Biography - Published 15 Jan 2020
Eastern Peake was a small project that evolved from very humble beginnings. Dianne Pym & Norman Latta purchased their property in the late 1970s in the tiny township of Coghills Creek, Western Victoria just 25 km north west from the City Of Ballarat. The idea was to build a Mud Brick home, grow & make all of their own food to be self sufficient on the land & escape from Melbourne, where Norman had grown up. They successfully built their own home, grew vegetables, had livestock on their beautiful piece of land over looking the Creswick Valley to the east with a dramatic backdrop to the west is the Granite outcrop of Eastern Peake on Mount Bolton.
Dianne loved wine, there was something about it that fascinated her. The Australian Wine industry was pretty small at that time, you could visit wineries & generally every time meet the family who made it. This really resonated with her that you could capture a season of work in a bottle to preserve it for generations to come.
In 1981 a young winemaker based up in the Grampians wine region placed an advertisement in the local paper. His name was Trevor Mast, working as the winemaker up at Best’s of Great Western alongside Viv Thompson he was keen to branch out to make his own mark on the Australian Wine landscape. Trevor was scouting out potential parcels of land to grow Pinot Noir on an elevated cool-cold site. Dianne jumped at the chance sending off a letter of interest, their site seemed like it had the potential for fine pinot noir. Around 40 other applicants also applied. It was trimmed down to 5 potential sites, 2 went ahead. In November 1983 Norman & Dianne put the first Pinot Noir rootlings (MV6 Clone) in the ground at Eastern Peake. They had asked all the right questions & executed all the instructions. Becoming very successful at growing fine pinot noir straight away. Following the planting in January 1984 son Owen was born.
They planted some more pinot noir (MV6) in 1989 including a rare clone from Best’s Vineyard called Morillion, Chardonnay went in 1991/1993 & in 1994 they planted the last block of pinot noir bringing the acreage under vine to 12.5 acres. It was at this time the Australian wine world was changing dramatically especially for the late great Trevor Mast. He had purchased a vineyard with a small winery called Mount Langi Ghiran in 1987. It was gaining huge success from the shiraz & riesling. He really set the benchmark for the industry in 1989, Victoria was dealt with a wet cold vintage. Trevor decided to risk everything leaving the shiraz out longer than everyone else. It paid off resulting in one of the great wines to emerge from Australia that season. He was described by the specialist media as a ''whiz-kid'' or ‘’guru''. We later found out at Trevors funeral in 2012 that one of the cellar hands in the winery had ‘accidentally’ blended the pinot noir from Eastern Peake with all of the Mount Langi shiraz.
Norman & Dianne had been growing Pinot Noir for Trevor for almost 10 years when he mentioned that they should start their own winemaking venture. Norman never had any intention of making wine, he had thought he’d always be a grape grower. This was quite a lot of information to process. They decided to jump straight in to begin the next chapter. Trevor being an extremely generous human gave them a basket press, a destemmer & some barrels all from the goodness of his heart to see them succeed. A winery was designed by Norman, with the help of Trevor insisting the use of small 3000L open concrete fermenters, urging him not to use stainless steel. A winery was constructed in 1994 just in time for the first 1995 vintage on the property.
At this time the right decision was made by Norman & Dianne. Langi was going from strength to strength with no room for Ballarat Pinot Noir. Tyson Stelzer wrote in the Wine Spectator, a prestigious American publication: ''Trevor Mast was a visionary decades before cool climate became a buzzword in the Australian wine industry.’' And In 1996, Trevor's 1994 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz was splashed across the front page of the Wine Spectator. It was accompanied by 1990 Penfold's Grange and 1993 Henshke Mount Edelstone with the headline: ''Shiraz - Australia Hits the Big Time.’' (mind you that was the 8th vintage of Langi, such an achievement being positioned next to generational Australian wine icons)
With all the fame it was still business as usual, Trevor said to Norman that he could buy back the excellent 1993 & 1994 vintages of Pinot Noir so that there was wine to make an income to get the business off the ground from the beginning. Another great piece of advice was to make a dry rosé from the pinot while the chardonnay was coming into production. Trevor had great knowledge of fine wine from studying winemaking in Germany. He famously gave Dianne & Norman a bottle of Bandol rosé, Domaine Tempier. He said try & make something like this if you like it, the style was set from that moment.
