Dale Wheeler is a Brisbane native who’s been living in Melbourne since 2012. After working in an ad agency, the pull towards winemaking was unstoppable and, following a backpacking trip around the world, he relocated south and undertook a course in viticulture and winemaking.
At age 25 Dale created his first label, Strenua, with a friend, while doing vintages at wineries such as Jamsheed and Seville Estate in the Yarra Valley, before creating Wheeler Wines in 2018. Dale sources fruit from some top-notch vineyards around the state, with all wines produced using wild yeasts and bottled without fining and very rarely filtered, resulting in textural wines that speak of their terroir and are delicious to drink.
Wheeler 2020 Yarra Valley ‘Articulation’ Cabernet Sauvignon
AU$40 – 92 points
‘Articulation 2020 is an elegant classic Yarra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon made slowly with purpose to truly reflect exceptional regional characters crafted with fruit sourced from East Hill Estate, Kangaroo Ground. Planted in 1995, grown on dark volcanic soils – it’s Western location fortunately spared it from any smoke issues impacting other parts of Victoria, with the warmer site ensuring optimum ripeness was achieved in an unusually cool and protracted vintage.
‘Hand harvested on April 15th in pristine condition, fruit was destemmed to whole berry. Naturally fermented and gently plunged for 10 days before pressing. Aged in two, third-use French barriques where it rested for 18 months, with an additional 6 months before release. No additions beyond sulphur prior to bottling. Unfined/Unfiltered/Vegan.’
The East Hill vineyard in Kangaroo Ground is fortunate to be warmer than other parts of the Yarra Valley, so ripening of Cabernet Sauvignon is usually not an issue (even in a crappy vintage like 2020). The Articulation needs a bit of airtime before it will reveal its true nature: savoury tomato leaf and fruity plum, blackberry and raspberry, with stewed fruit and chocolate characters arriving a little later. It’s approachable with fine tannins and a juicy palate, and like Dale’s other wines, it’s perfect with food.
Wheeler 2020 Yarra Valley ‘East Hill’ Chardonnay
AU$33 – 93 points
‘From 1995 vine plantings, grown in dark, rich volcanic soil in Kangaroo Ground at East Hill Estate. Gently pressed and naturally fermented and matured in seasoned French oak. Unfined/Unfiltered/Vegan.‘
The East Hill Chardonnay is a ripe and rich white that’s already starting to show some delightful aged characters, while its primary fruit still shines through. Lemon, apple and a touch of banana and spice are joined by some nutty, cheesy and yeasty complexity. On the palate it’s incredibly smooth and silky, with an unctuous feel in the mouth from its medium to full body. With foods such as cheese or roast chicken, it’s salty, juicy and a pure joy to drink.
Wheeler 2021 Yarra Valley ‘Willowlake’ Pinot Noir
AU$42 – 94 points
‘Sourced from the Upper Yarra Valley Willowlake vineyard in Gladysdale. MV6 Pinot noir expertly grown on grey clay-loam over red volcanic soils. Handpicked on March 22nd, 21 from a lovely cool season. Fruit was kept 1/3 whole bunch (carbonic) for two weeks and the remainder naturally fermented whole-berry. Pressed after 3 weeks before resting in French barriques for 9 months. Bottled February 2022 and now ready to go after another year in bottle. Unfined/Unfiltered/Vegan.‘
I’ve liked Dale’s Willowlake Pinot from the first time I tried it a few years back, and it continues to impress with each new vintage. The first thing I noticed is the intensely fruity nose, almost like strawberry topping, which morphs over time to wild strawberry, raspberry and red cherry. There’s some stemminess on the nose and palate from the one-third whole bunch, with added depth from mushroom and spice. It’s zippy, fresh and refined all at the same time. I’ve always enjoyed pairing Pinot Noir with an Indian curry, and this time around the meal brought out the fruit and vibrancy of the wine, so I heartily recommend pairing the Wheeler Willowlake Pinot with something spicy, no matter whether it’s vegan, vegetarian or full of meat.
Wheeler 2020 Yarra Valley ‘Willowlake’ Chardonnay
AU$38 – 95 points
‘Upper Yarra Valley Chardonnay from the highly esteemed Willowlake Vineyard (Gladysdale), a gentle North facing slope grown on grey volcanic soils. Handpicked in late February, fruit was gently pressed to tank to settle for 24 hours. Following a light racking, juice is naturally fermented in close to 100% neutral French barriques. Rested on fine lees for 9 months with MLF naturally occurring in most barrels. No additions beyond sulphur. Unfined/Unfiltered/Vegan.’
The Wheeler Willowlake confirms yet again why I love Yarra Valley Chardonnay so much. It’s utterly brimming with life and verve, right from the first sniff of its complex bouquet. An aroma and flavour combination of lemon, wax, nectarine, apricot, straw and honey give it enormous depth. In the mouth, the fruit is very bright, with an abundance of acid lending it much zippiness, while the mouthfeel is silky and generous, and with food (such as cheese, chicken or a creamy pasta), it’s simply sensational. All up, this is a fantastic wine, and I foresee a long future ahead for it.