Small winemakers Big dreams
Less is often more when it comes to Australian wine, as Winsor Dobbin discovers when chatting with a coterie of this country’s award-winning small winemakers.
Families like the Browns, the Hill Smiths, the Tyrrells and the Hardys are among Australia’s greatest wine success stories, with their knowledge having been passed down from generation to generation.
More recent arrivals include Cullen in Margaret River and the Kirk family at Clonakilla in Murrumbateman – both of whom recently passed 50-year milestones – and both celebrated for their wines.
Their hopes and dreams are shared by many privately owned and small second- and third-generation wineries across Australia, including in lower-profile regions like Tasmania and Queensland’s Granite Belt.
Here you can find small producers with stars in their eyes who are on track to be the Australian wine industry’s next 100-year success stories, with some already having accrued an ample collection of accolades. It’s a selection of privately owned wine producers whose passion, drive, innovation, and ingenuity has laid, or is laying a platform of success for future generations.
A LOT OF LOVE, A LITTLE WISDOM AT POOLEY WINES
Interestingly, many of these growing enterprises have a firm focus on wine tourism, both as a driver of recognition and direct-to-customer sales.
Take the Pooley family, now among Tasmania’s premier wine producers, and whose business was begun by a pair of English migrants with zero wine knowledge. Denis and Margaret Pooley were in their 70s when they decided they would like to plant a vineyard and make some wines in their adopted homeland of Tasmania.
Many of their friends told the septuagenarians that they were crazy, but with the help of Tasmanian wine industry pioneers Fred Peacock and Andrew Hood, they set off on their wine journey in 1985.
Almost 40 years on, the third generation of Pooley vignerons includes Matt Pooley and wife Shelley; and winemaker Anna Pooley and husband Justin Bubb. Under the keen eye of parents John and Libby Pooley, the latest generation is making the world of wine sit up and take notice with world-class Pinot Noir and remarkable, long-lived Rieslings.
The first Pooley vineyard was just a few rows of vines planted on the banks of the Coal River, north of Campania – still just a short drive from Hobart in southern Tasmania. The 16-hectare farm that began as a retirement project is still part of the family vineyard collection.
Denis continued working in the vineyard until he died in 1994. Margaret Pooley lived on until 2010. Since 2013, the wines have been made entirely by family hands, and continue to garner show successes and national recognition.
Today, wine lovers visiting Tasmania should make sure to check out the delightful old Georgian home that houses the Pooley cellar door. ‘Belmont’ is a grand heritage-listed, convict-built home circa 1832, purchased by the Pooley family in 2003. The original coach house and barn is now home to Pooley’s cellar door and tasting room – and the family also operates Prospect House, a country manor-style hotel just across the road from the cellar door.
“Our success has been mind-blowing but it is a fantastic vindication of all the skills, experience and plain hard work put in by our winemakers Anna and Justin and by our dedicated vineyard team,” says Matthew Pooley – proof positive that hard work, talent, and dedication truly do pay dividends.
Belmont, the impressive Georgian sandstone home at the heart of Tasmania’s Pooley Wines.
Krinklewood’s bucolic and beautiful cellar door in Broke.
A KRINKLE IN TIME AT KRINKLEWOOD
Krinklewood in the Hunter Valley was started by the Windrim family back in 1981, and had – until recently – remained a small family business producing excellent wines.
An organic and biodynamic leader in the industry, the winery was recently purchased by Oscar Martin, one of the founders of Pedestrian TV, which he sold to Nine Entertainment Co. Martin, whose family once owned a farm in nearby Wollombi, has big plans to turn the small operation into something much grander.
What is now a small biodynamic winemaking concern will be transformed into an alternative haven with performance spaces and eco-tourist cabins. “We have some ambitious and exciting plans for magical Krinklewood,” Martin says.
There are 19 hectares of vines at Krinklewood, which Martin purchased for a reported $5.3 million. The only time the new owner had visited Broke was to taste wines at its gorgeous cellar door, which Martin describes as his “favourite place in the Hunter Valley.”
