Quealy Winemakers

Pioneering Mornington Peninsula

‘Pioneers’ is not a word we throw around loosely, but it’s precisely the right term to describe Kathleen Quealy and Kevin McCarthy. This power couple was not only part of the early wave of growers to begin seriously exploring and planting the Mornington Peninsula in the early ‘90s, but they were also the producer to identify this area’s potential with Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio and their work with this variety made the grape a household name in Australia. Study trips to Collio (1995), Alsace (1998) and the pilgrimage to Josko Gravner (2006), each had a profound influence on Quealy and McCarthy’s thinking—and led to some of Australia’s finest, and earliest attempts at quality skin contact wines: an adventure that continues today.

Now there is a generational shift at play with Tom McCarthy, the eldest son of Kathleen and Kevin starting to make his mark. Tom McCarthy took over as chief winemaker at Quealy in 2019 with Kevin—as Tom puts it—as his “consultant and night shift”. While the outstanding vibrancy of the latest releases underlines what Tom is bringing to the table, he’s also quick to point out that he’s working with Quealy’s established house philosophy of many years, which includes no pressings (and therefore no need for fining), no acidification, low and late sulphur additions and a reliance on old oak.

Not content simply playing the role of trailblazer, today this pioneering Estate is being driven to new heights by a young team making their mark in both vineyard and winery.

In the vineyards, Quealy’s full-time viticulturist Lucas Blanck (son of leading Alsace vigneron Frédéric Blanck) has overseen a major renovation of the Balnarring home vineyard, including the implementation of organic certification, dryland farming, a rotational cover crop program (for nutrition and soil structure) and replanting nearly 20% of the vineyard to Ribolla Gialla, Pinot Grigio et al. His work underpins the quality we’re seeing in today’s wines and was recently recognized by the judges of the Young Gun of Wine Vineyard of the Year awards.

The Quealy range is a many-splendoured thing. Four vineyards lie at the heart of the portfolio. The Home Block in Balnarring was planted in 1982 and has some of the oldest Pinot Noir vines on the Peninsula. This is also the home to Quealy’s oldest Pinot Grigio, and the aromatic varieties of Moscato Giallo, Friulano and Riesling, as well as some more recent plantings of Malvasia and Ribolla Gialla. A little Chardonnay from the original plantings also remains. As of 2019, the Home Block is certified organic.

Kathleen Quealy planted the Musk Creek vineyard in 1997. Perched atop Main Ridge, overlooking Westernport Bay and the heads, it’s the coolest site in the portfolio, bestowing exceptional late-ripening Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. On the red soils of Merricks North, there’s the Tussie Mussie vineyard, and back in Balnarring we have Campbell & Christine, again planted by Quealy (for the owners) in 1994. Each of these sites is managed entirely by the Quealy team and, with the current exception of Musk Creek, all are farmed organically.

Much of the narrative surrounding this producer has focussed on the winemaking side of the story. Yet the Quealy team has also earned the right to be called pioneers for their recognition of potential in the region, the establishment of organic practice, and the planting of previously overlooked varieties they believed would (and did) excel.

The Range

Quealy Tussie Mussie Pinot Gris 2023
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Quealy Tussie Mussie Pinot Gris 2023

Managed by the Quealy team, the Tussie Mussie vineyard was planted on the site of a former rose farm in 2007 (hence the name—tussie mussie is an old term for a flower bouquet). Located in Merricks North, the vineyard’s three hectares of Pinot Noir and Gris vines are rooted in the Peninsula’s most prized soil: deep, red volcanic clays. Combined with the site’s northern location and north-facing aspect, these soils allow for slow ripening—key to developing complexity while maintaining bright natural acidity. The fruit was picked over two passes in late March and early April. The berries arrived at the winery in excellent condition: small, glossy-coloured and brimming with intense flavour. The fruit was pressed as whole bunches using a long cycle and fermented mostly in tank―10% was in barrel―with some solids. This was followed by seven months’ maturation on lees. It’s clear the 2023 season was a winner for whites at this address. This Tussie Mussie Gris is flush with fleshy fruits, flowers and spice with a delicious lick of marine salinity, seamless texture and balance and an elegant, powerfully flavoured close.

