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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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Margaret River’s 50th
Words by Danielle Costley on 12 Nov 2017
As WA’s Margaret River wine region celebrates its 50th anniversary, we celebrate the pioneers who brought it all to fruition. A hundred years ago, a couple of Italian immigrants arrived in the south west corner of Western Australia with some cuttings of a little-known grape variety called Fragola. These vines produced the first wines to be sold in Margaret River for the hefty price tag of two shillings a flagon. Fondly dubbed ‘red dynamite’ by the enthusiastic community, this wine was in high demand at the local dance halls where it was sold from the back of a truck. And it was said to pack quite a punch. Times have certainly changed since then and while other growers produced small batches of wines in the ensuing years, it wasn’t until the mid 1960s when agronomist Dr John Gladstones published a report identifying Margaret River’s vast potential for viticulture, that the region, as we know it today, was born.
The Gladstones report attracted the attention of budding vignerons and medical practitioners, Thomas Cullity and Kevin and Diana Cullen. In mid 1966, the Cullens organised a meeting in the Margaret River township of Busselton inviting Dr Gladstones to speak. It was the final push those attending needed. Soon after, the Cullens, in partnership with Tom Cullity, and Geoff and Sue Juniper, planted vines in Wilyabrup, which unfortunately didn’t survive. It was left to Cullity, who in 1967 purchased a mere eight acres of land, to plant Margaret River’s first commercial vines – Cabernet Sauvignon , Shiraz , Malbec and Riesling . He named his venture after French sailor, Thomas Vasse, who had drowned in Geographe Bay. Hoping for better fortunes than the Frenchman, he added the Latin word for happiness – Felix. His first crop, too, was all but a disaster, decimated by birds and succumbing to bunch rot. Undeterred, but determined, Cullity persevered. In 1972, Vasse Felix won a gold medal at the Perth Show for its Riesling. The following year, gold for its Cabernet. Happy days, indeed. The Cullens also persevered. In 1971 they planted vines on their own land where their current vineyard still thrives. At this stage, Moss Wood had been established for two years and within another two years, Cape Mentelle, Leeuwin Estate, and Woodlands had also been established. In what was a fledgling industry at the time, these founding wineries worked tirelessly to forge the region’s reputation as a premium wine producer. “I pay tribute to the winemakers and grape growers of Margaret River,” says Dr Gladstones, who is still a proud member of the Margaret River community today. “It’s one thing to have an idea and put it forward, it’s another this to be brought to fruition. The work and financial commitment that had to go into it has been a big factor in bringing Margaret River to its present world-class status.”
Left: Bob Hullock. Right: Cullen Wines co-founder Diana Cullen  An American influence While the pioneering wineries may have simply dreamed of making good wine, there was a certain Californian who knew of Margaret River’s enormous potential – Napa Valley wine baron, Robert Mondavi. As the story goes, Mondavi was searching the globe for the next great wine region. His search took him to Margaret River and a patch of land owned by Denis Horgan, a chartered accountant, and his wife Tricia. Today, it is Leeuwin Estate. “Mondavi arrived on our doorstep wanting to buy the place,’ says Denis. “We weren’t the selling type, so he became our mentor in setting up a winery. He and his son and winemaker, Tim, came out on numerous occasions to advise on what varieties we should plant, where to plant them, about oak treatment and so on.” Mondavi’s advice was also greatly accepted by Cullity and Kevin Cullen, who Denis befriended and met up with regularly to discuss all things wine. “You would have sworn you were in a dog fight,” Denis says of the trio’s rendezvous. “They used to swear and curse and talk about one another’s wines, and then we’d all sit down and have lunch like we were the greatest of friends.  “They were fabulous guys. It was the best education I could have had because they didn’t pull any punches. They set out to make wines that ranked with the best in the world, and they damn well did it.” A region evolved
