A new force in Canberra winemaking

Capital Wines, the new joint venture between Jennie and Mark Mooney of Grazing restaurant and Andrew and Marion McEwin’s Kyeema Wines, could quickly become a frontrunner among our local wineries.

It has a couple of advantages that new entrants to an industry known for its long lead times seldom enjoy. For one, Capital Wines gains immediate access to the McEwin’s long-established vineyard at Murrumbateman – one of the Canberra District’s most distinguished, albeit under-marketed.

It also has an established winery; established winemaking contracts with other growers; a core of goodwill towards the much-admired (if little known) Kyeema brand; and a dream cellar door site earmarked alongside Grazing in the Royal Hotel, Gundaroo.

Jenny says that high visitor numbers means it makes sense to locate the planned cellar door in Gundaroo and not near the winery or vineyard at Murrumbateman.

The 50:50 joint venture brings the Mooneys back into the industry that brought them to Canberra in the first place, adds Jennie. In the late nineties, after studying viticulture and ‘looking everywhere’ they established Tallagandra Vineyard. But in 2004 they sold it to Lamberts having been ‘distracted by a very busy restaurant’.

With Grazing restaurant now leased to chef Tom Moore, the Mooneys are concentrating on the new business – Mark tending the vines, Jennie heading up marketing. And freed of these chores Andrew McEwin can focus on winemaking.

Capital Wines plans to ‘focus on production of premium Canberra Region wine’. Presumably this means retaining more Kyeema vineyard fruit for its own labels, now being rolled out as the ‘Ministry series’.

The first of these, ‘The Ambassador’ Tempranillo 2007, from the Kyeema vineyard, is due for release at about the time this column is to be published. Others to follow include ‘The Frontbencher’, ‘The Backbencher’ and ‘Mr Speaker’, all bearing generic political caricatures.

These are attractive labels, notwithstanding caveats expressed in last week’s column, and could prove catchy in the nation’s political capital.

Pleasingly for Andrew McEwin, the fruit source gets a nod in the label blurb with ‘made from fruit grown in our renowned Kyeema Vineyard’. On past performance, both of the old Kyeema label and of other wines using fruit from the vineyard, the wines are likely to be very good.

The vineyard dates to the early eighties, barely a decade after Drs Edgar Riek and John Kirk planted Canberra’s first vines. Over a couple of seasons, Ron McKenzie established a number of grape varieties on his property, Mamre, at Murrumbateman.

From 1987 Andrew McEwin bought McKenzie’s fruit for his Kyeema label before buying the vineyard in1999, subsequently renaming it. The shiraz, planted in 1982 and known as the ‘Penfolds’ clone was always the star. It earned gold medals for the Kyeema label and was highly prized by Hardy’s during their time in Canberra. More recently it was the source of fruit for Alex McKay’s brilliant Collector Reserve Shiraz 2006.

In recent years McEwin revamped the vineyard, extending shiraz plantings from cuttings off the original vines, replacing cabernet with shiraz, adding tempranillo and retrellising it entirely. What was ‘grow and sprawl’, said Andrew in an interview last year, is now the more controlled, and quality orientated, vertical shoot positioning system’.

Now, at last, the vineyard may have a marketing focus to match the quality of its fruit and wines.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2008