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Wine

Meet Warren Proft from Chrismont

To celebrate Chrismont’s La Zona Prosecco being our Wine of the Month for September, we caught up with winemaker, Warren Proft.

You’ve made every Chrismont wine since it began in 1999 – what major changes in Australian wine tastes have you seen during that time?

Australian wine consumers in the last 20 years have made a quantum leap from what was really just 6 varieties and styles to being interested in wines from all over the world. People are more interested in trying different styles and varieties and celebrating the diversity that is wine.

What made you decide to stay in the King Valley?

King Valley is a beautiful area close to all the places I like to hang out. But ultimately the local community is incredibly warm, generous and hospitable which made us feel at home the minute we moved in.

Prosecco is a style that’s really taken Australian wine-lovers by storm – what do you think makes it so appealing?

Prosecco is a very friendly wine to drink unlike other sparkling wines that are traditionally more acidic. Prosecco also has an image of being fun and unashamedly promotes itself with mixing cocktails as well as being great on its own.

What makes the La Zona Prosecco stand out from the crowd?

Coming from the King Valley, The La Zona Prosecco inherits the regions strong expression of varietal fruit which is an aspect we try to preserve. A well balanced level of dosage to complement the acidity and a dry finish makes the wine memorably moreish.

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

When I was working in Spain, the local community held their ‘fiesta del vinos’ which was an eye opener and experience. The main parade involved everyone, children to grandparents, all dancing and squirting each other with wine having a great time. It really drove home the point to me how wine is so integrated into their society and way of life.

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

I like to try everything. We are always bringing home different wines.

What is your ultimate food and wine match?

Seafood pasta with a crisp white like Riesling or Arneis.

What do you do to relax away from the winery?

Chill out with my family and friends, and make (real) cider.

What is your favourite…

Book?

Into the void

Movie?

Pulp Fiction – all time classic

TV show?

No time for TV

Restaurant? 

Rinaldos – Wangaratta

Provenence – Beechworth

Breakfast?

Fruit, yogurt, muesli

Lunch? 

Pasta carbonara

Dinner?

Slow cooked lamb

Time of day/night? 

Dawn and dusk

Sporting team? 

Daughters’ netball teams

Beer? 

Bridge road ‘Robust Porter, King River Brewing ‘Saison’

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Wine
Meet Alex Russell of Alejandro Wines
More and more alternative wine varietals are being grown and produced here in Australia. We catch-up with Alex Russell to chat about his passion for these delicious drops and his exciting alejandro range. Your alejandro label focuses on a diverse selection of alternative varieties of European origin including Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola, Fiano and Arneis – why these varieties? Shortly after starting work for Angove in Renmark, the then chief winemaker Warrick Billings, introduced me to Riverland Vine Improvement Committee (RVIC). RVIC at the time was an importer of new varieties and they would propagate the vines and produce trial wine from them. I agreed to produce trial wine for them on a voluntary basis. I bottled their 2008 vintage and started making wine for them in 2009, in addition to my role at Angove. Before long, we were crushing far more than anticipated and the facility was filled with small winemaking equipment I had been accumulating since the early 2000s. As far as choosing different varieties, I’ve never accepted the status quo. In 2011, Fiano , Vermentino and Montepulciano were bullet-proof during the worst vintage we had had in 30 years and the latter two went on to win Gold medals at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show. From there I led RVIC into their own label, Cirami Estate. It was a little too entrepreneurial for RVIC and we parted ways after vintage 2014 at which point alejandro was born. I didn’t choose these varieties, they chose me. These varieties are perfectly suited to being grown in the Riverland and Mildura and produce textured, flavoursome and distinctly varietal wines. What would you say to our Members to encourage them to try more of these varieties?

If you enjoy wine enough to purchase through Wine Selectors, you know enough about wine to broaden your horizons. Have an open mind, ignore the name, even set up a blind tasting with friends, and just take the wine for what it is – it’s much easier to remember Saperavi or Bianco d’Alessano when you’ve had a great experience with them.