He reflects on Broke’s growing popularity. “It is a beautiful hidden valley, which is only being discovered now due to Covid and people exploring their own backyard.”
Martin’s plans for Krinklewood include adding a mineral bathhouse, an organic food offering, a performance stage for the arts, and an education centre for biodynamic/organic farming and winemaking. He says he’s aiming to make this sleepy spot “an internationally acclaimed destination.”
In short, expect the unexpected. “We’re not interested in doing things like others,” Martin says. “Being small and nimble with no red tape means we action ideas immediately that can come from anyone.
“Broke Fordwich is the oldest wine region of the Hunter Valley. There is an immediate sense of calm when you visit due to the incredible rolling hills and stunning landscape with an eclectic mix of passionate winemakers, chefs, artisans and wellness operators.”
In such passion and ambition are often found the seeds of greatness. The future of Broke looks bright indeed.
DARLINGS OF THE DERWENT RIVER, TASMANIA
Stefano Lubiana Wines has been Tasmania’s first certified biodynamic producer since 2010, with Stefano – or Steve – and Monique Lubiana, plus their son Marco, carrying on a six-generation winemaking history that began in Italy.
Following environmentally holistic practices, their estate overlooking the Derwent River north of Hobart sees minimal intervention winemaking allied to modern techniques. The vineyard was planted back in 1990 as a tiny operation. Prior to that Steve’s father Mario – a post-war migrant from Istria – grew vines and made wine at Moorook in South Australia.
It was always expected that Steve would take over his father’s business, but fate intervened when a trip to Europe saw the young Lubiana travel to Europe and fall in love with Champagne and cool-climate varieties.
That led Steve and his new wife, Monique, to Tasmania in 1988 – and the die was cast.
“Every season, we’re becoming more attuned to the synergies between our varied soil types, their organisms, the local flora and fauna, and of course our vines,” says Steve.
This is a family very much on the move. In addition to the recent appearance of Marco Lubiana’s own wine range, the family also operates the delightfully rustic Osteria eatery at the cellar door overlooking the vines, and has also recently opened a wine bar and eatery in Hobart called Molto.
Most of the now 25-hectare estate vineyard is planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but the vines also include Blaufrankisch, Grüner Veltliner and Malvasia. Not bad for this little winery on the Derwent, three-time winner of the Best Biodynamic Wine in the World.
Stefano and son Marco Lubiana of Stefano Lubania Wines
Michael, Julia and Tony Hassall of Just Red Wines
RED ROSES BLOOM IN QLD WITH JUST RED WINES
Originally from New Zealand, the Hassall family purchased a former vineyard on Eukey Road in Stanthorpe, Queensland that had been planted in 1935 but was then being used for vegetables. They replanted it with just over three hectares of vines and thus was Just Red Wines born, with a dedicated focus on Shiraz and Merlot as key varietals.
Both Tony and Julia had day jobs for the first four years and there was no power or hot water on the property. Tragically, their daughter Nikki was killed in a car accident before their first commercial vintage in 2003, and the family has continued Nikki’s memory by calling the Shiraz vineyard that she helped to establish “Nikki’s Vineyard”. Compounding this loss, one of the couple’s sons, Terran, died in 2021 after succumbing to multiple sclerosis.
Despite these heart-rending and unfathomable losses – perhaps in spite of – the business has grown and thrived. The southern French grape variety Tannat has been added to the vineyard, and a Shiraz Viognier blend is also popular.
Two tourist cabins were opened in 2018 to add to the vineyard’s visitor appeal. Expansion remains part of the plans, with a succession blueprint to include their son Michael, and an increase in plantings of key varieties and wine styles that suit a region known for growing alternative varieties.
“Being small we can be quick to adapt to market conditions and we have direct engagement with our customers through the cellar door,” says Tony. “Most wine in the region is sold via cellar doors to people staying in the region, so it is important to provide a tourist experience.”
