Ladies who shoot their lunch, and other wines
By John Schreiner
October 18, 2009
Bob Downing, the owner of Downing Estate Vineyard, is just about the last Australian winemaker I ever expected to see showing his wines in Vancouver.
He’s a retired software developer with 25 acres of vineyard in the township of Heathcote in the state of Victoria (Melbourne is the state capitol). Without ready access to water after planting in 1995, he had a large reservoir dug. Unfortunately, drought in Australia has been so prolonged that he has not had enough water in the pond for irrigation since 2002.
The vines survive but the production is very limited. Bob makes about 1,000 cases a year – very fine wine, judging from the samples he was pouring.
I had to ask him what he was doing in Vancouver. I would have thought cellar door sales would take care of 1,000 cases in no time.
The answer is that there are thousands of wineries in Australia, all fighting for a comparatively small domestic market. That is why small wineries as well as the big conglomerates are looking for export sales.
Downing Estate was among a group of 13 Victoria (mostly) wineries, all of them small, that recently showed their wines in Vancouver and scouted for agents. That tasting I attended must not have been well promoted because not many people attended. That was a pity. How refreshing it was to go to an Australian tasting that was not just the same old, same old.
One of the largest wineries there was Plunkett Fowles. Lawyer Matt Fowles, one of the owners, put his finger on the dilemma of the smaller wineries in trying to get into export markets. Australian wines are well known, perhaps too well known since a certain boredom seems to be setting in about the big brands that blazed the export trail.
“We are the benefactors, but also the victims of the big brands,” Matt says.
His winery makes about 70,000 cases a year, including the custom crushing it does for others. For its own account, the winery does a lot of small lots, wines with labels and quality that excites that sense of discovery.
Both a red and a white from his winery is released under the provocative label, Ladies Who Shoot their Lunch. The reason? “We blend the wines for game food,” says Matt, who happens to be a keen hunter. “These are the very best wines that we make.”
The winery’s other labels, designed by Matt’s wife, also catch attention with such devices as topographical maps on two lines - Stone Dwellers and 490M (for the elevation of the winery). The top wine from this winery, a reserve Shiraz, is called The Rule. Naturally, its white counterpart, currently a late harvest Viognier, is called The Exception. The high quality of the wines behind these labels will guarantee repeat customers if Plunkett Fowles makes it into this market.
Sandhurst Ridge (3,000 cases) and BlackJack Vineyards (5,000 cases) are two boutique producers from a region called Bendigo, about an hour and a half outside Melbourne. Karen Sorensen, one of Sandhurst Ridge’s owners, noted that many of the Bendigo red wines often display minty characters. She and her sister-in-law, Connie Greblo, proceeded to prove the point with four reds including a very appealing 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Over at the BlackJack table, Ian McKenzie, one of the owners, show more reds, including a 2004 Cabernet Merlot, that showed the same lively regional character.
Biodynamic producer Ngeringa Vineyards, which operates in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia, has a 12-acre vineyard on a 200-acre farm. The winery only released wines two and a half years ago and plans to cap its production at 2,500 cases. The table was manned by co-owner Erinn Klein, a brilliant young winemaker with enough interest in other regions that he visited the Okanagan after the Vancouver tasting.
His wines stood out, in part because he was pouring one of the rare Pinot Noirs at the show, as well as a red blend made with Italian varietals and a fine Rhone-style Syrah (labelled Syrah, not Shiraz).
Whether any of these wineries will end up in this market remains to be seen. Even if none do, these 13 small wineries have done great service in re-igniting interest in Australian wine in a market that, arguably, was becoming jaded.
Visit PlanitBC's weekly Spotlight on Wine feature.