Lethbridge Wines

Innovation, Intellect and Imagination from the Moorabool Valley

Not long after completing their respective PhDs in medicine and chemistry, Maree Collis and Ray Nadeson’s dream of establishing a vineyard had become impossible to ignore. Inspired by the great grower wines from Europe’s great vineyards, their search began in 1993 with one question: How best to realise comparable distinction and character of the wines they were drinking from Australian soils?

“We thought about it as a problem that needed to be explored,” says Ray. “We did what we would have done on any scientific project: to deconstruct the whole thing down to the atoms and then put it back together again.” So, with a science-led mindset, they began their search for the perfect site. It took three years of painstaking research, poring over maps and analysing soils, rocks and weather patterns.

In 1996, Maree and Ray found their perfect site in the heart of Geelong’s Moorabool Valley. Although they did not realise it at the time, the same patch of dirt could trace its viticultural roots back to 1874, when it was initially planted by Swiss immigrants before phylloxera devastated the region’s vineyards. While juggling their busy professional schedules and young family, Ray and Maree began the project of replanting the vineyard in that first year. By 2003, they had left their day jobs and were working full-time amongst the vines. Today, the site is home to seven hectares planted to a patchwork of varieties—Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gamay, Shiraz, Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Franc—all segmented by blocks and clones.

Ray and Maree wanted to farm organically from day one for fruit that fit the precise profile they had in their mind’s eye: pure, potent, layered wines with driving freshness and the stamp of provenance. The lofty, breezy, cool, dry, rocky Lethbridge site had it all. The Lethbridge vineyard—sitting at 270 metres elevation and located 30 kilometres northwest of Geelong—is the Valley’s coolest site. The thin black-clay topsoils lie over two tongues of ancient lava flows—bluestone and honeycomb basalt—formed by volcanic activity 30-50,000 years ago. These volcanic layers lie over a limestone base, resulting in low yields that ripen slowly and thoroughly, and retain freshness despite the Moorabool’s dry climate.

In the vineyard, the health of the soil and vines comes first. Pruning practices are gentle, and canopies are managed to limit disease pressure rather than taking a more conventional approach—the only sprays used are accredited organic or biodynamic. Straw mulch can be found between rows, increasing carbon and preserving moisture in the soil. Cover crops are used year-round, including clover, radishes, cornflowers, sunflowers, oats, vetch, and more. Yields are staggeringly low, with some blocks mustering just seven hl/ha in a good year.

Ray and Maree also source fruit from a selection of sites across the broader Geelong region and beyond, including the Hat Rock vineyard on the Bellarine Peninsula and the Rebenberg vineyard on Mount Duneed, plus the famed Malakoff vineyard in the Pyrenees. Like the Lethbridge home site, these were selected for their ability to slowly ripen low yields while maintaining high levels of natural acidity. Relationships with their growers are long-standing, and the farming philosophies mirror those of the Lethbridge team.

Although the quality and character of the site are central to the Lethbridge ethos. Ray doesn’t underplay his team’s role in the equation, emphasising how best to cut distortion and placing each vineyard’s unique attributes into sharp focus. “My viticultural approach is not dissimilar to my winemaking approach,” he says. “It’s to create the frame to highlight the components of that soil that I want you to think about when you taste the wines. Not just soil but place. Soil is a component of place, as are climate and intention; the intention of the person, of the team.”

In the cellar, Nadeson follows instinct as much as intellect. Together with his right-hand man, Crimea-born winemaker Vasily Pestretsov, they “frame nature” by removing little and adding less. There’s no recipe per se, and they constantly make micro-decisions throughout the process, ferment by ferment in search of balance, texture and layers of complexity. Spontaneous ferments occur in wood custom-built for Lethbridge by one cooper, according to Ray’s tight-grain, low-toast specifications. All wines go through malolactic conversion; the whites see some skin contact, and whole bunches and new oak are used depending on vintage and variety. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered with scripted labels from Ray’s diary. “I’m more interested in the hows than the whys,” says Ray. “So you get a little bit of the ‘why’ with every bottle.”

