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Hilltops and Tumbarumba come to Canberra

Despite delays caused by heat, drought, smoke and Covid-19, one of the most significant developments in Canberra’s wine history is planned for a site south of Murrumbateman.

Jason and Alecia Brown, Kerralee Vineyard, Spring Range, Jeir Creek.

In July 2019 Jason and Alicia Brown bought land at Spring Range (including the two-hectare Kerralee vineyard) straddling Jeir Creek and fronting the eastern side of the Barton Highway.

The Browns plan to build a winery and cellar door on site to make and sell wines from Kerralee and vineyards they own in the neighbouring Hilltops and Tumbarumba regions.

While Canberra vignerons commonly source grapes from Canberra, Hilltops and Tumbarumba, the Browns are the first to own substantial vineyards in all three regions. And they’ll be the first to make Canberra the centre of the three-district estate-based production and sales.

Jason Brown says he and wife Alicia originally planned to complete the cellar door in 2021. However, heat, drought and smoke taint destroyed the 2020 crop entirely, setting back plans for the winery and cellar door by at least a year. Despite the setback, Brown says his family intends to move from Moppity vineyard, near Young, to Kerralee before year’s end.

Within months of buying Kerralee, the Browns grafted the vineyard’s existing pinot noir and merlot vines (on the northern side of Jeir Creek) to the two best performing shiraz clones from their Moppity vineyard and two rows of viognier. On the southern side of the creek they planted eight hectares of shiraz, grenache, mourvedre and riesling, bringing the vineyard total to 10-hectares.

These new plantings bring the Brown’s vineyard holdings to about 149-hectares, alongside the 69-hectare Hilltops region Moppity Vineyard (acquired 2004), and the 70-hectare Tumbarumba region Coppabella Vineyard (acquired 2011).

These established vineyards produce outstanding wines, often highly awarded, and generally well distributed, under various Moppity Vineyard, Lock & Key, Cato, Crafted, Coppabella Vineyard, and Procella labels.

Each district produces its own established specialties based largely on local climate, although the Browns have new varieties and styles coming through as the climate warms and consumers seek new drinking experiences.

While cabernet and shiraz built Moppity’s reputation, the three Cato wines reviewed below point to an exciting future for nebbiolo, tempranillo and sangiovese. Jason Brown believes grenache suits the site, too, confirmed by a Canberra regional wine show trophy for the first vintage, 2018. Malbec also offers good potential – currently demonstrated, says Brown, by Nick Spencer’s flagship blend of Moppity malbec and Gundagai cabernet sauvignon. 

The Italian white variety fiano looks exciting, too, Brown believes, though the promising 2020 fruit succumbed to smoke taint. To me, this is the most exciting of the Italian white varieties now being cultivated across Australia and beautifully made, for example, by Coriole (McLaren Vale) and Grosset (Clare Valley).

Coppabella Vineyard, Tumbarumba, to the cooler south of Canberra, in the lee of the Snowy Mountains, produces excellent chardonnay, good (and getting better) pinot noir, outstanding bubblies, and truly varietal sauvignon blanc. Brown is adding the Austrian white variety, gruner veltliner, plus pinot gris and Beaujolais’ red grape, gamay – varieties already showing promise in the district.

Plantings at the new Kerralee vineyard, play to Canberra’s proven strengths in shiraz (sometimes blended with viognier) and riesling. The addition of late-ripening grenache and mourvedre (traditional companions to shiraz in France’s southern Rhone Valley) acknowledge a warming climate and the growing appeal of multi-variety Rhone blends.

It’ll be a few years before we can enjoy the Kerralee vineyard wines. But Jason and Alecia Brown’s Moppity and Coppabella wines, currently made under Jason’s supervision at First Creek Wines, Hunter Valley, can be found in bottle shops and online.

These recently tasted wines from the Moppity Vineyard give great drinking pleasure and capture the distinct character of each grape variety.