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Hay Shed Hill, Margaret River At Hay Shed Hill, whose vineyards were first planted in the 1970s, the Block 6 Chardonnay is the star. Dry grown and located on a steep south facing slope, it is lean, light and fresh, but also has “flavour, aroma, body and textural interest,” says winemaker and owner, Michael Kerrigan. In concert with the Block 6, he is also giving plenty of attention to a stunning Cabernet Franc, as well as an intoxicating Shiraz Tempranillo blend. In the cooler, southern parts of the Margaret River, Sauvignon Blanc really finds voice as a single varietal. In close proximity to the Indian Ocean, you will find Redgate Wines, a winery that takes its name from a nearby property that once had a prominent red gate and was known for the production of a rather powerful moonshine. This estate, established by the Ullinger family in 1977, produces a sublime Sauvignon Blanc that is layered with gooseberry and lime. Their Cabernet blends are also beguiling, and they have a Chenin Blanc that is also turning heads. Even further south lies Hamelin Bay Wines, a quaint winery with a simply breathtaking outlook. It produces one of the region’s finest Sauvignon Blancs – fresh, vibrant and tropical, while their Rampant Red, a blend of Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet, is winning fans. Something Totally New When Moss Wood winery was sub-divided in 1982, architect Bruce Tomlinson purchased the land and established Lenton Brae winery. Putting his talents to use, he built a striking rammed earth winery and cellar door with two towers that are home to quintet bells from Westminster and chime on the quarter-hour. A few years ago, the Tomlinsons introduced a new varietal to the region, Pinot Blanc. This unassuming grape is a mutation of Pinot Noir, yet genetically similar to Chardonnay. Winemaker, Edward Tomlinson, says he was drawn to the subtle charm of this early ripening variety. “Essentially, it is a Sauvignon Blanc for grown-ups,’ he says. “The decision to plant Pinot Blanc was a big call. Having seen my father wrestle with the implications of uprooting two hectares of Pinot Noir in the early days, I was amazed at how supportive he was for me to take a punt on Pinot Blanc.” And these are not the only newcomers to the region. There’s been an influx of plantings of Mediterranean varietals in recent years, with Fiano, Vermentino, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese finding favour amongst the growing band of winemakers. A Fitting Half Century
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The Story of Yalumba
Words by Paul Diamond on 15 May 2017
Cabernet and Grenache are two essential chapters in the story of Yalumba. Join us as we uncover the characters and the plot behind their creations with a dream vertical tasting in the Barossa As Australia’s oldest family wine brand, Yalumba has a rich history packed with incredible stories. And, like any family, the tales offer more about the individuals and their character than the brand itself. As time passes, these stories meld and form an identity that ultimately shapes the family’s place in the world. Yalumba is bursting with such yarns and if you visit its home, just outside Angaston in the  Barossa Valley , you will see mementoes of these moments, memories and people everywhere. As for the brand, ‘Yalumba’ is an Indigenous word that translates to ‘all the land around’ and is now connected to its home, the winery and cellar door just outside Angaston. 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Thankfully, a recent Yalumba tasting helped bring a couple of significant ones to light: its commitment to  Coonawarra  and its undertaking to  Grenache .    AN ODE TO SIR ROBERT Former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, who was well known for his love of Claret, once declared that a 1962 Yalumba Coonawarra was, “the greatest wine he had tasted.” Someone at Yalumba took note and in 1987 the first ‘The Menzies’ was born.  Today, The Menzies, under the custodial care of winemaker Natalie Cleghorn, is classic Coonawarra and represents the best of Yalumba’s Cabernet plantings on the magic terra rossa strip. The Menzies is a serious wine, built to last with elegant measures of everything – structure, complexity, balance and long term cellaring potential. 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Fine and elegant with buckets of dusty violets, blackcurrants, cassis and chocolate flavours beguile the nose and palate, while the texture of this wine in the mouth is quite stunning.  