In the glass, each Lethbridge wine is a candid expression of its site, season and soil. They are not primary, fruit-forward wines; they follow their own muse, leading with structure, texture, savouriness and definitive freshness. These are proud Australian wines for the head, heart and table.

Currently Available

Nadeson Collis Coda NV
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Nadeson Collis Coda NV

Disg. July 2023. Coda is the seed that grew. Ray Nadeson and Maree Collis began their sparkling wine quest in 2003 with some Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the chilly Doeven site in Drumborg, Henty. Each year, they added to that original base wine, creating a perpetual blend that is now over 20 years old. Like many things at Lethbridge, the solera approach was born of organic evolution rather than a preconceived outcome, but it has become Lethbridge’s sparkling flagship and is one of Australia’s most strikingly unique sparkling wines. The blend is predominantly Chardonnay, with small amounts of Meunier, Gris and Pinot Noir. Each draw-off removes enough for just 300 or so bottles, and the wine spends a further two years on lees before disgorgement with zero dosage. Unlike the other wines in the range, Ray sees little benefit in having Coda sit on lees in bottle for a long time. “The solera goes back to 2003; the desired result from bottle aging has already been achieved in barrel over the last 20 years,” says Ray. “The work has already been done.”

“Wow. This is impressive. Wild. So nutty, savoury, whiffs of fino sherry, dried apple, faint farmhouse cider. Rich in the way it sits in the palate but with bright zing of acidity and very fine, light bubbles. Hugely nutty flavours too, more fino, maybe amontillado even, so complex, so interesting, rich, powerful statement in its way and so very delicious. An experience in the glass. Brilliant.”
96 points, Mike Bennie, The Wine Front
“This magnificent multi-vintage sparkling wine is for people who like their fizz bone-dry, super-complex and with heaps of rich, nutty, yeasty, savoury flavour. Not for sipping as an aperitif: drink it out of large wine glasses with wild mushroom risotto.”
Max Allen, Australian Financial Review
Nadeson Collis Coda NV
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Lethbridge Chardonnay 2022
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Lethbridge Chardonnay 2022

Lethbridge Chardonnay brings together fruit from the Lethbridge home vineyard and three other cool, rocky sites in the Geelong and Henty GIs. The Hat Rock vineyard is located on the Bellarine Peninsula, midway between Drysdale and Portarlington. Named after a hat-shaped rocky outcrop on the shore of Corio Bay, a short distance from the vineyard, it was planted in 1996 and sits on a gently undulating slope that faces north. The soils are volcanic clay/loam overlying limestone, and the cooling effects of the bayside location moderate temperatures in the warmer months. The Suma vineyard, on the other side of the Bellarine Peninsula overlooking Swan Bay, sits on shallow red clay soils over limestone. The salty sea air and chalky soils bring a distinctive savoury/mineral quality to the blend. The Henty portion comes from Jack and Lois Doeven’s well-established, cool site in Drumborg, home to schist soils and low-yielding vines. Closing the circle is the Lethbridge home vineyard, which was planted in 1996 and is the Moorabool Valley’s coolest site. It’s a low-yielding site that sits at 270 metres with thin black clay topsoil on bluestone and honeycomb basalt above limestone bedrock. Yields across the sites average out at a meagre 25 hl/ha. The parcels are kept separate but are vinified the same way: whole bunch pressed, wild fermented in 100% new oak, full malolactic conversion and maturation in 30% new wood for 11 months. All barrels are custom-built by John-Louis Bousset to Lethbridge specifications, and the Chardonnay vessels, in particular, are very lightly toasted. This is top shelf Chardonnay by any measure: vivid, succulent and vibrant in flavour, with super impressive depth, texture and length. The balance is masterful.

