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Wine

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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Wine
Vine Change for the Good Life
Words by Jackie Macdonald on 27 Nov 2017
Ever dreamed of making a vine change? Meet some daring individuals who took a leap of faith to embrace the good life – vinous style. We’ve all been there. Visited a winery, wandered through the vines, dreaming of days spent pruning tips and tasting wines straight from the barrel. Of course, this romantic picture glosses over the constant stress of too much or not enough rain, grape-eating pests and the changing tastes of fickle consumers. But for a special selection of wine producers, the challenges were never too great. Their dream of a life on the land was enough motivation to pack in their career and take up the secateurs for a life dictated by vines, veraison and vats. For Todd and Jeff of Belford Block Eight in the Hunter Valley , it was love at first sight of their property’s driveway. As Jeff explains, “Todd and I turned off the car, listened to nature, admired the olives, turned to one another and said, ‘this is it.’” Jeff gave up his job in the finance department for CanTeen and Todd left Ebay, where he’d worked for 12 years in strategy, marketing and analysis. Neither knew anything about winemaking. But on their property were around 12,000 vines, so, as Todd describes, “Jeff and I tracked down a bottle of 2006 Brokenwood Block Eight Semillon, a single vineyard release made only using our grapes and it was truly remarkable. So, we thought, maybe there’s an opportunity to make some nice wine from these grapes, let’s give it a go!” And given it a go they certainly have with their first ever wine, the 2014 Reserve Semillon now an award-winner. It hasn’t been all plain sailing, though, and they’ve learnt some valuable lessons. Apart from the vagaries of harvest, the necessity of tractor headlights and that their deckchairs are just for show, they also know that un-neutered piglets turn into boisterous 150kg boars and goats can be as loyal as dogs. But regrets? “No bloody way, mate!” is Jeff’s answer, “One day we’ll sit on those deck chairs, sipping on a 20-year-old Block Eight, admiring what we’ve built.” Healthy vines
Back in 1997, while Jeff and Todd were still slogging away in the corporate world, over in South Australia’s Clare Valley, medical professional, Anura Nitchingham planted his first vineyard. He’d chosen Clare because, he says, “The region is really an unsung hero in the world of viticulture. It’s unique and has some really great producers in a very small, but beautiful region.” That first planting has grown into Claymore Wines , one of Australia’s most unique wine brands. While Anura hasn’t left his medical career, he says that winemaking provides something medicine can’t: “Vines don’t complain! And there’s wine!” The medical theme is also part of the story of Hobbs of Barossa Ranges . Allison Hobbs was a nurse and her husband was a former policeman turned firefighter when they bought their vineyard in the Barossa. Their decision to make a vine change was borne of a desire to provide a rural lifestyle for their children. Like Jeff and Todd, Allison and Greg knew very little about making wine, but the stars aligned, providing them with some strokes of good fortune in the early years. Foremost was they happened to buy the property next door to local winemaking expert, Chris Ringland, who provided invaluable advice and made their wines. While being a nurse, police officer or fire fighter might be worlds away from making wine, Allison and Greg feel they brought vital skills from those professions to their new endeavour. As Greg says, “attention to detail is very important to both nursing and winemaking”, and Allison adds, “the observation techniques you learn in nursing, the police and fire brigade are important as we wander through the vineyard and take note of what’s right and what’s not.” Livin’ in the 70s
Although Allison, Greg and Anura faced challenges in the mid-1990s, things were even more basic in the 1970s. Having left successful careers in the emerging computer industry, Linda and Ian Tyrer bought a property in WA’s Mount Barker region to establish Galafrey Wines . Again, they had no experience, but, as Linda describes, she arrived at their new home four months pregnant, armed with a few thousand grape cuttings – “naive but starry-eyed, full of enthusiasm.” A lack of money meant a lot of back-breaking work, but by 1985, they had won their first Trophy and Ian’s tireless dedication saw him awarded the George Mulgure Award for outstanding service to the industry in 2003. Unfortunately, the same year, Ian lost his battle with cancer. However, his legacy lives on with Linda still at the helm, along with daughter Kim, who left her own career as an artist to return to the vines. One thing all these people would agree on is that a life among the vines is a hard slog. But is it the good life? Absolutely!
