One of the best things about this business is meeting the people and picking up their passion, then telling their yarns. One such person who we've loved meeting and whose yarn we love telling is Phil. My (Ryan's) first exposure to one of Phil's wines was at Cookie in the CBD when I was on a Vermouth discovery crusade. It was a crazy thing called The Mystic. We had to have it, so shortly thereafter, we invited Phil down to show us his wares and tell us his story.
It starts with studying Viticulture at Dookie Agricultural College and picks up in '86 in the Yarra Valley, where Phil did a stint with Graeme Miller in Dixon's Creek on the property that was to become DeBortoli Yarra Valley, where during his 20 years, grew from 26 acres under vine to a whopping 407. That's a lot of time in the vineyard getting to know the conditions, climate and soil.
In 1992, Phil and his wife Lyn purchased a property up the road in Glenburn, just over the hill from the Yarra Valley on the road between Kinglake & Yea. First, a few vines were planted then in 1993, Phil started building their mud brick home. The "9-month" project was completed in 1998 when the family moved in - after more than a few vintages living in the shed than planned. Lyn laughs at this now, and reflects upon this time fondly - though it'd be amusing to have been a fly on the wall whilst this was going on as it would have been at all times in the Lobley household. It's wholesome, warm, entertaining and filled with joy, wisdom and laughter.
Phil wound up at DeBortoli in 2006 to focus on growing the family wine brand, which has bubbled along happily bar the interruption in 2009, where the property was surrounded and successfully defended from the ferocious and devastating Kinglake fires. Thankfully the property and residents survived. "It was a bit hairy", remembers Phil in his somewhat laconic style.
You see, on matters relating to Phil - he's laconic. Mention Lyn and her fabulous sourdough bread baked across the driveway in her "office" opposite Phil's winery, or his daughters Rebecca & Sarah (chefs in London doing a fabulous job, gee whiz, you should see the restaurants they're in absolutely wonderful food, extraordinary magnificent neighbourhoods, great wine lists and service and golly gosh), Lexie, their majestic dog, the price of Whiting at Preston Market, how good the wines are from the neighbours, how beautiful the sunset was last Tuesday and you can't shut him up.
Further, he's full of wholesome contradictions, of which our favourite is; he loves, absolutely LOVES the finer things - art, music, wine, fancy food - which to me I (ryan) perceive as a strange fit for a bloke with such a strong social conscience, which as it often does extend into an environmental conscience; he's done the carbon maths on most of his activities, and goes to great lengths to make sure that he leaves the planet in a far better condition than it was when he arrived. This mindset covers an eat-local philosophy, best typified by the amount of Venison in the Lobley diet - shot on the property by hunters invited to the property because "the deer fuck the environment", an organic principled approach in the vineyard "insects are good for your grapes, you can't have good grapes without them, and they're bird food, why kill them?" and "if you're going to ask the soil to give you good grapes, the last thing you want to do is flipping poison it!" Many people play this we’re environmentally conscious tune, but we have seen (and tasted) it play out, and think it's nice to see it in practise.
In the winery, Phil again takes a seemingly relaxed approach. He sources fruit from his neighbours and friends met during his tenure at DeBortoli, all from the Yea Valley. When asked why he replied simply; "It's my home; it's a beautiful spot. Why not?" We replied, "Well, not many others have had a crack up there, Phil; why there instead of Mornington, Yarra Valley, King Valley? Why are you flying the flag?" "It's bloody magnificent up here, you've been here." Can't really argue with that. From a wine perspective, the climate in the Yea Valley is very similar to that of the higher-up spots in the Yarra Valley - the Lobley property sits about 260m above sea level, and the vines are on that duplex soil which stretches from the Yarra up to Rutherglen.
Style-wise, the wines are somewhat similar to those from the Yarra, though we often find Phil's wines to be a little more rustic, savoury and earthy; not sure if that's a temperature and soil thing or a Phil thing. The French refer to "terroir" as essentially the sum of the soil, and weather. These wines certainly express this concept well, but they go a little further; they’re all very much Phil’s wines, and Phil’s such a character that we have had to coin the term; “Characterroir.”
So, if you made it this far reading. Thanks! We hope you enjoyed the read and consider trying some of his wine. There’s some available below, or you can visit their cellar door on weekends where they make woodfired pizza. They're at 1084 Kinglake-Glenburn Rd, Glenburn. If you do get up there, be sure to ask what will be broadcast on Radio Glenburn that evening.