Quealy Tussie Mussie Pinot Gris 2023
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Quealy Tussie Mussie Pinot Noir 2023
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Quealy Tussie Mussie Pinot Noir 2023

Quealy’s Tussie Mussie vineyard is a three-hectare, north-facing site in Merricks North planted to Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.  The Pinot vines are in the lower and central part of the vineyard, and the clone is 777—or the ‘Morey clone’, to give its more romantic nickname. It’s a low-yielding cultivar, and Quealy prunes the vine to a single, arched cane, ensuring plenty of light and space around each cluster. These vines are dry-grown and managed organically, with certification due shortly. Tom McCarthy describes the 2023 season as a “rinse and repeat” of the previous year, with yields again affected by poor flowering but fruit quality exceptional. The intense, low-yielding conditions provided the perfect foil to glimpse this vineyard’s true potential. The fruit was picked at the end of March and fermented in two batches: one whole bunch and the other destemmed. It was gently pressed after 25 days and matured in a combination of new (25%), one-, two- and three-year-old barrels. The wine was bottled after 10 months. Always the most open of the Quealy Pinot Noirs, Tussie Mussie 2023 is bright and perfumed with nice, complexing notes from the bunch and plenty of pure berry fruits, spice and woodsy earth. Savoury, fresh and punchy, it will look even better with a nice bowl of duck ragu. 

Quealy Tussie Mussie Pinot Noir 2023
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Quealy Friulano 2022
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Quealy Friulano 2022

The variety behind some of northeast Italy’s most exciting whites, Friulano (né Tocai Friulano) first landed in Australia in the 1970s. Quealy sourced its cuttings from the vineyard of Slovenian émigré Denis Pasut in Mildura, grafting over a block of 1996 Chardonnay at their Balnarring vineyard as early as 2004. Above all, quality Friulano needs two things: low yields and lots of attention. “Friulano is a bugger to work with, but well worth the effort,” notes Tom McCarthy. That’s perhaps why the variety has yet to take off in Australia. Quealy manages yields at flowering—in effect, halving the already low potential yields from this certified-organic, dry-grown site—and manages the canopy prudently to manage sun exposure. The fruit was picked by hand on 27th April and destemmed to open fermenters, where it rested on skins at cool temperatures for 13 days. To ensure a soft, balanced texture, only the free-run juice was drawn off to a large tank, where it went through full malolactic conversion. The wine then matured in barrel until bottling. 2022’s small berries and yields have translated to powerful, concentrated flavour in the glass. It is perfumed and ripe with orchard fruits, pepper spice and an unctuously smooth texture crimped by lovely phenolic grip. As is the norm with this wine, it is best served alongside a great dish and will boost the pleasure of a wide range of cuisines. 

Quealy Friulano 2022
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Quealy Lina Lool 2021
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Quealy Lina Lool 2021

This is named after the aromatic compounds stored in the skins of Moscato Giallo. The 2021 is a blend of Friulano (17%), Moscato Giallo (22%), Riesling (10%), Ribolla Gialla (5%) and Malvasia Istriana (46%), all from Quealy’s Balnarring home block. Harvested over a two-week period from 30th March, the grapes were co-fermented and left on skins in amphora until the last day of winter. The juice was then basket-pressed with only a light squeeze before being matured in old, large-format oak for 12 months. According to Tom McCarthy, the 2021 vintage falls into the sublime category. “The upside of La Niña was, of course, no water stress. Flowering was close to perfect. And post véraison was a beautiful run home; no crazy heat and still no significant water stress,” he explains. “All the fruit came in with fully ripe flavour (we had to be patient) and great balance.” Another upside: 2021 is the loveliest version to date of this charismatic wine.

