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Meet Andrew Thomas of Thomas Wines

We catch up with Andrew Thomas – Hunter Valley winemaker, regional champion and diehard Swans supporter, whose Gold medal-winning Synergy Shiraz 2014 is our July Wine of the Month.

The Hunter Valley is especially renowned for producing exceptional Shiraz and Semillon – what makes it so special?

A very unique combination of old vines, ancient soils and our relatively warm climate. Generally speaking, the Semillons are best suited to our sandy/loam alluvial flats and the Shiraz to the heavier clay/loams on the slopes and hills.

Your focus at Thomas Wines is very much on Shiraz and Semillon – why?

When I started Thomas Wines, I made a very clear decision to specialise in the signature varieties of the region. It’s kind of a European approach, but it’s more about brand integrity – making a range of world-class wines rather than just producing everything for everyone.

Your Cellar Door recently won Cellar Door of the Year at the 2017 Hunter Valley Legends Awards – how was that?

It was a great honour, particularly since we opened the doors of our own dedicated cellar door destination literally only 18 months ago. The wines are obviously a no-brainer, but the award really goes to my amazing staff who deliver our message in a fun, yet educational way, every day of the week.

Can you recall the first wine you tried?

It’s hard to remember the very first wine I tried, but I do recall tasting an amazing textural Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre when I was about 17 years old. This wine inspired me to get into winemaking and the rest is history. Interesting memory, because these days I would rarely drink any Sauvignon Blanc!

What is your all-time favourite wine memory (other than a wine itself)?

It’d be a tie between the first time I saw one of my wines being ordered across the room in a restaurant, and the first time I was awarded Hunter Valley Winemaker of the Year.

Other than your own wine, what is the wine that you like to drink at home?

We drink wine from all over the world, so it’s hard to be specific but at the moment we seem to be drinking a lot of Chablis, particularly from the 2014 vintage.

What’s your ultimate food + wine match?

Young Hunter Valley Semillon and sashimi.

What is your favourite…

 

Way to spend a weekend off?

Head to the big smoke and watch the mighty Sydney Swans in action.

Holiday destination?

Europe. Next trip is long overdue…

Time of the year/season?

Vintage. It’s basically 24/7 for six to eight weeks, but the adrenalin kicks in to keep you going for the most important time of the winemaking year.

Movie?

Pulp Fiction

Restaurant?

Lunch – Bistro Molines

Dinner – Muse Restaurant

Footy team?

Could only be the mighty Sydney Swans!

