A terrific new wine brand, Deakin Estate, is about to hit retail shelves across Australia after twenty-two years in the making. The story began in 1973 when the Yunghanns family (owners of Katnook Estate, Coonawarra) established vineyards on the Murray River 35 kilometres from Mildura, Victoria.
At the time, consumption of table wine was growing but not yet at the phenomenal rates that would be recorded later in the decade and into the early 1980s. The Younghanns were therefore anticipating a trend rather than following one. As well, the industry was far more fragmented then than now and the family was content to grow and sell grapes.
The early plantings were a mixed lot but the Yunghanns had the prescience to establish chardonnay on a scale not before seen in Australia. In 1980 the family built its Riverland winery just as the industry began screaming for chardonnay. With the largest single chardonnay holding in the country, the family had a ready market both for grapes and bulk wine processed in the new winery.
In 1989 the Riverland winery launched its own Sunnycliff brand onto the market. Wines under the label were consistently good, but only patchily distributed and marketed. Now the brand has been scrapped to make way for the new Deakin Estate range which joins Katnook Estate and Riddoch under the new Wingara Wine Group banner.
The wines reflect twenty two years’ evolution in the vineyard; introduction into the winery of the very best equipment; and appointment of accomplished wine maker Mark Zeppel, a dux of Roseworthy College and former wine maker to Penfolds and Warrenmang.
The new Deakin Estate wines are the product of winery and adjacent vineyard working together with the end product in mind.
In the vineyard, dual-purpose varieties have given way to premium table-wine varieties. And the viticulturists have learned a lot in two decades. Yesterday’s overhead sprinkler systems are being replaced by drip irrigation.
This dramatically reduces water use and allows greater control over vine health and, finally, successful ripening of grapes to desired sugar levels. As Wingara Wine Group Chief Executive, David Yunghanns, told me, “We get only eight inches of rain a year. Ideally we’d have none, then we’d have complete control of the vines.”
The ideal, he says, is to work towards even ripening of bunches. One past viticultural practice, minimal pruning (essentially trimming combined vine canopy like a bush rather than pruning individual vines) led to uneven ripening with both green and ripe berries in the one bunch.
Retrellising and opening up the canopies seems to be achieving substantial lifts in grape quality. The viticulturists are also playing close attention to sections of the vineyard that have traditionally yielded the best fruit.
They believe they can lift quality across the vineyard through an understanding of conditions that produced the best fruit in the past.
And because the winery sits amongst the vineyards, grapes can be moved into the winery within half and hour of harvesting — a tremendous boon to quality as it reduces the risk of oxidation or other spoilage.
In the winery, Mark Zeppel moved away from the old practice of mass fermentations and bulk blending. Fermenting and then storing smaller parcels according to quality gives him the best blending options for the Deakin Estate range.
The wines are highly polished expressions of the region’s ripe, fruity early-drinking styles. They don’t pretend to be anything other than that — tasty, fresh wines at a very affordable $7 to $8.50 a bottle.
The range, a Chardonnay 1995, Colombard 1995, Sauvignon Blanc 1995 and Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 is to be released nationally on September 1. The chardonnay offers full, ripe flavours; the colombard is lighter, crisper and drier; the sauvignon blanc is full and gentle but without the strong varietal flavour we see in cooler areas; and the cabernet is packed with sweet, ripe-berry flavours.
The range squarely challenges the big wineries. And that’ s a great thing for wine drinkers faced with increasing wine prices. Until recently, only the major wineries had a big showing in the affordable $7 -$9 price segment. The arrival on the scene of DeBortolis, Miranda, the Alambie Wine Company and now the Wingara Wine Group’s Deakin Estate with nationally distributed brands gives poor wine drinkers greater choice and some bargaining power.