Dark Horse Winery of the Year
PRINCIPIA, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Principia (Prin-kip-ia) is a dark horse in more ways than one. After falling in love with wine on a holiday to the Barossa, owner/operator Darrin Gaffy gave away his 25-year career as an engineer to start his winery. Having never completed any formal winemaker training, Darrin has since worked it out along the way, which makes Principia being named Dark Horse of the Year all the more impressive.
“I love it, I really do. For me, it’s not a job anymore,” Darrin says of his shift into wine. “In my past life as a toolmaker, no one ever rang me up to talk to me about my work. Now, I get phone calls from people saying they like my wines and asking where they can find them, so it’s much more rewarding,” he says.
It’s been 24 years since Darrin started his Mornington Peninsula winery. “I found a block of land, which was the cheapest on the road. It had no power, no house and no vineyard, and I established it from there.” The low-tech nature of the operation hasn’t changed much over time either, with Darrin preferring to keep things simple. “I’ve just put in a new shed, so I’m happy with that. I’m replacing a few rows of vines each year – not expanding, but more so reworking and refreshing,” he explains.
That minimal philosophy carries through to the wines. “I try to manage the vineyard without interfering too much. I suppose the more you know about viticulture, the less you have to know about oenology. If you have good, healthy grapes, typically it’s going to be okay,” Darrin says.
He calls on neighbours for help when he needs, but beyond that, Darrin does it all, from the pruning to winemaking, packaging and sales. “You learn from your
mistakes more than anything because you have to,” he says.
In line with the low-key ethos of Principia, the focus is on just two varietals – chardonnay and pinot noir – and Darrin aims to achieve a more savoury style with them. “I focus on the structure above all else,” he says. “It’s very simple what I do – I harvest it, squash it and leave it to settle overnight, and then wild-yeast ferment. That’s it. I use about 25 per cent new oak for the chardonnay, but on the whole,
I just let it go. I’m not in a rush. I haven’t got an accountant telling me I need to get them into bottle. When it’s ready, I’ll do it.” His pinot noir soared this year, with three wines from his range receiving 95 points or more. “I’m so humbled by it,” he says of the results. “I don’t have the traditional background, so to be recognised among the best in Australia is just great.”