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
​ With a long list of accolades and a truck load of Trophy and Gold medal-winning wines to her name , Liz Silkman (nee Jackson) is Australia’s undisputed queen of Chardonnay. As chief winemaker at the Hunter Valley’s First Creek , she’s responsible for making not only their wines, but also the wines of more than two dozen Hunter labels made under contract. Liz and her husband Shaun Silkman, who is winemaker too, have their own label, Silkman Wines, with their first vintage released in 2013. Since then, they’ve won countless awards for their Semillon, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Pinot. Add to the mix, time spent as a judge on the Australian wine show circuit and being a mum to two young daughters and you have one very busy lady. Louisa Rose – Chief Winemaker, Yalumba
A leader within Australia’s wine industry, Louisa Rose is undoubtedly one of Australia’s most experienced and talented winemakers. Louisa’s career with Yalumba spans over 25 years with her passion for Viognier and her developmental work of the varietal making her name synonymous with Viognier across the world. She has a string of accolades to her name including the 2014 The Age Australia’s Best Winemaker, the 2008 Gourmet Traveller WINE Winemaker of the Year, and in 2004 the International Wine & Spirit Competition named her the winner of the Women in Wine award. Chief winemaker at Yalumba since 2006, Louisa is also acknowledged as one of the country's top Riesling makers, crafting Yalumba’s Pewsey Vale Riesling for 20 years. Amongst her other hats, she is a Director of the Australian Wine Research Institute, an active member of wine industry councils and advisory boards, and a wine show judge. Further Reading: Louisa Rose talks Viognier in our variety guide
Wine
Meet Anthony Woollan of Nocton Vineyards
Tasmania’s Coal River region produces some of Australia’s finest cool climate wines. We chat with Anthony Woollan, general manager of Nocton Vineyards, whose N1 Pinot Noir 2013 is our Wine of the Month. What is it about Tasmania’s Coal River Valley region that makes it such a great region for producing Pinot Noir? The Coal River’s 200 million-year-old soils have the ability to produce that combination of power and grace which is so celebrated in the world’s other top Pinot regions. What other varietals do you produce? Chardonnay , of course, plus a particularly textural style of Sauvignon Blanc . On the rich clays in the upper part of the vineyard, we have Merlot which traditionally loves those heavier, cooler soils. Just a few weeks ago, we planted a brand new small block of Chenin Blanc on limestone near the cellar door. As far as we know, they’re the only Chenin Blanc vines in Tasmania, so watch this space. They will be joined this winter by some Cabernet Franc as a perfect partner for the Merlot. What makes the Nocton Vineyard N1 Pinot Noir 2013 stand out from the crowd? In general, 2013 wasn’t an outstanding year in the region, but occasionally there are some vineyards that can still produce top wines in lesser years. If there is a time that I feel most proud of what Nocton can do, it is in those vintages. In our Wine Selectors 2018 Calendar we’ve matched your Nocton Vineyard N1 Pinot Noir 2013 with salmon glazed with ponzu, mirin and sesame oil – what is your favourite food match?
In 2003, the incomparable pairing of Ben Canaider and Greg Duncan Powell wrote – “Apparently, it is now a federal Australian law that Pinot can only be served with duck. Crap!”. Sometimes though, clichés do ring true. The trick with Pinot is first to match it with fat; then to flavour intensity. Salmon is fatty, rump steak is fatty and duck is fatty. However, for this wine, I think slow roasted pork belly, cooled and fried with Chinese five-spice. Matched Recipe: Plank Salmon How is vintage 2018 looking? The best ever! Aren’t they all? What is your all-time favourite wine memory (other than a wine itself)? So many…some repeatable; some not! The first time I drove through the Côte d’Or seeing names on signposts that I’d only ever seen on expensive bottles of Burgundy was special. So was waking up on the first morning to a view of my own vines. I think the most satisfaction I get is from being in a restaurant somewhere a long way from Tasmania and watching a complete stranger drinking and enjoying my wine on the next table. Other than your own wine, what is the wine that you like to drink at home? The next one. That is not as glib or facetious as it first sounds. I know that if I don’t think the next bottle I open is going to be the best wine I’ve ever tasted, then I’m in the wrong job. What is your ultimate food and wine match? How long have you got? Sancerre and rabbit; blanc de blanc Champagne and pork rillettes; Chianti Riserva and spit-roasted woodcock; young red Burgundy and suckling pig; Tassie bubbles with Tassie oysters: eat and drink whatever is on the local menu and it will work, but great company is still the best ingredient. What do you do to relax away from the winery? Eat and drink, and spend time with my awesome daughters. Your must-do for visitors to the Coal River Valley? Start at one end and work your way to the other, tasting as many things as possible. What is your favourite… Book? Anything by Terry Pratchett. Movie? Four Weddings and a Funeral. I went to see it after my first Tasmanian vintage in 1994. I was a long way from home at the time and it made me laugh, cry and everything in between. It still does. TV show? Mash. Apparently, it went on for four times as long as the Korean war. It just goes to show that good things can come even from something as terrible as war. Restaurant? Tetsuya , Fat Duck; Espai Sucre in Barcelona (such theatre,) and so many others. However, there is a little place on a terrace halfway up Mt Ventoux in the Southern Rhône: no menu, no wine list, no choice, (no advertising:) you sit down, eat, drink and leave. It is always fabulous – the wine is local and good, and complements the food, and in some inexplicable way, it’s perfect. Not the only one either…a fish restaurant in Agios Nikolaos in Crete, the old seafood shack on the beach at Sanlúcar da Barrameda in Portugal (long gone, unfortunately) or Betjeman’s in Smithfield, London, that used to serve cheap bottles of Claret with the best steak sandwich in the world. Breakfast? Truffled scrambled duck eggs – there has to be some decadence. Lunch? Curried scallop pie – it is the national dish of Tasmania. Dinner? Surprise me! (Okay, it’s a quote from Ratatouille). Time of day/night? Dawn. I see a lot of them and they are always full of promise. Sporting team? The Wallabies Beer? Yes.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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