5% abv. SRP $25

Pinot Noir is sourced from the Hazard Vineyard on the east coast of Tasmania.

2019 Handpicked Collection Pinot Noir, Tasmaniaminty aromas and flavors with dark fruit and candied red fruit in a barely medium body with smooth tannins and bright acidity. 13.5% abv. SRP $50

Pinot Noir is sourced from the Tamar Valley in the north of Tasmania. Handpicked makes Pinot Noir from several regions in Australia.

2021 Dalrymple Estate Pinot Noir, Tasmaniaflavors and aromas are earthy with red fruit and berry brambles in a nearly medium body with fine tannins and bright acidity. 14% abv. SRP $53

Sourced from four sites around Tasmania.

More diverse flavors, a bit more body and weight (but not heavy), beautiful structure and balance.

Take Aways

The character of Pinot Noir from these four regions is distinct, but what these wines all have in common is elegance and balance. As a Pinot Noir lover I will certainly be looking for more Australian Pinot Noir to put in our wine rotation.


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