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Meet Richard Freebairn of Paxton Wines

What was it that drew you to the wine industry?

I grew up on a sheep and cereal grain farm in South East of Western Australia, and I enjoyed the outdoors and hands-on side of farming. However, I love the diversity of winemaking. You can be filling barrels or digging out a ferment one day, and the next hosting a five star dinner in Sydney. Always interesting and great challenges.

You have worked in vineyards all over the country, including the Margaret River, Swan Valley, Sonoma Valley, Barossa Valley, Clare Valley. What is the best thing about working and living in McLaren Vale?

McLaren Vale has it all, I live in Adelaide with my wife and work in the most beautiful wine region five minutes from the ocean and 30 minutes (depending on how you drive) from the city.

What’s your must-do for visitors to McLaren Vale?

BYO picnic basket to our beautiful cellar door surrounded by 1850s stone cottages and rolling green lawns.

What have been some of your highlights of your time at Paxton?

We have won some nice Trophies and received some great James Halliday scores, but I think it is teaching people about Organics and Biodynamics. It is a fantastic way of farming and can really make a big difference to the fruit and especially the wine.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given when it comes to winemaking?

Be patient, wine is not a picture or a snapshot, it is like a movie – always evolving and moving with you. Be patient with wine and enjoy the ride!

Do you have an all-time favourite wine to make? Why is it?

I love making our Pinot Gris, because I don’t use carbon to remove the colour, I use hypoxygenation (basically oxidise it with oxygen). The wine looks so murky and brown all through ferment and stabilisation until one day, generally about three months after harvest, all the brown drops out and you are left with a bright, almost green, hue. It is such a relief!

In 2011 Paxton became a fully certified organic and biodynamic wine producer. Can you tell us more about this certification, what it means, how it is achieved etc.?

We are very proud to be Organic and Biodynamic at Paxton; it gives us a great sense of growing and making for the future. The vines look healthy and the wines have vitality. The certification process takes three years from the dates of application. From that point everything you do must be approved through your certifying body, we are certified through NASAA Certified Organics.

The Paxton Organic MV Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 is our Wine of the Month for June – what makes this a standout wine?

The beautiful aroma of winter greens, it is such a fragrant wine. I love smelling this Cabernet Sauvignon. The other great part is the palate, a perfect wine for the colder months. It has power and poise, bright fruit, as well as lovely tannins. A great wine with stews, soups and hearty winter dishes.

What do you do to relax when you’re away from the winery?

I play golf, not so relaxing, but it gets my head out of the winery.

What’s your ultimate wine and food match?

Paxton MV Cabernet Sauvignon, lamb loin chops (from our farm in Western Australia) mashed potato and peas.

What is your favourite…

Movie? The Lion King

Book? Power of One

Time of day? Any time of the day is a great time in McLaren Vale!

Restaurant? Ruby Red Flamingo in North Adelaide.