THAT MARGARET RIVER MAGIC AT FERMOY ESTATE
In Margaret River, Fermoy Estate may enjoy a relatively low profile at present, but is very much on a growth trajectory.
Established in 1985 by John and Beryl Anderson, it is now owned by Perth brothers Aaron and John Young, who focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Shiraz. The winery is located right next door to the vineyard, ensuring total control over quality – and there has been an increased focus on tourism, with an enlarged cellar door opening in 2013 and sales of over 25,000 cases a year.
“We think there are more pros than cons to being a smaller player in this industry,” says marketing manager Jessie Corlett.
“As a smaller producer, we can be adaptive, flexible, and solely focused on our objectives. We can stay true to our core values, and we can ensure that the consumer is always our priority. Our aim is to continue to grow and consolidate our position as one of Australia’s premium wine producers,” Corlett continues.
“In the short term, we are looking to continue to increase our production, focusing particularly on the iconic Margaret River varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay and increasing our sales and distribution. In two words,” says Corlett, “we think ‘quality’ and ‘consistency’ are the key to achieving our goals.”
As might be expected, the cellar door is a key marketing tool for Fermoy Estate. “Exceptional customer service is an integral part of the Fermoy experience, and we believe appreciating wine is so much more than simply consuming a glass,” says Corlett.
“We have a fantastic team of staff who embody the south-west way of life; relaxed, down to earth, and passionate about great wine. These qualities are important to us when creating a memorable cellar door experience that reflects the Fermoy brand.” Fermoy’s future looks fine indeed.
Amongst the vines at Fermoy Estate
QCWT and Banca Ridge winemaker Aranza Milicua Celador
NEXT-GEN GREATNESS IN THE GRANITE BELT
Another small operation that has grown in size, as well as regional importance, is Banca Ridge on the Granite Belt. Its winemaking is overseen by Aranza Milicua Celador, with the winery also comprising a cellar door, educational facilities, function and wedding spaces.
A tourism focus is a necessity, says CEO Peter O’Reilly, who points out that 95 per cent of all Queensland wines are sold at cellar doors. Banca Ridge is part of the Queensland College of Wine Tourism (QCWT), so will always have a point of difference.
Its vineyard – the “Vineyard of the Future”– is a library of 94 grape varieties that O’Reilly sees as a “way of future-proofing the Queensland industry and ensuring that there is always something new to play with.”
In the future, he hopes that “QCWT and Banca Ridge are recognised for quality winemaking and innovation,” adding that “our role is to support the development of the Queensland wine industry, through professional development and hopefully inspiring young people to become involved in the industry.”
VIVE LE SWAN VALLEY
Just over a decade old, the Mandoon Estate winery enjoyed its first vintage in the Swan Valley in Western Australia with wines produced by a team led by senior winemaker Ryan Sudano. The business was established in 2008 after the Erceg family – newcomers to wine – purchased the historic Roe family property at Caversham. The family subsequently opened a cellar door in 2011, and the venue has been growing apace since then.
In 2014, the family debuted an expansive new venue complete with cellar door, Homestead Brewery, Wild Swan Restaurant, Surveyors function rooms, The Llawn beer garden, and Linton and Kay Gallery. As if such growth wasn’t enough, three years later The Colony, boasting 32 luxury rooms, was unveiled.
Mandoon Estate senior winemaker Ryan Sudano
Scultptures dot the grounds of Mandoon Estate
Today, Mandoon Estate offers structured tastings, the chance for visitors to try their hand at wine blending, wine and food matching exercises and brewery tours. It hosts weddings most weekends, with the majority of the company’s wines being sold on site.
“Our focus is on producing a boutique range of premium wines from well-preserved low-yielding single vineyard sites, from the Swan Valley and other prominent Western Australian regions, using traditional methods that clearly demonstrate both varietal and regional characteristics,” say the Erceg family.
No matter the region. No matter the experience, the history, or the background. Across Australia, passion continues to be the prevailing influence on the state of this country’s wine – and with small winemakers like these adding to its story, Australian wine can only grow stronger.