Brown Bros restores historic All Saints Winery

All Saints Winery, Rutherglen’s most notable wine landmark, has been dusted off, refurbished and re-launched by new owners, Brown Bros of Milawa.

Importantly for wine drinkers, the re-launch goes more than skin deep. It embraces not just refurbishment of the famous castle and design of shiny new labels but vineyard rehabilitation, improved wine-making practice, the use of museum stocks in blending the winery’s unique muscats, tokays, and ports, and a philosophy that ensures Rutherglen-only grape sourcing for the wines.

Brown Bros acquired All Saints Estate early in 1992 after it had been passed in at the receiver’s auction on the site on December 17, 1991. All Saints found itself in receivership just two years after a syndicate, led by the late Mike Fallon, took control from the Sutherland-Smith family that’d owned it since 1864.

That was the year river trader, George Sutherland-Smith, acquired 420 hectares of land fronting the Murray River. All Saints thrived as he established vineyards along the riverbank and learned the art of winemaking. Business must have been good. For this descendent of generations of carpenters and joiners built a large castle of red bricks dug and fired on the property. It was modeled on the workplace of his forbears, the castle of Mey in the parish of All Saints, Scotland.

Over the next century, the castle and its magnificent elm-tree drive became entrenched as landmarks of the Rutherglen wine-growing region. But by the late1980s the business appeared to be fraying at the edges, evidenced by an overgrown and littered drive and a ramshackle state of affairs in the winery.

Wine critic James Halliday, normally a Clark Kent of the pen, wrote, “…it grieves me to be unable to find something truly complimentary to say. The plain fact of the matter is that the table wines are simple, dull, and ordinary… a very close and hard look needs to be taken at both the quality of fruit coming out of the vineyard and the wine-making techniques employed to deal with the fruit.”

Fallon’s team hit All Saints with a dazzling burst of energy on Boxing Day, 1989. A team of wine makers began an appraisal of every barrel and bottle of wine in the place that day. Sub-standard material was removed. The winery and driveway were cleaned and a rational marketing plan hatched.

But time and fate were against Fallon who had enjoyed such enormous success as Marketing Director for Wolf Blass. In better times he may have succeeded. But All Saints became caught up in the recession and, by all accounts, was strangled by debt. Fallon died suddenly early in 1991 and it was only months before the business found itself in receivership.

I attended the receiver’s auction which cleared a great deal of stock as well offering the Estate for sale. With local wine maker, Chris Pfeiffer, I spent a day scrambling over barrels tasting every wine offered for sale as well as many being kept for the new owners… a store of aged fortifieds being essential to continued production.

Large volumes of young fortifieds were sold off, De Bortolis and Brown Bros being notable buyers on the day. But from what I tasted, most of the very best casks of old material stayed in the winery. These passed to Brown Bros with their acquisition of the Estate.

In the two years since then, Brown Bros have spent a million dollars on All Saints.

With advice from the Historic Buildings Trust of Victoria, the castle has been fully restored; the cellar-door sales area has been upgraded; Chef Michel Renoux, serves local produce in the new Le Cafe Brasserie and 600-seat capacity Great Hall convention centre; and considerable landscaping work has been completed around the winery.

More importantly, Jim Baxendale’s viticultural team has been nursing the estate’s formerly neglected 140 hectares of vines back to health. As well, wine maker Neil Jericho takes responsibility for the All Saints range now made in Brown Bros state-of-the-art winery at Milawa.

All Saints’ new Heritage, Classic, and Show Reserve ranges are pure Rutherglen products, sourced predominantly from the Estate’s own vineyards.

A trophy in Adelaide for the Show Reserve Tokay tells us Neil Jericho knows how to us the museum fortifieds. That and a resolve to keep grape sourcing estate-based, gives wine drinkers reason to believe a revived All Saints is a good thing.