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Meet the Maker – Oliver’s Taranga
Spend some time with Winemaker Corrina Wright from Oliver’s Taranga, whose 2016 Fiano is our September Wine of the Month . Your Oliver’s Taranga vineyards are located in McLaren Vale , what makes the region so special? I think that McLaren Vale is such a beautiful region- the vines, the beaches, the food, the proximity to Adelaide. Pretty much Utopia! Your family has a fantastic grape growing history in McLaren Vale dating back to 1841. In 1994 you made and launched the first Oliver’s Taranga branded wine – is that correct? Yes, I am the 6th generation to grow grapes on our Taranga vineyard in McLaren Vale. So we are 176 years and still going strong! In 1994, I started my oenology degree and began making some wines from the vineyard after begging my Grandpa for some fruit. He was pretty keen to sell some wine to his bowls mates, so he was on board. I suppose things just grew and grew from there. I was working for Southcorp Wines and making Oliver’s Taranga on the side. Eventually, Oliver’s Taranga took over, and we renovated one of the old worker’s cottages on the property and turned it into a cellar door in 2007. We are still growers for a number of different wineries, but now around 35% of the crop from our vineyard goes to our Oliver’s Taranga brand. Find out more about the Oliver's Taranga cellar door in our McLaren Vale Winery Guide .
Six generations on, you and your cousin Brioni Oliver are winemaker and cellar manager respectively – what’s it like working with family? I love it. Brioni is actually on maternity leave at the moment –  little 7th generation Hugo was born a few weeks ago, and I am really missing her. We work well together and are focused on making our business as good as it can be. Your wine labels are quite fun and quirky – who’s responsible? We work with designer Chris Harris from Draw Studio , who has a very quirky sense of humour. Also, we know there’s a myriad of wine brands for people to choose from out there, so what makes us different? It is the people and the history, so being able to tell real stories are key to helping us stand out above the white noise! We have been on the property for 176 years now, and have many documents from back in the day. Producing the wine each year is a continuing documentation of our time on the land, so we use our little comments on the label “The Year That….” To tell something quirky that happened on the farm that year. Our Wine of the Month is your 2016 Fiano –  what is it about alternatives like Fiano that you like so much? They suit our climate and lifestyle so well. Fiano is very drought and heat tolerant and has lovely natural high acidity, it is also disease resistant and has great thick skins. Also, the resultant wine works so well with our foods and regional produce. Being coastal, we eat a lot of seafood in the region, and Fiano has lovely texture and line that works perfectly in this space. Find out more about Australian Fiano here . In our food and wine matching calendar, we’ve paired it with a delicious avocado spring salad (avocado, snow peas, radicchio, witlof, radishes, red onions, pea shoots and roasted macadamias) – what’s your choice of food partner? That sounds yum! I love it with kingfish ceviche with avocado, lime, cucumber, tomato, spring onion, coriander, salt, pepper – delish.  What’s your favourite wine memory? Probably doing the Len Evans Tutorial – a week of wine, learning, sharing and food. On a personal level, the 1996 Salon Cuvee ‘S’ Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs I shared with my husband on our wedding day. Other than your own wine, what wine do you like to drink at home? Anything goes. Grenache is a current favourite. Riesling gets a solid bashing. I probably tend to drink more white wine at home and the Champagne is always cold. What are your three top recommendations for a first-time visitor to the area? A summer day in the cellar doors, followed by a dip in the ocean at Pt. Willunga and fish and chips from the Star of Greece as the sun goes down. Early Saturday morning at the Willunga Farmers Market getting all your produce for a decadent feed. Visit tiny wine shop Fall from Grace in Aldinga for something quirky and meet up with the locals. What is your favourie? ​ Way to spend time off? Beachside/poolside somewhere warm with a book. Holiday destination? We are heading to South Africa for the first time, next year, so I am very excited about that. Our go to is Bali – surf, sun, food, easy as. Time of year? Spring Movie? I just binge-watched ‘The Handmaids Tale’ on SBS On Demand last weekend. So, so, so good. And disturbing. Restaurant? Pizza-teca or Salopian Inn. McLaren Vale has loads of choices, and it’s hard to go wrong! Sporting team? Adelaide Crows #weflyasone FIND OUT MORE ABOUT OLIVER'S TARANGA SMALL BATCH FIANO
Wine
Women in Wine: International Women’s Day
Join us as we celebrate International Women’s Day with some of Australia’s top female winemakers. It takes a lot hard work and skill to make it to the top ranks of Australian winemaking but that’s exactly what Janice McDonald, Liz Jackson, Louise Rose, Marnie Roberts, Nina Stocker and Callie Jemmeson have done. In what is a traditionally male dominated industry, these super-talented ladies, and many others, have shown they have the goods to make and market world-class wine. Marnie Roberts and Carrisa Major – Chief Winemaker and General Manager, Claymore Wines
The formidable duo of Claymore Wines ’ chief winemaker Marnie Roberts and general manager Carrisa Major, make Australian wine rock. Under their leadership, Claymore Wines produces outstanding Clare Valley wines that are playfully named after popular song titles including Purple Rain Sauvignon Blanc, Joshua Tree Riesling, Skinny Love Summer White Viognier Whole Lotta Love Rosé, Dark Side of the Moon Shiraz, and Bittersweet Symphony Cabernet Sauvignon. Carissa began her career working for Clare Valley industry leaders including Tim Knappstein and Andrew Hardy after taking a gap year. “I really got sucked in by wine and found this amazing industry that brings people together while opening up the world,” she says. Marnie says her passion for wine and the craft of winemaking goes back to her childhood. “Growing up on a block in Mildura that went from citrus to dried fruit to wine grapes, I have always had an appreciation for the fruit. The love of wine was the next step,” she explains. “I remember one night, when I was around 19 or 20, going to a friend’s house who was studying to be a winemaker and he opened a 1994 Lindeman’s Pyrus. A wine from Coonawarra that is a Cabernet Sauvignon /Merlot and Malbec blend. IT WAS MASSIVE and I thought wow, I need to try more wines. It really blew my socks off as I hadn’t tried anything as big and succulent as that before.” She says she loves the winemaking process and the chance to follow it the whole way through. “From the vineyard basics of pruning and harvesting