Cato Hilltops Sangiovese 2017 $35
Lean and savoury, with underlying sweet fruit and fine, grippy tannins Cato Sangiovese provides a drinking experience far removed from say, a plump shiraz. But it’s the attention to detail that adds to the wine’s appeal. Observing sangiovese’s tendency to be too lean and too tannic, Jason Brown learned to plump up the berries by watering early in the season then turning the tap off at veraison (when berries begin to soften). He reduced the berry numbers, enabling the vines to fully ripen the remaining crop. This resulted in what Brown calls a ‘juicy ripeness’ underpinning an otherwise savoury wine cut with the variety’s distinctive firm tannins. Sensitive winemaking at First Creek captures the fruit’s quality, subtly enhanced by maturation in non-intrusive older oak.

Cato Hilltops Nebbiolo 2017 $35
In Piemonte, the reds of Barolo appeal with floral aromas but often descend into unrelenting tannins that suck the water from your eyes. The best versions, however, offer floral aromas and deep, dark fruit tightly held by grippy but harmonious tannins. These elegant but powerful wines may be hard to find but they offer one of the great delights of the wine world. Cato doesn’t take us to Barolo, but it sensitively reveals both the florals and savour of the variety, with a firm tannin backbone that builds with each glass. Again, the winemaker captures varietal character without intruding on it.

Cato Hilltops Tempranillo 2017 $35
The Spanish call their young, simple tempranillos joven, indicating a fruity, drink-now red, as distinct from more complex styles aged for longer periods in oak barrels. Cato, made in the joven style, drinks beautifully now, offering a great mouthful of lush fruit, reminiscent of ripe blueberries. However, savour and firm tannins push through, giving a satisfying finish to a more-ish dry red. Jason Brown says the variety to tends to crop heavily, meaning extensive fruit thinning to reduce yields and boost fruit flavour.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan July 2020

Wine review – Clonakilla Hilltops, NSW

Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2019 $35
The product of a hot growing season, Clonakilla Hilltops 2019 delivers a flavour spectrum we don’t usually experience under the label. The wine remains medium bodied, but instead of the usual red berries and spice, we encounter a powerful, fleshy palate featuring ripe, black-fruit flavours and deep, strong (but soft) tannins. A wine of this strength will certainly drink well for years, but it’s hard to imagine it being any more pleasurable to drink than it is now. Hilltops is a wine growing region in the high country around the town of Young, Southern NSW. Clonakilla is a winery in the neighbouring Canberra District, to the south of Hilltops.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2020

Wine review – Tahbilk 1860s vines shiraz

Tahbilk vineyard and winery on the Goulburn River and its anabranch, central Victoria

On 1 August 1860, Tabilk Vineyard Proprietary paid Hugh Glass £5/10/00 an acre for 640 acres (260 hectares) of land on the Goulburn River, central Victoria. Tabilk appointed Mr T Marie to establish a vineyard, and by year’s end he’d planted 26 hectares of vines. Shiraz vines Marie planted all those years ago survive and continue to make wine.

Tahbilk shiraz vine, planted 1860 by Mr T Marie

Owner Alister Purbrick believes they’re the third oldest shiraz vines in the world after two Barossa Valley vineyards, Langmeil (1843) and Turkey Flat (1847). However, claims Purbrick, the Barossa vineyards combine younger vines with the originals, where the Tahbilk vineyard remains 100% 1860 originals.  

Let’s cast our minds back to 1860. As the USA inched towards civil war, those shiraz cuttings took root half a world away at Tahbilk. Dark-horse Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election. Little Ned Kelly lived unnoticed in Her Majesty’s colony, Victoria. And the Eureka miners’ rebellion lay six years in the past – ancient history to leading rebel, Peter Lalor, now representing South Grant in a reformed Victorian parliament.

The years ticked by: Ned Kelly became man, died on the gallows, and rose again as legend. In 1901 Victoria and fellow colonies formed the new democracy of Australia.

Time passed. Australian women won the vote. World War I, death and maiming of young men on horrendous scale. The roaring twenties. The Great Depression. World War II. Post-war prosperity and immigration. Cold war. White Australia morphed to European-focused multi-culturalism. 1967: Australia’s aboriginal people win limited recognition and the vote. Vietnam War. Australian multi-culturalism embraces people of the world in new waves of immigration. 1992: Eddie Mabo case, native title replaces terra nullius. Sydney Olympics. 911. Kevin 07. GFC. Donald Trump. Covid-19.

