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Wine

Vine Change for the Good Life

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!

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Wine
Castagna Wines - Cult Wines & Legends
Words by Paul Diamond on 16 Aug 2017
If you are an Australian wine lover and haven’t heard of Castagna, don’t be surprised. Julian Castagna and his family, located just outside the Victorian Alps town of Beechworth , produce a small range of high quality, biodynamic wines that fly well below the radar. They aren’t in any of the chains and to find them you will have to visit one of the handful of independent wine shops scattered around the country or be sitting in a restaurant looking at one of the few special wine lists that carry them. There is no cellar door that you can ‘just visit’, you have to make an appointment. And, if you are not on his mailing list or buy directly from his site that often has ‘sold out’ next to his products, you will struggle to find them. It’s no accident that these wines are not easy to find. A filmmaker earlier on in his life, Julian understands the value of having to dig to search something out, get to understand and eventually cherish it.

The Genesis range, like all the Castagna wines we tasted, presented somewhat of a conundrum. Old wine that tastes young?! Australian Shiraz that tastes like France?! 

Julian’s Path
Like most Australians full of youth and wanderlust, Julian ventured to Europe, searching for his path. After a stint in Spain, he found himself in London, working in film and advertising, and hanging out with people who were into the wine scene. “I got absorbed,” explained Julian at a recent tasting of his wines at his kitchen table. “They didn’t know very much but pretended to know a lot. “So I started reading, going to tastings and the guy that I worked for who had a lot of money, said “buy me wine” so I did. “So when I went anywhere to taste, I was treated very well, and got to taste a lot of wine because I spent a lot of money…that’s where it all started.” Julian eventually made his way back to Australia to make a film that didn’t get off the ground, so he continued with advertising in Sydney and began buying, travelling and exploring the wines of Australia. After a while he became disenchanted with the advertising world and began asking himself questions about his and his family’s future. “I was sitting in boardrooms and they were paying me so much money that it was a sin,” Julian explained. “But they weren’t listening…research and numbers were becoming more important than experience and creativity and I knew that was the precursor to ‘not’ working. “So I asked myself, ‘What do I know? I know two things. I know wine and film, so if I’m not going to do film maybe I’ll do wine? As he explored, he discovered a lot that he didn’t like, but a chance meeting with a glass of Giaconda Cabernet piqued his interest and led to him forming a relationship with Giaconda’s Rick Kinzbrunner and Beechworth. “I kept coming back to two places; Margaret River and Beechworth, he explained. “I really didn’t want to come back to Victoria having grown up here, but I was wrong.” Putting down roots
In 1996 Julian and his wife purchased land just outside Beechworth, planted vines and built a house. “The intention was to make something really great, but I didn’t know what type of wine I wanted to make,” remarked Julian. “For me the wine that I wanted to make came from the land. “I came here, looked at the land and it seemed to me the wine that would work here would be Sangiovese and Shiraz .” Driven to make wines that were taken seriously, one of the many decisions Julian took to was biodynamics. “I believed and still do, that wine with character comes from the vineyard, not the winery,” he explained. “ Biodynamics as a complete way of farming made so much sense.” Julian is not evangelical about the methodology or its underlying principles. He simply sees it as common sense. It’s a refreshing attitude, given the fervent advocacy behind the current perception of biodynamics and its connection to the natural wine trend. The Castagna website says it best. “The land is farmed biodynamicaly using Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic principles. We believe this is the best way to achieve optimum fruit quality that best expresses its terroir. Our intention is to make, as simply as possible, wine which is an expression of the place where it is grown.” The Wines
On a cold, wet and foggy Beechworth morning, Wine Selectors Head of Product, Matt White, and I were treated to a spread of wines that showed just how special Castagna is in our wine industry. The 2002 Allegro Shiraz Rosé was first and it was, quite simply, a revelation! Most Rosés fall over after about five years, but this wine, with 15 years under its belt, was aging incredibly. It had some developed aromatics and a little colour development, but it was still showing primary fruit with a fresh vibrant mouthfeel. The wine had the kind of flavours and complexity that you get in vintage Rosé Champagnes and a palate length that went on and on. When asked how this was actually possible, Julian grinned, shrugged his shoulders and remarked, “It’s the vineyard,” and left it at that. Next was the 2010 Ingénue, a 100% Viognier that had some delicate and pretty blossom florals, preserved lemon and beeswax aromatics that you see in only a select few Australian Viogniers. On the palate, the wine was all structure and complexity, with tight but flowing lines of grapefruits, rock melons, ginger and almonds. Again, the youth of this wine defied its age. Two vintages of Julian’s Un Segreto Sangiovese Shiraz came next and the seven year span seemed hardly