Michael Dhillon crafts some of Australia’s finest pinot noir and chardonnay—but he credits those closest to him and a special patch of land called Bindi as the secrets of his success.
By Jane Faulkner
Driving along the main road towards the Macedon Ranges, it’s easy to miss the turn-off to one of Australia’s most prized vineyards, located a mere 55 kilometres north-east of Melbourne.
Shrouded in trees with feathery branches, the obscured entrance eventually gives way to an unsealed driveway up towards an elevated, cool spot of lushness. Welcome to bucolic Bindi.
Michael Dhillon is the skilled vigneron behind Bindi Wines and custodian of the sprawling 170-hectare property comprising native bushland and grasslands, a managed tree plantation for high-end timber and seven hectares under vine of pinot noir and chardonnay. It is also the place he calls home.
Visiting outside the bustle of vintage, what’s striking is the peacefulness. And yet, only three kilometres away is burgeoning Gisborne. You wouldn’t know it looking at the panorama, perched 500 metres above sea level.“
I feel fortunate to have this connection to the region and Bindi, which was part of a much bigger property from my maternal family’s side,” Dhillon says. “But there’s a history here beyond my family right back to the First Nations people as this land had been meticulously curated by the Gunung William Balluk clan,” he says.
As today’s custodian, Dhillon wants to ensure Bindi and its surrounds thrive well into the future. It’s why he rarely reels off winemaking facts and figures—instead, it’s always a philosophical conversation—and prefers the vigneron moniker, which specifically relates to growing grapes. He thinks deeply, is incisive but considered, eloquent and incredibly grounded. Family helps nurture that.
Together, he and wife Wendy, who is very much hands-on in both vineyard and business, plus daughters Ruby and Emma, are happily ensconced in a modern version of the house Dhillon’s father Darshan built in 1968.
Darshan left India in 1958 for school in Ballarat, where he was named Bill and it stuck. A few years later Bill embarked on an engineering degree at Melbourne University and through a mutual friend, met Kaye King. They married in 1964 and two years later moved back to Gisborne, where her family had been a big part of the community and contributed to its shape through various businesses and farming enterprises.
Kaye and Bill both loved the family’s sheep grazing farm known as Bundaleer and when the 465 hectares were to be divided, they were determined to hold on to a parcel of precious land. Their dream was realised in 1968. “They bought the land furthest from the township and therefore deemed the least valuable, yet it was the largest parcel,” Dhillon says.
While Kaye tragically died in 1985, around this time the Gisborne Shire encouraged landowners and farmers to diversify because the area was fracturing due to urbanisation. In 1988, Bill and histhen20-year-old son planted their first chardonnay and pinot noir. Bindi was born.
Today, there are two hectares of disparate parcels of chardonnay for the Kostas Rind and Quartz labels, plus five hectares of pinot noir split over different sites including the original vineyard. Subsequent pinot plantings include Block 5 in 1992, Block K in2001 (where fruit goes into the Kaye label named after his mother), and two new significant sites: Darshan, planted in 2014, and Block 8 two years later.
What makes these two new plots significant is, as in Burgundy—the spiritual home of the variety— they are close planted: 11,300 vines per hectare with spacing of 1.1metres by 0.8 metres. (Traditionally, Australia hovers around 2.5 metres by 1.5metres with 2667 vines per hectare).
An important factor is the yield per vine and it is low at Bindi, between 300 to 500grams. Bunch size is smaller and so too berry size, thus flavour is concentrated without losing elegance.
The vineyards are labour intensive: all fruit is hand-picked, and each block is meticulously cared for throughout the year. Dhillon says each vine has at least 10 passes or checks during the growing season to ensure nothing is awry.
That’s not simply farming, that’s having a relationship with the land. Since 2005, there’s been a focus on organic methods to improve soil health and biodiversity, which includes compost and under-vine cultivation.
As to the family home Bill built, when he died in 2013, Michael and Wendy were living elsewhere on the property. They decided to renovate—to “bring the house into the 21st century by opening the internal spaces, making it open plan and light-filled, with proper roof insulation, double-glazed windows and solar panels,” Dhillon says. The outside remains largely untouched, while a clever, modern design unfurls within.
Arguably the most prestigious award bestowed on a producer is the Halliday Wine Companion’s Winemaker of the Year. Dhillon took the honour in the 2022 edition. Rightfully, the announcement framed the award as a lifetime achievement.
“To be acknowledged like that was a really nice way to give context to what we do at Bindi,” Dhillon says. “It’s been a 33-year journey to date.
“From the beginning I’ve worked with terrific people and now we’re driving a single block site. The wines have proved they can be cellared for 20 or 30 years and so there’s a validity. I feel very comfortable in the kind way we farm and I’m at the mid-point of where I would like to be. The next part is watching how those high-density vineyards mature.
As to the 2021s, they are the finest suite of Bindi wines I’ve tasted. The Quartz and Kostas Rind chardonnays are pure and linear, yet it’s the pinots that shine: they area revelation.
Kaye and Darshan are distinctive and the most personal to Dhillon, but for me, Block 8 is the jewel in Bindi’s crown. It tastes as if the fruit has come off much older, established vines. Its depth, complexity yet precision and detail is astonishing.
While it has a lot to do with high-density planting, it also reflects the unique site and Dhillon’s deft touch. It is destined to become one of the most coveted and revered pinots ever made in Australia.
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