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Celebrating Christmas with Brown Brothers
We recently caught up with Ross Brown from the iconic Brown Brothers to talk Prosecco and Christmas. Your Brown Brothers Vintage Release Single Vineyard Prosecco 2014 is our Wine of the Month for December – what makes it so special for this time of the year (or anytime really)? Sparkling wine is all about celebration with friends and Prosecco is the new exciting fashion for Sparkling. It’s fine, zesty, dry and refreshing and just perfect for those lazy summer days. Brown Brothers has over 126 years of history in Australian winemaking and family is obviously very important to you. How is your family planning on spending this Christmas? Having all the immediate family around the Christmas dinner table is mandatory, but just a bit more complex this year, as Emma our youngest daughter is living in Napa Valley, California. We have all made a commitment to be in Mammoth Mountain, a ski town for Christmas. We will go by the local market and buy oysters and salmon for entree and duck for mains. My wife Judy's confit of duck recipe is a family legend. What wines will your family be enjoying over Christmas? This year as Emma is hosting, she's sourcing the wines with the brief to surprise us with the best of California, especially Pinot for the duck. Can you remember the first wine you ever tried? No, not really. There was always wine on the dinner table, and I was always allowed to taste, as long as I described the taste and aroma. It was no big deal as wine and food was a natural. When did you fall in love with wine? Growing up in the 1960s drinking wine socially was a risky business – real men drank beer! In the 1970s wine became fashionable and I had lots of friends curious about what wine I had brought to the party. I guess that was when I fell in love but not only with the wine. It’s a tough question, but do you have a favourite wine or varietal? When I'm asked which is my favourite wine, my reply invariably is the "next one". In truth Riesling is my favourite white varietal – the flavour dimensions are remarkable with lean and minerally Tasmanian styles through to rich, ripe and generous Noble Riesling. With reds I'm fascinated with Pinot Noir. For me it’s about the silken texture – fine and powerful and so reflective of the vineyard. It matches so many different foods and I'm already thinking about that duck for Christmas. What is your favourite wine memory? This is an impossible question as my entire life has been wine. I have been just so fortunate to grow up in a thriving family business, based in beautiful North East Victoria, and to share a wine and food lifestyle with so many wonderful people. Having dinner with friends and finding that gem that has remained hidden in the cellar for far too long, and it opens fabulously, along with a flood of memories around the year the wine was made, is the ultimate Saturday night filled with lots of laughs and short memories! How do you spend your time when you’re not making wine? With my daughter Katherine now winemaking, I'm delighted to run away and admire her good work, especially knowing she has the best mentors in the world. Judy and I love the ‘hunting and gathering’ lifestyle, we are crazy about fishing and love Tasmania. There we can catch crayfish, calamari, and flat head or fly fish for trout all in one day, and if it's a really tough day, fit in a game of golf just for the frustration. For me seeing another generation, my three daughters, excited and totally engaged in the wine business is the greatest reward, especially if they find a great Riesling and Pinot for Christmas dinner and don't forget the Prosecco! What is your choice at Christmas: Carols by Candlelight  – love them or loathe them? A must on Christmas Eve.  Sparkling Shiraz, Champagne or both?  Prosecco is the new Champagne. Plum pudding, pavlova or trifle?  Depends on the age of the Noble Riesling. Turkey, glazed ham or seafood?  Seafood, seafood and more seafood. Christmas lunch or dinner?  Don't know the difference as it starts around 11am and goes on and on.... Boxing Day recovery?  This calls for exercise and this year given a white Christmas, we will all be skiing probably until lunch.
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Under pressure - Wine VS Mine
Words by Max Allen on 21 Dec 2016
Winemaker Andrew Margan is standing on a rock on a ridge overlooking his vineyard at Broke, in NSW’s Hunter Valley . The landscape is idyllic: vine rows plunge down the hillside; Wollombi Brook curls through the middle distance; tree-covered ranges rise up steeply behind. He’s talking about how different this country could have looked had energy company AGL got its way. “If CSG (coal seam gas) mining had gone ahead here as AGL were planning,” says Margan, “there could have been 300 wells sunk between here and Pokolbin.” Just five years ago it seemed that CSG was a foregone conclusion in the Hunter wine region. A couple of exploratory wells had already been sunk, not far from Margan’s vineyard at Broke, and AGL were attempting to ingratiate themselves with the local winemakers - buying vineyards, sponsoring a local winemaking scholorship, joining the wine industry association. But the local winemakers were having none of it. They had serious concerns about the environmental impact of CSG mining. They worried that hydraulically fracturing - or “fracking” - deep coal seams to release the gas could contaminate the local aquifer and lead to geological instability. And they were outraged that, under then-current legislation, the miners would be able to drill among the vineyards and wineries of the