“When malvasia, moscato giallo, friulano, riesling and ribolla gialla get together for a party lasting 146 days on skins, Lina Lool arrives. I love this wine. Swooning aromas and flavours of lychee, musk, pink grapefruit with peach-fuzz tannins all chewy and textural. It’s a savoury, dry wine with lemon salt, preserved lemon flavours and Japanese pickled ginger.”
95 points, Jane Faulkner, Wine Companion
Quealy Lina Lool 2021
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Quealy Tussie Mussie Pinot Gris 2022
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Quealy Tussie Mussie Pinot Gris 2022

Managed by the Quealy team, the Tussie Mussie vineyard was planted on the site of a former rose farm in 2007 (hence the name—tussie mussie is an old term for a flower bouquet). In Merricks North, the vineyard’s 3.5 acres of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir is rooted in the Peninsula’s most prized soil: deep red volcanic clays. North-facing at 120 to 150 metres altitude, the site is well-protected and warm. Quealy notes all these attributes, along with the youthful vine stock, result in an exuberantly fruity style of Gris.The fruit was hand-picked and whole-bunch-pressed over six hours at low pressure (Alsatian style) to capture only the grapes’ most delicate phenolics. Only the free-run was used and fermented in stainless steel. The wine was left to mature on lees for nine months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. Enticing from the get-go, the 2022 is bright with fleshy orchard fruits, florals, spice and a ripple of marine salinity. The wine flows beautifully through the palate, the lees-derived richness and weight are aligned to fresh acidity and some rocky minerality. it's complex and lengthy with poised elegance, powerful flavours and plenty of character in the glass.

“Intensely flavoured with stone fruit, poached apple and pears drizzled with lemon honey and powdered ginger. Luscious on the palate but not weighty, it’s all about texture with creaminess throughout. The flavours linger long and the finish, too.”
95 points, Jane Faulkner, Halliday Wine Companion 2024
“A Gris that brings lively aromas of Nashi pear, almonds, fresh bread dough, pomelo. There’s a crunch of green fruit but also a softness of yeasty layers with a pinch of salt and a warming spice dust at the end. It has a vegetal/herbal spectrum taking the edge of sweet nuances. It does it all very well, I really enjoy the savoury mouthfeel with a salty pastry touch. It’s a top game Gris and you gotta love it for the texture.”
93 points, Kasia Sobiesiak, The Wine Front
"Pale lemon with lime tints. Fragrant nose of gardenias and spice poached pears. Medium to full weight, serious fruit weight on entry the glides with an oily persistence across the palate. Ripe pear and tropical floral notes linger underneath, acidity is in there but as a light guiding hand, the very long finish is brushed by it to clean it up."
95 points, Stuart Knox, The Real Review
Quealy Tussie Mussie Pinot Gris 2022
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Quealy Turbul Friulano 2022
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Quealy Turbul Friulano 2022

The variety behind some of northeast Italy’s most exciting whites (see Felluga, Schiopetto et al) Friulano (formerly Tocai Friulano) first landed in Australia in the 1970s. Quealy sourced its cuttings from the vineyard of Slovenian émigré Denis Pasut in Mildura, grafting over a block of 1996 Chardonnay at the family’s Balnarring vineyard as early as 2003. Above all, quality Friulano needs two things: low yields and lots of attention. “Friulano is a bugger to work with, but well worth the effort,” notes winemaker Tom McCarthy. Inspired by his father’s skinsy 2008 Claudius (under the T’Gallant label) and his time spent in northern Italy, Tom McCarthy’s Turbul is a careful selection of the estate’s ripest Friulano spontaneously fermented on skins in 800-litre terracotta amphorae. From a low-cropping year of incredible quality, the 2022 Turbul spent 103 days on skins without added SO2 and with daily stirring. The juice and skins were basket-pressed before being racked to primarily used puncheons (20% new) for a further 12 months of maturation. It was bottled unfined and unfiltered, with just a tiny amount of sulphur.

Quealy Turbul Friulano 2022
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“Kathleen Quealy and Kevin McCarthy were among the early waves of winemakers on the Mornington Peninsula. They challenged the status quo - most publicly by introducing Mornington Peninsula pinot gris/grigio (with great success). Behind this was improvement and diversification in site selection, plus viticulture and winemaking techniques that allowed their business to grow significantly.” Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ James Halliday, Winecompanion.com.au

“This husband and wife winemaking team have done much to change the face of Australian wine, bringing pinot gris/grigio into the mainstream and championing alternative varieties ... The future looks bright for Quealy Winemakers, with eldest son Tom joining the business in 2012 ... Great things are seldom born of conformity.” Huon Hooke, Gourmet Traveller Wine

Country

Australia

Primary Region

Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

People

Winemakers: Tom McCarthy, Kathleen Quealy

Availability

National

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