Across those decades, century, and more decades, Tahbilk’s 1860 shiraz vines grew, bore fruit, and became wine. 

They survived as others on the estate withered and died, victims of the vine pest phylloxera, devastator of European and Victorian vineyards.

Of Tahbilk’s 1860 shiraz vines, Victorian Government viticulturist, Francois de Castella, observed in the late 1920s, ‘…the vines have survived the insect in a truly remarkable manner owing to the sandy nature of the sub-soil…are not suffering at all from the presence of the insect…’

Alister and Eric Purbrick

de Castella’s wider advice guided Tahbilk’s new owner, Reginald Purbrick. In 1925 Purbrick bought the property from London without inspection. In 1931 his son Eric moved from London to Tahbilk. He managed the property and made wine for the remainder of a long life, interrupted only by World War II service. Eric’s son John established a marketing arm in Sydney and, in time, John’s son Alister, a Roseworthy winemaking graduate, joined Tahbilk as CEO and winemaker alongside grandfather Eric. Alister’s daughter Hayley Purbrick joined Tahbilk in 2009.

Alister modernised Tahbilk’s winemaking with dramatic impact on the whites, extended the vineyards, and added new wine varieties. However, the two reds reviewed here offer refinements of a distinctive Tahbilk style developed by Eric during his long husbandry of the estate.

Tahbilk 1860 Vines Nagambie Lakes Shiraz 2015 $342
Tahbilk reds tend to be medium bodied with a strong backbone of tannin, as we saw in an extensive tasting of back vintages on site in 2005. But Alister Purbrick says, ‘If the tannins show, we haven’t done our job’. In that regard 2015 1860 vines shiraz appears to be the perfect vintage, combining intense fruit flavour and persistent, soft tannins. Although powerful in flavour, structure and savour, it’s elegant, refined, and tasting young and fresh at five years’ age. Purbrick says it’s fermented in small, open vats, with tannins extracted by gentle pump-overs, not the more extractive techniques of header boards or cap plunging. It was matured in small French oak casks, 50% new, 50% older. A beautiful and distinctive red.

Tahbilk Eric Stevens Purbrick Nagambie Lakes Shiraz 2015 $72
Alister says his grandfather first released his flagship Bin 11 Shiraz in 1948, a blend of the best barrels. Alister continued the style and admits ‘in the biggest mistake I’ve made’ changed the name from Bin 11 to ‘Reserve’ in 1985. From 2002 the name changed again to Eric Stevens Purbrick. Though still in the medium bodied style, ESP’s notably fuller than the 1860s vines red, with a little flesh added by the use of American as well as French oak. The wine combines fruit and savour with firm structure in harmony with the fruit.  


  • Tahbilk Purbrick family, five generations
  • Chateau Tahbilk: story of a vineyard 1860–1985, Enid Moodie Heddle and Frank Doherty, Lothian Publishing Company Pty Ltd, third edition, 1985
  • Phone interview Alister Purbrick, Chris Shanahan April 2020

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2020

The Phil Laffer tapes – part 2

An insider’s view of the Australian wine industry and the Jacob’s Creek brand

Transcription of an interview with Phil Laffer, Canberra, 16 March 2006

Jacob’s Creek people

The winemakers

If you’re going to be a good winemaker you have to be passionate about it. And that means passion about wine, food, people vines and a whole range of other things.

It strikes me that the people who’ve built Jacob’s Creek – people like Stephen Couche who’s been the marketing person responsible for Jacob’s Creek for about thirty years. He’s managed Jacob’s Creek from a brand viewpoint all the way through.

Obviously there have been people working with him. But I think one of the strengths of Jacob’s Creek has been not just the disciplined approach to winemaking but an equally disciplined approach to marketing.

There’s not been a change to labels or a change to philosophy over time. While there have been lots of people contributing to Jacob’s Creek in a marketing sense. But you’ve always had Stephen sitting there guiding the process and, when necessary, applying the breaks, saying, “Look it’s a great idea but that really isn’t Jacob’s Creek”.