country’s leading wine tourism destination. As fourth generation winemaker Bruce Tyrrell told me at the time: “It’s simple. If any of those bastards come onto the land my family have owned for 150 yrs I’ll bloody shoot ‘em. And I’m still a good shot.” Eventually, the vignerons’ well-organised protest campaigns - including a high-profile march on the NSW Parliament in 2012 - helped encourage the state government to declare the viticultural and equine industries in the Hunter off-limits to CSG mining: boundaries were drawn around these two newly-declared Critical Industry Clusters that prevented any further resource exploration. “We won,” says Andrew Margan. “But it was a hell of a fight.” “The CSG battle almost destroyed us,” admits Andrew’s wife Lisa Margan. “Having to take on such a big issue like that fractures the community, it pulls resources out of the community, it exhausts the community.” ----- The Hunter isn’t the only wine region to have tussled with unconventional gas mining in the last few years. Just before Christmas 2013, resource company Beach Energy sank its first exploratory shale gas well just south of Penola, the main town in the famous wine region of Coonawarra , in South Australia’s Limestone Coast. I visited the region during vintage 2014, a couple of months later, and witnessed that first rig being moved to a second exploratory site west of the main vineyard area. It’s only when you see one of these installations up close - or as close as security will allow - that you get a feel for how much the landscape is affected and what impact dozens or hundreds of such wells would have on the nature of a region: temporary roads carved through paddocks, the four-storey rig itself, the holding ponds dug into the earth to retain contaminated water, lights and sound running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “I just can’t envisage co-existence with a gas well like that next to my cellar door,” said Dennis Vice of Highbank, one of Coonawarra’s leading wineries as we watched another truck loaded with drilling equipment roar by. “How can anyone argue that industrialized gas extraction can sit comfortably alongside wine - a brand that’s based on clean green production? Even if they do put a well in and I’m forced to sell, my vineyard would be worthless because of that rig. The implications for landowners are immense.” During the same visit, local vineyard manager Stuart Sharman, chair of the Limestone Coast Grape and Wine Council’s unconventional shale gas committee, detailed his deep concerns about shale gas extraction - a process that, like CSG mining, involves drilling down through the aquifer and using large amounts of local water in the process. “We don’t have a lot of confidence that the miners can give us an iron clad guarantee that well integrity will be maintained,” he said. “We know that the wells break down over time - their own documents show that. And (energy company) Santos has just been fined for contaminating the acquifer with uranium up in the Pilliga. If our vineyard irrigation water here becomes contaminated we can kiss goodbye to our sector of the economy: the Coonawarra brand and the whole district will be tarnished.” When I spoke to him again for this article, Sharman told me the pressure has eased. Not long after my visit during vintage in 2014, Beach Energy announced they had decided to concentrate on conventional gas extraction, and not in close proximity to the vineyards. The level of exploratory drilling I witnessed had “slowed right up”. But Sharman says it’s the slowdown in the energy market at the moment that’s contributed to the change of heart, not necessarily the very vocal opposition of the vignerons. “Depressed energy prices are slowing up further expectations,” he says. “It’s just not worth the miners’ while to go to the effort of unconventional gas extraction right now. But I think what we’re seeing is probably a lull, not the end. I imagine it could well ramp up again if the situation changes.” ----- It’s a similar story in the Hunter. Yes, says Andrew Margan, with the declaration of the Critical Industry Clusters, winegrowers have had a reprieve. And yes, AGL announced earlier this year that they were pulling out of CSG in NSW. But the state government hasn’t reversed its stand on CSG overall: the exploratory and mining licences haven’t been revoked. So if - when - the economic climate and the political balance shift, the pressure may build once more to start extracting precious hydrocarbons in the heart of wine country. And if that happens, says Stuart Sharman, there will always be a conflict between the short-term gain of the energy companies and the long-term sustainability of the winegrowers. “In the wine industry we’re busy spending millions of dollars redeveloping vineyards and setting ourselves up for another 50-plus years,” he says. “The mining guys are very publicly saying they’ll only be here for 20 years. But what’s it going to be like - what’s the impact not only to the physical environment but also the social environment - when they walk out in 20 years time and we’re still here.”
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Diversity in Wine
Words by Michael Davey on 8 May 2018