Winemaking came naturally to Norman. Lots of great advice from one of the great mentors also helped. Advice such as “the vineyard is truly the key to making great wine, the winemaker is just there to help the progression. Don’t interfere too much with what you have already.” A hands off approach has always been the philosophy at Eastern Peake.
Norman was excited by the world of wine, especially after some exposure to drinking the wines of Volnay and Meursault through a good friend. He was keen to expand a little bit more knowing he had planted the vines in the right place under the right guidance. He convinced his neighbours the Walsh’s to plant more pinot noir for him in 1995. Eastern Peake had now evolved into quite the small operation, beautiful vineyards producing fantastic fruit requiring no intervention in the winery. 2003 saw the final plantings go in for Eastern Peake, Neighbour Frank Walsh who was already growing Pinot Noir for Norman wanted to plant Syrah on his farm next door. Highly encouraged by the Latta’s Frank went ahead putting in 1.25 acres of (PT23) Syrah.
From 1995 to 2004 Norman had a string of great vintages, as well as few learning curves along the way, which is essential for all to make mistakes as they help make better wine. Some of the most challenging wines from difficult vintages tell the greatest stories with age such as 1996 & 2003 drinking so well at the moment.
1999 the Vintage when Norman decided to throw Owen straight in the deep end by default. Back at this time Owen was 15 yrs old, he’d been around wine & vines all his life. He came home from school one afternoon to find out that Norman had an accident, tripping over a winery hose which resulted in severe concussion. Norman was side lined for the remainder of vintage. Owen’s parents said he would have to step up to look after the cellar & do as Norm would do. It wasn’t at all intimidating, it was business as usual. Punch downs in the morning before heading to school (getting in trouble at school for having wine stains on his shirt, they probably thought he was drinking) it was a great experience & a balancing act with study. This all cemented the fact that Owen wanted to be a winemaker, grape grower & farmer for the rest of his life - to be a part of this unique family business.
2002 Owen got an offer to go to University. A brand new Wine Science course opened that year in Geelong, this set the stage that he was going to pursue winemaking as a career path. Owen worked his way through the course doing a few stints here and there at nearby vineyards & wineries. He then decided to move back to Eastern Peake in 2006 to help take over from Norman & Dianne. This decision was a tough one as the business was small & couldn’t provide an extra wage, work at a winery 45 mins away helped. 2008 Owen went to work a vintage for a big winery in the Yarra Valley to get experience on how big places run. Then he travelled Europe that year to see what it was like in Burgundy. His time in Europe really cemented the fact that his family had something truly special back in Australia. It was time to get serious about taking over from his parents.
From 2009 until 2016 Owen did dual vintages, working at another winery an hour away as their winemaker and at Eastern Peake. It was a rather full on time managing two wineries, two vineyards, doing contract winemaking, launching the Latta label, saying yes to everything & helping his wife Jenny set up her wineshop in nearby Daylesford.
In 2018 Owen was awarded the prestigious Gourmet Traveller Wine - Young Winemaker Of the Year, such an unexpected reward.
The Vineyard at Eastern Peake sits at on a high plateau 430metres above sea level on the great dividing range, the climate is marginal continental on volcanic weathered basalt grey loam soils. The vineyards were dry grown for almost 20 years until recently, climate change has changed the weather pattens resulting in a lack of rain at the right time during the crucial moments of the season. Fortunately the region sits above an underground artesian water system accessed via a bore, if needed irrigation can be used.
Established with organic principles by default in the 80s as chemicals were too expensive to purchase, conventional methods had been used on a soft approach up until 2006. Regenerative farming then took place into the transition to more sustainable farming leaning on organics. From 2013 onwards organic methods have been the principle farming practice. The plan now is to move quickly towards biodynamics via Quantum Farming practices. The future is all about healthy soils so that healthy vines can thrive on this land. Winemaking is the relatively straight forward part. Farming for the future is the true key to success.