Being in the wine industry for over 20 years, and having his own wine label ‘The Wanderer’ located in Gembrook at the southernmost vineyard in the Yarra Valley, Andrew Marks is always striving to create the perfect drop each season. An appreciation for martinis and a fascination with the notion of creating the ‘unattainable ideal drink’ led him on a journey into the immersive world of batch distillation.
“As a winemaker, I have an appreciation for a wide variety of drinks and I love martinis,” explains Andrew. “I set out on a journey of trials, essentially procuring a 5 litre Italian made copper pot bain-marie alembic still, traditionally used for making perfume, to preserve the delicate nature of the botanicals. Then over winter back in 2010, I began testing the flavours in my inner city Melbourne apartment, striving to create the perfect blend. Whilst pruning the vineyard in Gembrook during the day, I was refining the botanical concoctions during the evening, embarking on a series of alchemic trials in batch distillation.”
Andrew took his time and by the end of winter, had trialed around 30 different botanicals. “My approach as a wine maker was to try to understand the properties of each individual botanical. London Dry Gin is the style I was most interested in. This style captures the essence of juniper berries, coriander seed, lemon and lime peel as the main botanicals and so I wanted to understand the best way to distil them and play with the complete collection of botanicals. It was like opening a Pandora’s Box and experimenting by distilling the essences individually to understand each botanicals unique property and appreciating them individually before blending them together, similar to a winemaker’s approach to distillation.”
When creating the perfect gin, there were certain criterion Andrew would reflect upon — it had to taste great, look great and be well priced. “Once we ticked all those boxes and we had the recipe, I was ready to build the business. I then procured a 130 litre copper pot still, from Portugal which has an outer wall of copper that you fill with water and apply heat. The water insulates very well and it takes a bit of energy to heat it up but it provides quite a steady heat to the cauldron, or ‘inner chamber of secrets’ as I like to call it.”
Aromatic Botanical Blends
By building a palate through the process of elimination, Andrew has settled on 11 different botanicals. “Lemon and lime peel were not the obvious choice of botanicals and I found they didn’t work really well. Since we have a grapefruit tree at the vineyard, I soon struck upon grapefruit peel and it worked famously.” Andrew believes that sourcing Australian native botanicals is also an important component for creating a unique aroma.
“We are using a perfumers still essentially. You have your high notes that have floral and citrus elements, and then you have your base notes with earthier elements,” Andrew explains.
“We use juniper berries and coriander seeds, with the distinct juniper berry aroma that could be likened to an aftershave scent, and the coriander seed is similar to a freshly cut grass like aroma. The citrus notes from the grapefruit peel combines beautifully with the organic navel oranges bought fresh from the Victorian markets, complementing the third citrus elements, being honey lemon myrtle from Western Australia. I get the sheath of leaves direct from the farmer and they go straight into the sill — out comes this amazingly potent aromatic with its strong, invigorating scent.”
Andrew enthusiastically describes the local origins that form diverse yet intriguing aromas. “For the earthier elements which create complexity we have angelica root and the Orris root from Europe as well as sandalwood — another Australian native. Orris root and sandalwood in perfume making both create the more volatile floral scents. I thought that might make a valuable contribution to my gin.”
“I buy raw macadamia nuts from the Victorian markets, grind them up and then distil them, which creates a slightly fruity, nutty character and the oil contributes to the smoothness of my gin, which is a really valuable component. My gin is smooth enough to try on the rocks if you are so inclined.”
“I also go into the yard and pick rosemary from the hedge, in the family veggie patch. I put it into the chamber and hours later, out comes this rosemary essence which is so aromatic you would almost want to put it onto your roast lamb. Then there is the Cassia bark which is a little bit like cinnamon” explains Andrew.
The final component to the blend? The rainwater of course — from Gembrook in the Yarra Ranges, with “the purity that allows the botanicals to really shine through,” ensuring a distinctly Melbourne dry gin with a unique local flavour.
“Enjoying a martini is more of a refined experience, to be enjoyed in a sophisticated bar environment, a hotel being the classic setting,” Andrew points out. “Drinking and appreciating a martini is certainly an experience, from the notion of martini cities — which I believe Melbourne certainly is, down to the toothpick used to skewer the olives.”