Diversity is a word that sits well with Australian wine. The continent is large, with a vast range of soils and climates. We also have a wide range of cultures, which are most evident in the food we share, and the wine we drink.  In the 1990s, Australia was known for predictable, consistent, mass-market, well priced, flavoursome wines. Predictable and consistent are great when you turn on a tap, not when you open a bottle of wine. The past two decades have seen Australians embrace the new and the different. This change parallels Corrina Wright’s winemaking career. Fifteen years ago, she was responsible for producing 18 million bottles annually of Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay. Upon returning to her family’s McLaren Vale vineyard, Oliver’s Taranga Vineyard, the technical, hands-on discipline of Lindemans gave way to a low intervention, hands-off approach. At home, this sixth generation winegrower quickly made her mark, producing exemplary regional wines, particularly Shiraz . But rather than letting this define her, Corrina turned her hand to crafting a diverse selection of alternative varietals including Fiano , Vermentino , Mencia and Sagrantino . “We have ultimate freedom here to do whatever we want. We did our homework and planted heat and drought tolerant varieties, with high natural acidity.”  It was a fine old Barolo that piqued Garry Crittenden’s interest in Italian wines. He tasted widely, read up on Italian wine growing and making methods, then took a pioneering study trip to Piedmont in 1992. The following year, Garry launched his cleverly branded ‘i’ range of Italian varietals with a Great Western-grown Dolcetto. Meanwhile, Brown Brothers were growing a diverse selection of alternative varieties in their nursery vineyard. These were vinified in small, experimental batches in their ‘kindergarten’ winery, then trial marketed at their cellar door. The food-friendly Italian varietals did well at their restaurant, and the high demand flowed on to local growers. These included Fred Pizzini, who grew Nebbiolo , and his cousin Arnie Pizzini, who grew Barbera , both sources for Crittenden ’s ‘i’ wines. Garry’s studies led to him penning the influential book, Italian Wine Grape Varieties in Australia. This resource helped new growers of Italian wine varietals avoid planting the wrong grapes in the wrong areas. Garry encountered a lot of objections early on, but found the demand for Italian varietals was led by young, open-minded wine-lovers, and enthusiastic sommeliers.
Som’ observations Australian sommeliers actively seek diverse wines for their lists. Recently named Best Sommelier of Australia, Italian-born Mattia Cianca, has lived and worked here for the past decade. In that time, he has noticed Australians move away from mass-produced wines, to more individual, unique styles and has seen a surge in varietals from his homeland. Four years at Melbourne’s idiosyncratic Attica restaurant gave Mattia an insight into adventurous Australians’ pursuit of new food and wine experiences. Attica’s philosophy, evocative menu and the mentorship of eccentric head sommelier, Banjo Harris Plane pushed boundaries and made him more courageous.  Mattia is, he describes, “excited by South Australian-grown, southern Italian varietals, like Unico Zelo’s single site Fiano and Brash Higgins’ vibrant, mid-weight Nero d’Avola , which is fermented and aged in clay amphora vessels.” Empowered Through Education The Australian Alternative Varietal Wine Show has championed diversity since 2001. In that time, it has provided a platform for less mainstream wines, and witnessed the ongoing rise in wine, exhibitor and class numbers. Pinot G has gone mainstream, and Prosecco will surely follow. The AAVWS shares intelligence via its ‘Talk and Taste’ sessions, where the wine trade gathers to share viticulture, winemaking and marketing experiences.  An increase in structured education has vastly added to Australian wine diversity. The past decade has seen Sommeliers Australia and the Court of Master Sommeliers educate and advance their members’ knowledge and wine service.  Trade initiatives like Negociants’ Working with Wine and the Galli Scholarship programs have provided diversely focussed educational forums, and the Wine & Spirits Education Trust has offered Australians internationally accredited wine levels. This has all broadened the wine trade’s outlook, empowering wholesalers, sommeliers and retailers to list new and diverse wines, giving Australian consumers more choice.
In the Vineyard There’s also great diversity amongst Australia’s wine regions and vineyards, and how they’re managed. Winemaker Vanya Cullen feels a strong connection to her family’s Margaret River vineyard, where she strives for constant improvement. While it’s always seen minimal chemical inputs, Cullen’s vineyard was certified organic in 2003, then biodynamic in 2005. This has coincided with an increase in vineyard health and fruit quality.  The soils are balanced and alive, allowing roots to plunge deeply to access nutrients. Vanya’s aim is to create a community of living systems and the whole Cullen team are on board. While scientifically trained, Vanya prefers to work with nature to grow quality fruit in a sustainable way. “The illusion is that you can’t farm without chemicals, but the reality is nature.” As well as being certified biodynamic, the naturally powered Cullen winery is certified carbon neutral. This requires great passion and commitment. All fruit is hand picked according to the biodynamic calendar, then hand sorted, pressed and transferred to barrel, or tank. The yeast is wild, and no artificial cooling, gasses or additions are used. Along with the Margaret River classics, Cullen produce the ‘natural’ Amber – a Sauvignon Blanc made with skin contact in the style of a red wine.  Diversity will continue to describe Australian wine, as long as there are brave winemakers wanting to experiment, and open-minded consumers willing to broaden their taste experiences.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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