HOLD THE OPULENCE Next up was  The Cigar , made from the same vineyards as The Menzies, but designed to be less opulent and therefore more of an approachable Coonawarra Cabernet statement.   The Cigar was first released in 2006, but has been steadily gaining popularity since. Now part of the ‘Distinguished Sites’ range, this wine shows controlled intensity and classic Cabernet flavours with satisfying, well-toned complexity and length. A standout was the 2013 for its dense blackcurrant and tobacco leaf aromatics balanced by a juicy palate of elegant black and red fruits. The not yet released 2014 shows plenty of elegant, feminine beauty and medium weighted potential, soon to become a new character in the Yalumba story.  A CHAPTER REBORN Grenache has been a blending partner with  Shiraz  and Mourvèdre for years, but only recently has the thick skinned, late ripening variety gained attention as a single expression.  Ironically, while it’s thought of as an alternative grape in Australia, Grenache was one of the first to be widely planted here and the Barossa has some of the country’s oldest vines. Yalumba has long recognised the important part this variety will play in its story and has entrusted it to senior red winemaker, Kevin Glastonbury.  Kevin has spent his working life in the Barossa and has been at Yalumba since 1999. Highly regarded and respected, he has a real soft spot for Grenache’s many vivid expressions and unique power to weight potential. Kevin has been on a Grenache crusade and all his wines are beautiful expressions of versatility, each with its own tale.  “One of my personal goals when I joined Yalumba was to bring focus onto Grenache, mainly because it’s my favourite single variety to work with,” Kevin describes. “Consumers are appreciating that Grenache isn’t just another big Barossa or  McLaren Vale  red wine. They are now wines of finesse and texture, with techniques like whole bunch fermentation playing a big role.  “At Yalumba, we have seen incredible growth with Grenache. When I started here 18 years ago, we had a couple of Grenache wines. Now we are making it in two Rosé styles, five single varietal wines, and one blended with Shiraz and Mataro. It is really fantastic to see how Grenache is being appreciated.” And with resources like the 820 gnarly, 128-year-old bush vines that Kevin has at his disposal for theTri-Centenary Grenache, it is easy to see why he is a happy Barossan. The Tri-Centenary line-up going back to 2005 was incredible. These wines are light, almost  Pinot Noir -like in weight, but all possess incredible depth and complexity. From the rustic, heady aromas and tart-ripe cherries of the 2005, to the exotic truffle and blackberry aromatics and rounded length of the 2011, these wines express a depth and intensity that is quite special.  WEIGHTY WONDERS Next bracket of wines were the Carriage Block Grenache planted in 1954 in the valley’s north towards Kalimna by local train driver at the time, Elmore Schulz. These wines showed a little more weight that the Tri-Centenary wines, but had wonderful layers of bright cherries, spices and raspberries. With all that ripe fruit you would expect some sweetness, but surprisingly, both wines had an attractive savoury finish. To finish up, we looked at the 2015 and 2016 Vine Vale wines, yet another expression of the Yalumba Grenache tale. These wines expressed a gamey, savoury complexity that was charming and again, exhibited bags of power and finesse, but in a light-weighted frame. As a variety that loves the warmth, Grenache can sometimes exude alcohol heat, but none of Kevin’s wines had fallen victim to this curse. Grenache is a wonderful old part of the Yalumba story that, through the support of the Hill-Smith family and the drive of Kevin, has become a new chapter. Similarly with Cabernet, Coonawarra and Natalie, we will start to see new stories emerge and find their as part of the bigger Yalumba picture.  If you haven’t formed your own Yalumba impression, you should take a closer look, the wines and the story are definitely worth it.  THE WINES OF THE TASTING Yalumba The Menzies Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 1987, 1995, 2006, 2010, 2013, 2014  Yalumba The Cigar Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, 2010, 2013, 2014 Yalumba The Tri-Centenary Grenache 2005, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016 Yalumba Carriage Block Grenache 2015, 2016 Yalumba Vine Vale Grenache 2015, 2016 RARE, FINE AND DISTINGUISHED YALUMBA WINES
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