It’s clear someone at Innocent Bystander loves summer. The clutch of wines this Yarra Valley winery produces is all about quality minus any pomposity, but its biggest sellers are all hot weather winners.
There’s the multi-award-winning prosecco, made from grapes grown in the King Valley, and the ever-popular moscato. With notes of wild strawberry, violets and honeycomb, these blush pink bubbles are the perfect accompaniment for a platter of cheese and fruit beneath a shady tree.
But it’s another variety brand manager Andrew Dix thinks will capture the attention of drinkers this summer: the Innocent Bystander Gamay Pinot Noir, which won a silver medal at the 2022 Rutherglen Wine Show in September.
“It’s a really nice stepping stone for people who know pinot noir but might still not quite understand what gamay is,” he says. “These lighter, chilled reds are the flavour of the month. This allows us to do something that’s a bit more refreshing than a traditional red wine, but without jumping all the way across to rosé.
“We originally only made a couple of thousand bottles of it, and it’s shown some exceptional growth, which is great to see.”
Former brewer Phil Sexton created Innocent Bystander in 2004, as a sister label to his other winery Giant Steps.
“Giant Steps was all about big, bold, single vineyard wines,” Andrew says. “But there was this massive gap in the market of people who were underrepresented, who just wanted to get really great quality wine without the pretension that surrounded the wine category at the time. That vision carried through to the brand as it stands today.”
Innocent Bystander grew to become one of the Yarra Valley’s premium pinot noir producers. In 2016, family-owned company Brown Brothers bought the company, with Geoff Alexander taking over operations and leading a group of winemakers. The association with Brown Brothers has also given those vintners access to some of the best grapes around Victoria.
“For instance, our tempranillo is a blend of Heathcote and King Valley fruits,” explains Andrew. “It allows us to get that really rich, red clay of the Heathcote wine, but then you get to blend it with the sub-alpine tempranillo, which is amazing.”
Visitors to Innocent Bystander can taste all these varieties and more. Located at Healesville, Innocent Bystander HQ is a relaxed, inviting space where you can stand up at the long bar and enjoy wines poured from temperature controlled, recyclable kegs.
There’s also the option to book a table, with the kitchen slinging wood-fired pizza and paella. “It’s all about that really approachable, shareable experience designed to complement the wine,” says Andrew.
If your drinking preference takes you in a different direction, that’s okay too.
“Our cellar door is about local collaboration and regional expression, so we have local craft beers and the Innocent Cider as well,” Andrew continues. “That was made in collaboration with Hargreaves Hill, who used a Champagne yeast and all local Pink Lady apples.”