“From a vineyard that's been leased since 2004 and that overlooks Queenscliff. Whole-bunched pressed to 100% new oak for fermentation then matured in a mix of new and older oak. 100% mlf. A very bright green gold. Ripe stone fruits, a little nougat and hazelnut. This is all about texture and flavour but equally it’s structured, too. And long. Good stuff.”
92 points, Philip Rich, The Wine Companion
Lethbridge Chardonnay 2022
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Lethbridge Allegra Chardonnay 2018
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Lethbridge Allegra Chardonnay 2018

Named after daughter Allegra, this is Maree Collis and Ray Nadeson’s flagship Chardonnay. They source the fruit for the Allegra Chardonnay from the historic Rebenberg vineyard in Mount Duneed. Located 10 kilometres southwest of Geelong, the vineyard was initially planted in 1858 and replanted in 1968 by Ken and Joy Campbell. The Chardonnay vines are now almost 50 years old (planted in 1981, making them some of the oldest Chardonnay vines in Geelong). They are rooted in gravel and quartz soil and give extremely low yields of less than 12 hl/ha. These low yields and old vines go some way to explain how the Rebenberg vineyard always delivers “fruit of incredible density and acid”, according to Ray. Fruit for the 2018 Allegra was picked by hand and pressed as whole bunches before barrel fermentation. The wine underwent full malolactic conversion and matured for 11 months in new oak, which Ray says allows “the oak tannins to frame the wine”. The wine then aged in bottle for a further three years before release. Lethbridge and Chardonnay are a match made in heaven, and here we have exhibit A.

“Lethbridge's flagship chardonnay, capable of stopping you in your tracks. With fineness, concentration of fruit and judicious winemaking, this is one of Geelong's best expressions of the grape. Citrus to the fore on the bouquet, with grapefruit, lemon, white nectarine and almond-meal notes. Fine lined throughout with a tantalising theme of bush herbs and lemon thyme. Bright, crystalline freshness to close.”
95 points, Jeni Port, Wine Companion
“Powerful style of Chardonnay from Geelong, most often. Stonefruit, preserved lemon, wheat germ, mint and garden herbs, cashew nuts. It’s intense in acidity, but rich in ripe lemon and peach flavour, kind of savoury and saline too, oatmeal and grapefruit, glossy yet flinty, with a finish of huge length and gently nutty oxidative character. Such personality, power, and presence. Wonderful.”
95 points, Gary Walsh, The Wine Front
“A rich Chardonnay in the context of Australian tendencies to push the linear, reductive and taut. Yet there is no dearth of freshness. White peach, truffled lees and brulee segue to mineral crunch, a lick of classy oak and a long, penetrative finish. This mid-weighted, bottled aged iteration is for flavor hounds as much for those who like textural interplay and considerable complexity. Drink or hold. Screw cap.”
94 points, Ned Goodwin MW, jamessuckling.com
Lethbridge Allegra Chardonnay 2018
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Lethbridge Que Syrah Syrah 2021
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Lethbridge Que Syrah Syrah 2021

Lethbridge has been working with fruit from the Malakoff Vineyard in the Pyrenees near Landsborough for more than 10 years. This celebrated site—owned and operated by Cameron and Robert John—has long been the source of top-quality Shiraz from some of Victoria’s most celebrated producers. The moderately sloped site was first planted in 1997 and lies at 300 metres with a well-sheltered northeast aspect. The soils are rich in red ferrous clay with large amounts of ironstone and quartz littered throughout. The lion's share of the 23-hectare site is planted to three Shiraz clones (PT23, BVRC30 and Best’s Old Block), with the balance comprising Nebbiolo and a small portion of Viognier. The farming doctrine at Malakoff mirrors that of Lethbridge, with sustainability and soil health as top priorities. Ray and Maree work closely with the Johns each year and are intimately involved in the decisions for their chosen blocks (they work with the same blocks and take 100% of the fruit) to ensure yields are kept low and the fruit is picked at optimal ripeness. Ray tells us that though each Syrah block displays its own character and clonal identity, there is a common inky/spicy note throughout that is the site’s unique marker. The fruit was picked by hand, destemmed and fermented spontaneously in a 3000-litre cuve for 20 days before being pressed off and matured for 10 months in 1200-litre foudres. From a superb season in the Pyrenees (and much of the rest of the state), in Nadeson’s eyes, 2021 has yielded a Syrah of “impressive concentration and beautiful acidity”. “It may sound silly, but it’s always the yummiest wine I make.” Attractive and generous from the first sniff, this has all the broody fruit weight, savoury/mineral lines and fragrant spice you could hope for from a Victorian Shiraz, all wrapped up in a deliciously plump yet amply structured frame. In a word, delicious. 