What makes the Riverland region so suited to growing Mediterranean-style and alternative varieties? Riverland and Mildura regions are equally suited to alternative varietal wines. If you’ve travelled to Spain or Italy during summer months, you’ll know the climates in Mildura and Renmark are very similar. The regions are hot and dry, with low disease pressure and there is so much sun. These varieties love sun and heat with Montepulciano ripening among the latest of all – late April for vintage 2017. Many of these wines, Graciano and Tempranillo , are as boozy in Spain as they are here. That said, the whites are produced with moderate alcohol to retain their fresh, distinctive flavours. Can you recall the first wine you tried? My parents always drank wine – from a cask. We had sips of wine here and there, but the best memory of my first wine was following work selling pies at the footy – the MCG. I was 14 or 15 years old and I had made my first wine by this stage, but I remember this fondly because it involved getting wine from the super boxes of the old northern stand. The foil capsule had been removed from these reds and were therefore unsalable. I took the bottles home with quite a number of Four’n’Twenty pies and my father and I sat on the couch and we ate pies and drank red wine together. Making it more memorable for me was how hot and red in the face I became having bumped consumption from a few sips to a couple of glasses. When did you fall in love with wine? I think I fell in love with making booze before I fell in love with wine. I was always close with my dad, he’s gone now, but he loved his beer. I used my pie selling income to buy a home brew kit from Kmart and produced Coopers Lager – though this was after I’d made my first mash beer using 4.5L demijohns and every item of stainless in the kitchen. Do you remember that moment? What happened? After the first mash came, Coopers, ginger beer, apple cider, elderberry wine and in Year 10, I made my first Shiraz, ironically from Shiraz juice concentrate out of a can from the Riverland ’s Berri. Another memorable moment was vintage 2002 in Mildura, working for Littore Family Wines. At the time they had a Merlot block in Gol Gol with 2000m long rows. I found a rogue vine in row 57 from the north end, 16 panels to the south. It was an off-white variety, I picked the fruit and soon realized it was Gewürztraminer. My housemates and I drank that wine before it had finished fermenting. Do you have an all-time favourite wine to make? Why is it this wine? That’s like asking who your favourite child is – all wines are different and there’s an occasion for each. I do like making Montepulciano, but mainly drink Tempranillo and Durif. Now with a vineyard in Tasmania, I also produce Pinot Noir which is a very interesting wine. There’s a wine for every occasion and every appetite. There are some 15 wines in my range – gives me a lot of choice! Other than your own wine, what is the wine that you like to drink at home? I like to compare competitors’ wines, like varieties and other obscure varieties, but the quaffers I like are Rosé wines. I’m not a fan of Cabernet Rosé or ‘drain off’ Rosé but give me a purpose produced Rosé with four days cold soak and I’m all over it. What is your ultimate food and wine match? My first experience with such food was at the 2012 Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show where Stephano di Pierre cooked and we had Vermentino with freshly shucked oysters with lemon and fresh oregano. Tempura Sardines are great with Bianco d’Alessano. In Tasmania we grow Wiltshire Horn sheep for meat. They mow the vineyard down in winter and keep hard to slash areas clean during the growing season. The meat is rich, tender and moist – Lagrein is a good match for this lamb. Can you cook? If so, what is your ‘signature dish’? My wife and I lived in China for 12 months, near the North Korean border. I used to cook a lot more but now my wife cooks anything and everything, she has a knack for it. When I cook I go Chinese and cook the dongbei cai from the north east of China, Dalian and Pulandian. These are better suited to Tsingtao and Mi Jiu and although considered qiung ren cai (poor man’s food) they are simple and delicious: Ban san ding is chopped cucumber and red onion with fresh roasted peanuts (skin on) with fish sauce and sesame oil dressing (and a dash of MSG). Tu dou zi is shredded potato with carrot, green chilli and garlic, stir fried for about 30 seconds with fish sauce and sesame oil. Xie hong shi chao ji dan is stir fried egg and tomato, again with fish and sesame, and don’t forget the garlic. It’s simple and really quick to prepare. What do you think is special about your wine region? Tasmania is now home and we are expanding our vineyard. Pinot is a great variety to grow and produce and the whites are excellent – although most visitors are left a little wanting for a big red. Riverland and Mildura (and Riverina) are the work engines for Australian wine and where I gained all my experience. They are quickly snubbed by many but do produce good wine. My greatest criticism of South Australia and the Riverland is that even many Riverland businesses dismiss their own wines when tourists ask for something local, offering Clare or Barossa instead. Do you have a favourite holiday destination/memory? Spain. Fly into Barcelona and jump in a rental car and head up to Ainsa, Mont Serrat. We have a winemaker friend named Ara there who I worked at Zilzie with in 2008. She came back to Australia for vintage 2012 in the Riverland and might have helped a little with alejandro in 2016 when she was here on holiday. Ara lives in Hellin and produces wine from Murcia region. Spanish food, wine and beer – ahhh! What is your favourite… Movie? Gladiator. I’m a wanna be Maximus, and the sound track I used to play when I slept – my housemates were worried at the time. TV show? Dexter, everyone loves it when a baddie gets it. Big Bang Theory because I was one of those nerds – a cross between Howard and Leonard. Sport/Sporting Team? Cricket…. Beer? My taste constantly changes depending on the day or the menu, but I love hoppy beers and stouts and pilsners with saaz and hallertau hops.
