Bass Phillip has been quietly making world-class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Leongatha, South Gippsland, since the 1990s. The estate’s wines were long sold almost exclusively in Australia, meaning that the producer remains relatively little-known beyond its native shores.
Originally working in telecoms and IT, founder Phillip Jones fell in love with great Burgundy from the likes of Henri Jayer and Rousseau. Inspired by these extraordinary wines, he decided to try and make fine Pinot Noir himself, seeking out the perfect spot. He planted the first vines in 1979, but it was over a decade until he was happy with the final product, releasing his first wine commercially in 1991 (with the 1985-1989 vintages). He had planted Cabernet Sauvignon at first, but switched to Pinot Noir – a decision that has been vindicated by the estate’s success.
While today Gippsland is increasingly known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, when Jones first broke ground the region was almost exclusively dedicated to cattle farming – both for dairy and beef. Even today, although the area is home to more wine producers than before, Bass Phillip has no direct neighbours. This rural corner of Victoria, along the Tasman coast east of Melbourne, is cooled by winds that come from the Bass Strait, with high annual rainfall (around 1,000mm a year) – perfect for cool-climate viticulture.
The vineyards are unirrigated, farmed organically and biodynamically, with high-density planting. They work with low yields (25-30hl/ha) to produce wines of concentration and complexity.
With no children of his own, Jones was looking for someone to continue his legacy. In April 2020, Jean-Marie Fourrier, along with a handful of investors (including Soo Hoo Khoon Peng, a Singaporean wine importer and former owner of the Wine Advocate, and Hong Kong entrepreneur Kent Ho), bought the estate and took on this mantle. While the wines have previously been almost impossible to find outside Australia, Fourrier wants to increase the portion that is exported.
The 2020s were made by Phillip Jones as Fourrier was unable to reach the region amidst the global pandemic, however Fourrier made the selection for the final wines (as he also did for the 2019s, which were released under his ownership). The 2021s are the first made entirely under his instruction – albeit digitally.
Much of Jones’s team is staying on to work with Fourrier, with John Durham in the winery and Mick Kelly in the vineyard. Fourrier’s brother-in-law Adam Francis is now General Manager, running the estate day-to-day on Fourrier’s behalf.
From the 2019 vintage, the range has been re-focused and reduced, with four tiers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay: Since 1979 (the newly named entry-level cuvées), Estate, Premium and – the top bottlings – Reserve. There are no longer wines made under the 17k, Crown Prince or Old Cellar names.
The estate is named after George Bass and Arthur Phillip, two 19th century explorers.