Australia’s family wineries go on tour for recognition
By John Schreiner
In 2009, a dozen Australian wineries under family ownership for several generations formed what they call Australia’s First Families of Wine (AFFW.
While the idea was inspired by a similar body of venerable European winemakers, the winemakers were addressing a problem peculiar to Australian wine – the fairly recent perception that Australian wines taste alike.
That notion comes from the remarkable success of the [yellow tail] ® brand and of the wines that have copied the style of that brand. These are huge volume Australian wines dominating the Australian selections in many markets. The wines are consistent in flavour, in quality and in value. The blends, assembled from wines grown all over Australia, tend to obscure the individuality of regional Australian wines.
Often, the wines present similar taste profiles. At a recent dinner, the restaurant served a delicious Shiraz. I thought it was [yellow tail] ® Reserve until I asked the server. It was, in fact, Rosemont Estate Diamond Shiraz. The wines even sell for the same price, $16.99.
The trouble with this consistency is that some consumers may be getting bored with big, juicy reds. Instead of exploring other Australian reds, some have moved on to wines from other countries. Australia’s family wineries saw a real risk that their wines – often regional wines with individual personality – were being overlooked.
Let me make two points at the outset:
1. It is wrong to think that all Australian wines taste more or less alike, even if some of the most successful brands do.
2. But there is nothing wrong with enjoying the mass volume brands. The taste profiles may not surprise you but neither are they likely to disappoint you. I do not trash talk [yellow tail] ® and its lookalikes, many of which I enjoy.
Nor will the members of AFFW do that while hosting tastings, as the members did recently in several Canadian cities. They just want the trade and consumers to recognize that Australian wines are not homogenous, even if the successful big brands leave that impression.
These are the current members of AFFW. They all have wines listed in various Canadian markets.
* Brown Brothers. This family winery in the state of Victoria dates from 1889. This was the only AFFW member not at the recent Vancouver tasting and not represented in our wine stores.
* Campbell’s. This family began making wine in Australia’s Rutherglen region in 1870 and is especially well known for fortified Muscat wines. The winery also lists a $30 red here made from the Durif grape – the variety known as Petit Sirah in California.
* d’Arenberg Winery was established in 1912 in McLaren Vale, a vineyard region known for producing big reds. The wines here include a $30 Bordeaux blend called Galvo Garage.
* De Bortoli Wines started in New South Wales in 1928 and now has vineyards in several regions. It has two current listings, a Syrah and a Pinot Noir from the Yarra Valley, both priced at $65.
* Henschke winery started in 1868 and now is run by fifth generation Stephen Henschke and his wife, Prue. Listings here include Julius 2010 ($40), a very fine Riesling from Eden Valley.
* Howard Park of Western Australia is one of the younger members of the AFFW, having started in 1986. Its Leston Shiraz 2008 ($36.95) has bright, spicy fruit aromas and flavours and is a refreshing change from the ubiquitous jammy style of many Australian Shiraz wines.
* Jim Barry Wine. Established in the Clare Valley in 1959, this winery now also has vineyards in Coonawarra. The Clare Red Shiraz 2006 ($30) and the Lodge Hill Riesling 2010 ($29) are both excellent wines.
* McWilliams is a big family winery dating from 1877. The winery has four budget wines in general listing at $15 each. There are also a few rare bottles of Mount Pleasant Lovedale Sémillon 2005 at $60. Expensive, true, but aged Hunter Valley Sémillon is connoisseur’s delight.
* Tahbilk is a Victoria winery now under the fifth generation. Its oldest vineyard has Shiraz vines planted in 1860, producing an extraordinary wine of great intensity. But its regular Shiraz 2007 is great value at $25.
* Tyrrell’s Wines started in the Hunter Valley in 1858. Because Bruce Tyrrell, the current managing director, has frequently been at the Playhouse International Wine Festival, I was astonished to see the winery currently has only two listings. Clearly, this is an example of how the family wineries have been run over by the corporate giants. The listed Tyrrell wines are very good: an aged Sémillon at $60 and the Stevens Single Vineyard Hunter Shiraz 2009 at $44.99.
* Wakefield is a Clare Valley winery established in 1959. It is represented in this market by two wines, both $23 – an estate Shiraz and an estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
* Yalumba, established in 1849, is Australia’s oldest family winery and is managed by Robert Hill-Smith. It has 11 wines listed in British Columbia. It is Australia’s leading Viognier producer. Listed here is one at $18 and another at $28. It also lists an exceptional red, FDRIA Barossa Cabernet Shiraz at $45.
Check out these family wineries and discover how individualistic Australian wines can be.
John Schreiner is a wine writer in North Vancouver.