to ferment to batching to oak to tank to bottle to mouth….it’s an amazing journey that I get to guide these babies through.” Further reading:  Meet Carissa Major and Marnie Roberts of Claymore Wines Nina Stocker and Callie Jemmeson – Chief and Assistant Winemakers, In Dreams It’s a case of double girl power at In Dreams, where Nina Stocker and Callie Jemmeson have teamed up to create superb Yarra Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Born and raised in a town on the border of the Alsace wine region in Switzerland, chief winemaker Nina says it was her family’s involvement in a local village vineyard that inspired her career as a winemaker. She moved to Australia and graduated with a Bachelor of Science and Arts degree at Monash University, which she followed it up with a post-graduate degree in Winemaking at the University of Adelaide. Nina says during her first vintage she worked as a cellar hand doing jobs like digging grape skins out of drains. “I loved it, and realized winemaking was what I wanted to do!” The other half of the team, assistant winemaker, Callie Jemmeson, grew up with wine in her blood. She says her passion for wine was sparked at a young age during family holidays to Chianti in Italy, and tastings at Louis Roederer in France. She qualified and worked a chef, before she was lured back to the world of wine studying winemaking at Charles Sturt University and working for De Bortoli in the Yarra Valley, Littorai Wines in California, and Fattoria Zerbina in Romagna. Nina and Callies also make wine for their own range of wines under their Wine Unplugged brand. Janice McDonald – Chief Winemaker, Burch Family Wines
Burch Family Wines’ chief winemaker, Janice McDonald, not only crafts exceptional wines, she also brews beer for the Margaret River Ale Company, in her spare time. Growing up the Central West NSW township of West Wyalong, Janice says she developed an interest in wine while studying science at Sydney’s Macquarie University. The interest turned to a passion and she completed a winemaking degree at Charles Sturt University. Her career includes head brewing positions at Matilda Bay and Little Creatures, winemaking roles at Vasse Felix , Brown Brothers and Devil’s Lair; and founding Stella Bella, where she was chief winemaker for 10 years. As the Chief Winemaker at Burch Family Wines Janice is responsible for all winemaking of the Howard Park , Marchand & Burch, Jete Methode Traditionelle and Madfish brands. Liz Silkman – Chief Winemaker, First Creek Wines and Silkman Wines
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Behind The Vine At Helen's Hill
To celebrate the  Helen's Hill Ingram Road Pinot Noir 2015  being our April Wine of the Month, we caught up with Allan Nalder from  Helen's Hill . What makes the Ingram Road 2015 Pinot Noir so appealing? To answer that I need to take a step back. All of our wines are 100% single vineyard and are all made at my winery. Only fruit that we grow on our vineyard goes into the wines that we make. It's not that we don't trust anyone, it's just that we don't trust anyone. We think this is super important. Come visit and I can take you to the very vines that make the wine you are going to enjoy. Call us "control freaks". I'll take it as a compliment. The  Ingram Rd 2015 Pinot Noir  benefits greatly from this approach. Pristine  Yarra Valley  single vineyard fruit, French oak maturation, careful "hands-off" winemaking and a great vintage all combine to produce a wine that expresses hallmark  Pinot Noir  characteristics. And its price point is extremely compelling. You have over 50 acres of Pinot Noir, what makes you so enthusiastic about this often-difficult grape? You're right, Pinot Noir is a difficult grape to grow and can really only grow well in specific, little tucked away corners of the world. The Yarra Valley, and the little patch of dirt I call home, is one of those places. It also helps to be a bit of a Pinot Noir fanatic. To me, it is one of the most remarkable red wines in the world. I once saw a quote about Pinot Noir growers from a wine writer: "its makers are lunatic-fringe, questers after the holy grail…" - Marc de Villiers wine writer. We fit that mould. Who is the Helen of the hill? We bought the property from Mr. Fraser in the mid 90s. He had owned the pasture land from the early 1950s. The reason he bought the land was because he fell in love with a woman called Helen, who wouldn't marry him unless he owned a farm. True love prevailed and he bought the farm. Sadly, Helen passed away some 6-7 years after their marriage. Mr Fraser never re-married and throughout the property inspection, he recalled many stories of Helen and her time there. From his stories, it was obvious that she had a passion for the land. We share that passion and thought it appropriate to name the vineyard after her. What makes Scott McCarthy a standout winemaker? To be blunt, the fruit. We live by the very old, well used, but absolutely true saying: "great wine is made in the vineyard". The most important decision we make in the winery is deciding when to pick the fruit. The rest of the process is relatively simple. Pristine quality fruit allows us to rely on natural fermentation, minimal filtering and minimal winemaking intervention. Our ethos is not to describe "perfection" as when there is nothing left to add, but rather, when there is nothing left to take away. We feel this is the key to winemaking. Ensure that we do as little as possible so we can deliver mother nature in the bottle. You also  make a range of beers  - why did you decide to go into brewing and what do you think makes a top beer? It gets pretty hot and sweaty picking grapes. Added to that, I ain't getting any younger, so after a big day in the fields a nice, cold craft beer is a perfect tonic. As winemakers and vignerons go, we drink a lot of beer, so it wasn't that hard to come up with the idea of brewing our own. Getting the recipe right, the choice of hops and quality malt is critical and keeping the fermentation process under control. The rest depends on what you like. We serve our brews at Cellar Door and luckily our customers reckon they're pretty tasty. What are the top 3 attractions you'd recommend to a first-time Yarra Valley visitor? The great thing about the Yarra Valley is the diversity. You can visit the  YV Dairy  and sample a variety of cheese, the Chocolate Factory, world class art museum, on-farm produce stores for things such as apples, strawberries, etc, 6 top golf courses, mountain biking, bush trails, historic buildings, micro breweries, gin distillery and of course the odd cellar door and vineyard restaurant. The valley really has a huge range of things to do. Obviously, a great place to start is Helen's Hill. Full al-carte restaurant on top of the hill with sensational views or our Cellar Door and casual dining nestled down in the winery amongst the vines.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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