Darrin Gaffy would be the first to admit he landed on his feet when he found and bought 10 hectares of land in Red Hill.
In fact, he was so sure of his place on the land that he built a house, planted grape vines and named the property Principia, after a book of the same name by Sir Isaac Newton.
“He’s the father of gravity,” Gaffy says while sitting in the kitchen of his house which overlooks his place of work, the vineyard.
Gaffy prides himself on using gravity in his winemaking process.
The system prevents him from filtering his chardonnay and pinot noir wines.
Pumps are usually used by winemakers and Gaffy says going with gravity was “a personal choice” rather than one based on improving the quality of wine.
“I was attracted by using a natural force – I’m in no hurry to do anything,” he said.
Gaffy’s tendency towards a more natural process has also seen him shun fertilisers and irrigation, although he stresses that “I’m not organic; I use copper and sulphur sprays as fungicides, Red Hill’s a damp place”. His practices see him harvesting about 1.5 tonnes to the acre, “which is not a high yield”.
Whatever his reasoning, Gaffy’s dedication to his craft has paid off with Principia being named Dark Horse Winery of the Year in the wine lovers’ bible, the 2019 Halliday Wine Companion.
Wine critic James Halliday says Gaffy’s “guiding philosophy … is minimal interference”, citing the lack of irrigation, use of gravity and wild yeast during primary and secondary fermentation.
The Wine Companion describes Principia’s Kindred Hill 2016 pinot noir as having “perfectly ripened” with a “tantalisingly seductive palate” that leaves “an imprint that takes seeming eternity to diminish”.
The similarly priced ($55 a bottle) 2016 Altior pinot noir and Principia’s $40 pinot noir are also lauded for their flavours.
The 2016 chardonnay is said by Halliday to have an initial “beguiling bouquet” (creamy, nutty, nougat-like) that then reveals “a complexity of stone fruit and citrus” with a “long, lemony finish”.
“It’s like a win at the Oscars,” Gaffy says of the Dark Horse award.
“I knew three months ago but had to sign a non-disclosure agreement so the book would have the most impact when released.”
And so it did. Once published, the recognition by Halliday brought almost instant rewards for Principia, with coverage in The Weekend Australian and The Weekly Times and more trade inquiries.
Gaffy bought his land (tucked in behind other properties in Main Creek Road) in 1994 and planted the first vines in 1995.
His first crops were sold to other wineries and the proceeds used to buy winemaking equipment. His first stainless steel vat was an old milk vat.
But it was not until 2006 that he felt his own product to be “worthy”.
Principia’s annual output is about 700 cases of pinot noir and 100 cases of chardonnay.
A toolmaker by trade, Gaffy puts much of his success down to an eye for detail that his former occupation required.
He “learnt” the chemistry side of making wine and then absorbed more about the business during a six-week stay in Burgundy, France.
Some of his grapes come from a neighbouring property owned by a judge who works in Hong Kong. On a recent wine promotion tour Gaffy was able to speak about his wines at a dinner in Hong Kong and then introduce the judge, who likened their relationship to that of a horse owner (the judge) and trainer (Gaffy).
Principia’s wines are served in several Sydney restaurants – Rock Pool, Icebergs, The Hilton Hotel’s Glass Restaurant and Cumulus Inc, Moss Hal and Kenzan in Melbourne.
Last week’s good weather saw Gaffy back in the vineyard. Feet planted firmly on the ground, using manual secateurs to finish off three months of pruning. His big hope is for the weather to be kind, and make the Dark Horse award more than a one-off.