Lethbridge Que Syrah Syrah 2021
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Lethbridge Pinot Noir 2023
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Lethbridge Pinot Noir 2023

This Pinot Noir is Lethbridge’s representation of the broader Geelong region, marrying fruit from their own site in the Moorabool Valley with four other sites from the Valley and the Bellarine Peninsula. The Hat Rock vineyard in Bellarine was planted in 1996 on clay and limestone soils and is home to clones MV6, 114 and 115. Suma, also in Bellarine and facing the ocean, was planted in 1999 to MV6 on thin red clay soils. The Moorabool Valley sites include Hillside Haven, planted in 1998 on basalt granite soils, and Springbank, planted on red clay over limestone in 2001 to MV6, 114 and 115. Then there’s the Lethbridge home vineyard. Planted in 1996, it’s the Moorabool Valley’s coolest site. It sits at 270 metres with black clay topsoil on bluestone and honeycomb basalt above limestone bedrock. Each parcel fermented separately in open-top vessels with high proportions of bunches (approximately 50% overall). The ferments were kept cool and handled gently over 20 days, with once-a-day punch-downs giving way to just a wetting of the cap as the days progressed. The wine was gently pressed and matured for 11 months in 40% new wood.

Lethbridge Pinot Noir 2023
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Lethbridge La Gauche 2021
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Lethbridge La Gauche 2021

There’s not much that Ray Nadeson and Maree Collis can’t (or won’t) turn their hand to. Inspired by the bistro reds of Bordeaux, they have crafted a pair of wines in the image of the region’s left bank and right bank. La Gauche (the left) is thus led by Cabernet Sauvignon (68%), with Merlot (18%) and Cabernet Franc (14%) in support. Both Cabernet parcels come from a well-established vineyard (planted in the 1990s) about three kilometres from the Lethbridge estate in the Moorabool Valley in Geelong. Owned by Tim Harrop, the site sits on the river flats, and the old vines are rooted in basalt-derived rocky soils with quartz throughout. It’s a cool, low-yielding site–just how the Lethbridge team likes it. The Merlot is grown on the basalt over limestone soils of the Lethbridge home vineyard. Each batch was destemmed and fermented separately before maturing for 18 months in super fine-grained new and one-year-old French wood. Campbell’s note below captures the wine well. 

“Sure it’s light but it’s also lovely. It’s a boysenberried, free-flowing wine with herb and twig notes aplenty but no, at any stage, signs of bitterness. It feels savoury and herbal in a deliberate way. There’s some greenery around the edges, and cedarwood oak, and dusty-tobacco characters, all of which feel harmonious This is nicely done, and should mature well.”
92+ points, Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front
Lethbridge La Gauche 2021
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"People talk about playing a long-game in the wine industry, but few adhere to it like Maree Collis and Ray Nadeson of Lethbridge Wines." Mike Bennie

"Very interesting, sylistically, are the wines from Lethbridge." Gary Walsh, The Wine Front

"Ray Nadeson and Maree Collis have always been adventurous winemakers, keen to experiment with new techniques." Max Allen

"As well as understanding the importance of terroir, the partners have built a unique strawbale winery, designed to recreate the controlled environment of cellars and caves in Europe. Winemaking is no less ecological: hand-picking, indigenous-yeast fermentation, small open fermenters, pigeage (foot-stomping) and minimal handling of the wines throughout the maturation process are all part and parcel of the highly successful Lethbridge approach." James Halliday

“Now and then someone comes into the wine world who learns so fast and produces excellent wine so quickly it takes your breath away." Huon Hooke

Country

Australia

Primary Region

Geelong, Victoria

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Winemakers: Ray Nadeson and Maree Collis

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