PASSING Clouds at Musk on the slopes of central Victoria’s Macedon Ranges is high-quality boutique brand – which, its owners declare, might well be named Resilience.
That’s because clouds passing over the Leith family venture have at times been very dark and in 1984 involved the vicious murder by a drug addict of beloved 21-year-old daughter Ondine and her boyfriend.
The Passing Clouds saga began in 1973 when Melbourne-based electrician and some-time kangaroo shooter, actor and fisherman Graeme Leith and his partner journalist Sue Mackinnon were bitten by the wine bug. They bought land on old gold diggings at Bendigo and travelled from Melbourne at weekends and holidays to hand plant a vineyard. A winery came later, along with public approval and Melbourne Wine Show gold medal success for the brand.
A black cloud of personal tragedy descended again in 2009 when Sue Mackinnon died after a brave battle with muscular dystrophy and cancer. The following year it became apparent that drought, saline water and other problems were destroying the vineyard, although excellent fruit from other Bendigo growers was maintaining the quality of Passing Clouds reds.
A solution was available, thanks to Graeme’s 1998 decision to establish an ultra-cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir vineyard six kilometres from Daylesford. By 2010 grapes from those vines were producing excellent wines out of the Bendigo winery and it was decided to shift the whole operation to Musk. The move was made and today the new Passing Clouds home boasts a modern winery and a fine cellar door and dining room.
In 2008 Graeme Leith handed over Passing Clouds winemaking to his wine degree graduate son Cameron, who had worked with his father on every vintage since he was able to walk. In 2010, at the age of 25, Cameron took over full management, with Graeme as his close mentor. Now 78, Graeme’s influence is very much in evidence in the Bendigo-sourced Passing Clouds 2015 Graeme’s Shiraz Cabernet, which has his portrait on the label. It sells for $34 a bottle and is one of the brands’ current releases on passingclouds.com.au, at the 30 Roddas Lane, Musk, cellar door and in major wine stores.
The portfolio has Bendigo and Macedon Ranges wines, with the latter carrying the Fools on the Hill tag – a Leiths’ reference to the critics who once said they were fools to plant a second vineyard on what was an equally challenging site.
But critics hadn’t allowed that resilience overcomes challenges at Passing Clouds.