noticeable. The Sangiovese is weighted in the majority with 60% and the savoury, mid-weighted mouthfeel was a signature for both wines. The aromatics were sweet and perfumed with dusty red fruits, cassis, sour cherries and white pepper spice. In the mouth, both were fine yet complex with mocha, cocoa tinted red fruits, both stunning wines that again showed youth, despite their age, with class to match. Next were two examples of Julian’s La Chiave Sangiovese . Generally, Sangio is not taken too seriously in Australia and is known mostly as a fleshy, ‘drink now’ food wine. But, like the age potential of Castagna wines previously sampled, these wines defied normality. They had the juicy, tar and cherries hallmark of Sangiovese, but there was a density to the mouthfeel that was juxtaposed with restrained, earthy flavours. These were delicious wines that could have you thinking you were sipping Brunello. Biblical proportions
Three examples of Genesis followed and if there was going to be red wine that showed you what was possible with Shiraz from Beechworth, these wines would have to be at the top of the list. Julian’s intention is clear with Genesis in that he wanted to emulate the best Shiraz in the world and for him, these are the great wines of France’s Rhône valley. Like the medium weighted, fine and perfumed wines of Côte Rôtie, Genesis has a small amount of Viognier co-fermented with the Shiraz, but the wines show characters from other great Rhône regions. The 2005 had the gnarly grunt and structure and spice reminiscent of Cornas, the 2004 had the earthy complexity and slippery mouthfeel of Hermitage, and the 2010 had the dried herbal aromatics and tight, complex black fruited layers and youth that had not decided whether it was Côte Rôtie, Cornas or Hermitage. We rounded out the tasting with Castagna 2009 Sparkling Genesis. This is the same wine as the still Genesis, but it has spent two years on its lees and has been treated with a nicely balanced dosage that keeps the acid in check and the tannins slippery. Quite possibly the best in the country, this wine has complexity and depth in spades and the savoury, medium-bodied fruit makes for a compelling and delicious mouthful of bubbly Shiraz. The Genesis range, like all of the Castagna wines we tasted, presents somewhat of a conundrum. Old wine that tastes young?! Australian Shiraz that tastes like France?! Beautifully crafted, insightful wines using weird farming practices from someone with no training? And from a place that is not considered a major region? It’s a beautiful, inspiring story made sweeter by the wine that underpins it.
Wine
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.
Wine
Meet Leconfield Winemaker Paul Gordon
Paul Gordon is the Senior Winemaker at Leconfield Wines, having joined this iconic Coonawarra winery in 2001, and is the man responsible for our June Wine of the Month, the Leconfield Cabernet Merlot 2014 . We catch up to talk to him about his love of wine and life beyond the vats. Can you recall the first wine you tried? Wine was very much a Christmas and Easter drink at our house. I have to admit to having had the odd illicit glass of 'Cold Duck' - which is showing my age - or perhaps a sparkling white. An Aunt indulged in bottles of Yalumba Galway 'Claret', which would have been my first taste of a dry red - I can't recall my reaction to it, but it could well have been the wine that sparked my interest in the industry in my teenage years. Of course, there were also the cooking 'sherries', which slowly evaporated between trifles! What is your all-time favourite wine memory (other than a wine itself)? There are many great memories - perhaps vintage Champagne with Chateaubriand steak in Epernay, the La Chapelle at Pic restaurant in the Rhône Valley or a Super Tuscan at one of those never-ending Italian lunches. Other than your own wine, what is the wine that you like to drink at home? I enjoy older Riesling or Semillon and am in search of the best Grenache from Spain or Southern France. Luckily, there is always a bottle handy of McLaren Vale Shiraz or Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon when the imported Grenache fails to live up to its promise. What's your ultimate food + wine match? The ultimate match for food and wine is good company! I don't have a particular 'go-to' wine, but I would say that I enjoy elegant and fine wines that invite a second or third glass, over something that is too rich. So perhaps a good start would be a fine Riesling with sashimi, Coonawarra Merlot with a steak tartare, then Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon with a rare backstrap of lamb. What is your favourite… Book? It tends to be the one I'm currently reading, which is Oystercatchers by Susan Fletcher. A few from this year: Antony Beevor's Stalingrad, Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel. Movie? If I was locked in a theatre for a week, I would insist on Krzysztof Kieslowski's ageless trilogy, Three Colours Red White and Blue, and The Double Life of Veronique. Restaurant? If I was to define a preferred type of restaurant, then shared plates or degustation is my style. But no steak - our local 'Meek's' butcher is so good that few restaurants can provide meat of the quality that can surpass one locally sourced and cooked at home. Locally, 'Pipers of Penola' has won so many awards for best regional restaurant in South Australia that it is a must place to dine. Time of day/night - why? I'm definitely a morning person. However, I do aspire one day to be able to sleep in. I'm notorious for falling asleep at dinner parties and at the theatre.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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