Dream Vertical: Bannockburn
In an age where everything is becoming more instantaneous, connected, liked and shared, it’s comforting to connect with something that moves to the beat of its own drum.
Bannockburn Vineyards, located 20 kilometres north west of Geelong in Victoria, is one such entity, which for over four decades has been quietly creating beautiful wines unaffected by the swirl of the world around it.
The story starts when Stuart Hooper headed to Europe to fly Lancaster bombers in World War II and developed a love for wine, particularly Burgundy. Stuart returned to Australia and built a grocery business in Geelong and upon retiring, purchased land just outside the town of Bannockburn and planted Shiraz vines.
That was 1974, now Bannockburn produces seven different varieties with a focus on three nobles: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Shiraz.
In the 70s, Bannockburn was one of a few Australian producers striving to make expressive, site specific wines of quality and as the desire for good wine began to flourish in the 80s and 90s, so did the reputation of Stuart’s wines.
The Baton Passes
When Stuart passed away in 1997, the family decided to carry on the Bannockburn legacy and maintain his commitment to producing the best wines possible without concession.
“The key objective was to produce Australian wine of a quality to emulate the great wines of France,” explains Stuart’s daughter Sally. “He never regarded Bannockburn Vineyards as a business venture.”
It’s clear that Stuart’s passion for wine and food was pure, untainted by the desire for growth or acclaim.
“I think Bannockburn has gained respect from the wine industry because of our history,” adds Sally. “And because we stay true to our core values by producing quality wines that are elegant, complex and unique to our site.
The first winemaker, Gary Farr, who was both highly respected and skilful, worked for the Hoopers from 1978 to 2004. He also worked vintages in Burgundy and his influence on the Bannockburn DNA and reputation was considerable.
After a vintage by current winemaker Matt Holmes in 2005, came Michael Glover, who for nine years built creative layers onto Gary’s Burgundian base.
In 2015, having worked in North America, New Zealand, Italy and France, Matt Holmes returned and began working with long term viticulture manager Lucas Grigsby to slowly evolve the wines of Bannockburn.
“You have to appreciate these great wines,” Matt acknowledges. “But we don’t live in the past, we have to make the future and my job is to get the best out of the fruit without getting in its way.”
To experience this combination of place and people, Matt and Sally hosted a tasting of wines stretching back to 1994, with Wine Selectors Tasting Panellist Adam Walls and myself.
We started with the ‘1314’ Chardonnay from 2018. Two vintages of Bannockburn Chardonnay (2003 and 2017) followed. Two ‘SRH’ Chardonnays, named after Stuart Reginald Hooper, rounded out the Chardonnay, a bracket that was complex and beautiful.
The Pinots started with the 2017 ‘1314’. Estate Pinots from 1994 and 2016 followed then
2012 and 2015 De La Terre, and 2015 a single vineyard of 10,000 close planted vines. Bannockburn’s flagship Serré followed with the 2012 and 2015 vintages and both were stunning. Rounding out the Pinot bracket was the 2014 ‘Stuart’. Made from the Serré and the De La Terre vineyards in a very low cropping year, extraordinary.
Five Shiraz followed, summing up Bannockburn’s interpretation of Australia’s favourite red: complex, soft and elegant with savoury fruits and fine tannins.
The tasting showed that Bannockburn is clearly one of Australian wine’s great quiet achievers and based on the range of current wines tasted, the future of Stuart’s legacy is strong.