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
Meet Charles Smedley from Mandala Wines
We catch up with Charles Smedley – Yarra Valley winemaker, Pinot-fan and the owner and winemaker of Mandala Wines .   Can you recall the first wine you tried? I can’t recall the first wine I tasted (one of the side effects, I suppose), but I do remember the first significant wine I tasted where I had a ‘wow’ moment – it was a 1987 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz – an absolute game changer. When did you fall in love with wine? I really fell in love with wine when I was about 19 or 20 years old; I was working in Clochmerel Cellars in Albert Park and studying at William Angliss. Do you remember that moment? What happened? Well, it was around that time that I started to spend money on wine to see if there was a noticeable difference. My mate Richard and I spent some $25 (1991) as to the normal $5 on a bottle and went for an Indian dinner…it was that night that we said: ‘THIS is why you spend money on wine’, and really understood the potential a good quality wine can have on an occasion, experience or meal. Do you have an all-time favourite wine? Why is it this wine? I don’t have an all-time favourite, but what makes me tick is when a bottle of wine exceeds all expectations and sharing that experience with family or friends. What is your all-time favourite wine memory (other than a wine itself)? I’d have to say my first trip travelling through Burgundy and just soaking up the history and technique of the region’s winemaking (it’s still the same for every trip there since); the barrel tastings were just superb. I also have fond memories of blending time at the winery! Other than your own wine, what is the wine that you like to drink at home? Timo Mayer Pinot Noir What is your ultimate food and wine match. Any type of game and Pinot Noir . Pinot Noir is, and has always been my passion, it brought me to the Yarra Valley years ago. The versatility of the grape means it can work with pretty much any meal but game, namely duck cassoulet and Pinot Noir (Gevrey Chambertin), would be the winner in my eyes. Can you cook? If so, what is your ‘signature dish’? I come from a family of cooks and chefs, so I started working in restaurant kitchens from when I was about 12 years old. Suckling pig is my signature dish. What do you think is special about your wine region? The Yarra Valley region is a viticultural marvel in itself; it’s a haven for a huge range of different varietals thanks to its diverse topography (saying this I chose the Yarra Valley due to its complete harmony with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir ), soil profiles and micro-climates. In 1999 I planted a Pinot Noir vineyard in the Upper Yarra, Yarra Junction, and the higher rainfall and volcanic soils provide the best conditions for nourishing our vines. We opened the second (and main) site in Dixons Creek 10 years ago, down on the ‘floor’ of the valley, and now have a range of varietals which enjoy the warmer weather and soils there. Not to mention the sheer beauty of the region – I believe it’s in the top three most picturesque wine regions in the world. What do you do to relax away from the winery? I love to travel, whether it’s activity-based or just to the beach I’m happy – especially if the family is with me too. I also love to read, and of course, enjoy a great bottle of wine. Do you have a favourite holiday destination/memory? It would have to be in Italy along the Amalfi Coast – the views, the food, the weather…stunning. I’ve been three times now and have very happy memories. Each time I’ve been there it felt like a wave of relaxation swept over me. What is your favourite… Book –  Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – thought-provoking, thrilling and an eye-opener all in one.  Movie –   Harold and Maude – it shows how love comes in all forms, it has the best movie soundtrack and it's very funny. TV show  Breaking Bad – it’s all about how events can change life’s decisions and I found it to be a really good watch! The main character is very funny and always manages to (comically) get himself out of trouble. Restaurant – France-Soir in Melbourne  – great atmosphere. Breakfas t –  A classic English breakfast. Lunch –  Oysters and sashimi. Dinner  – Chilli mud crab. Time of day/night  Night – everything moves slower and this is the time of I can relax and enjoy the peace of the countryside. Sporting Team? Sydney Swans for AFL, Melbourne Storm NRL and Aussie cricket of course. Beer – Ceske Budvar
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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