One only has to look at thirty years of labels for Jacob’s Creek to see that, yes, there’s been an enormous evolution. But it’s always been a managed evolution. There have been no enormous, radical steps.

Where we are today to where we started is quite different, but all along the way it’s been managed quite carefully. So, Stephen’s [Stephen Couche] 30 years is probably the most significant contribution to Jacob’s Creek.

From a winemaking viewpoint, we have people like Mark Tummel who was with Orlando for 40 years and was the initial winemaker for Jacob’s Creek.

Along the way he passed the baton to Robin Day who enjoyed 20 years’ service.

And Robin passed the responsibility onto me in 1992/1993. I see myself very much as the custodian of Jacob’s Creek for my period at Orlando. And I’m in the process of having successfully developed two very good people to take over from me – in the immediate future, Bernard Hickin and one to follow Bernie, Sam Kurtz.

Bernard and Sam are not just remarkably good winemakers, but also remarkably good people. They’re people who think outwardly. They’re people who are passionate about people, good communicators and are looking to encompass everybody into to Jacob’s Creek. And that’s very important.

It would be wrong to I think to have an enormous change of style in the person, in a wine sense, who would be responsible for Jacob’s Creek. That would, perhaps, lead to a change that may or may not be good. So there’s lots and lots of depth there.

Bernard has just celebrated his 25th anniversary with the company – so he’s been there ten years longer than I have – and Sam Kurz has just celebrated 15 years.

Bernard served with both Mark Tummel and Robin Day before working with me, meaning he’s worked with three people responsible for Jacob’s Creek winemaking – and he’s about to take it over.

All of that helps to explain the success of Jacob’s Creek

There’s been this great durability of people within Orlando, and particularly amongst those who’ve been associated with Jacob’s Creek. This guarantees a seamless move from one to the other.

Now that’s not to say that Bernard in his period as stewardship won’t make a whole lot of changes. If the market changes or consumers change then it’s going to be his job to be in tune with that.

But he’s seen how it’s progressed over 25 years, so he’s not likely to be someone to hop in say, well, they’ve got it all wrong, let’s do it differently. He’s had this association for 25 years and a very active involvement for at least the last 12 years.

He’s been responsible for all the white wine and sparkling wine in Jacob’s Creek in the same way that Sam has been responsible for the red wines. And that continuity and that ability to get the soul and personality of Jacob’s Creek is very important.

The grape growers, viticulturists and regions behind Jacob’s Creek

When I look at the long list of names of people who grow grapes for Jacob’s Creek, I realise that they’re not only long term growers, but characters in their own right and a big part of Jacob’s Creek.

It’s interesting to look at the names. Koch, Neldner, Lindner,

Makner, Jenke, Schilde, Hofner, Gazanski and so on. They’re obviously German names in the main. So these are people who probably arrived in the Barossa about the same time that Johann Gramp did.

And they, as the Gramp family does, remain an important part of the Barossa Valley. I don’t know how long any of these have been delivering fruit to us. But I know that in the case of the Koch family it’s over one hundred years.

In the case of the Lindner family, we had a function four years ago with Cliff Lindner, who’s now seventy, and the function was celebrating when his father started delivering fruit to us. So it’s probably something like an eighty year association with lots of these people.

And they are part of the Jacob’s Creek family. Obviously Jacob’s Creek’s such a big brand now that it doesn’t all come from these old families. But they remain an important part of some of the wines. And they’re an important part of the tradition of Jacob’s Creek.

It’s not something that someone has developed out of blue sky. There’s this history of people and tradition that goes back to when Johann Gramp founded his company 155 years ago and when William Jacob named the Creek at about the same time.

In other wine regions, too, growers have long associations with Orlando and Jacob’s Creek – McLaren Vale for example and the South Australian Riverland.

Orlando has been sourcing fruit from that part of the world since the 1920s – initially from the soldier settler farms established after World War I. We still have something like a hundred growers in the area. Many of these – either they or their families have been delivering fruit to Orlando for over 50 years.

In other areas that association is not quite so long. The Orlando connection with the Riverina, New South Wales, started with a man called Charlie Morris, who built a winery in Griffith in the 1960s which shortly thereafter became part of the Orland family.

And from the 1970s onwards, the Riverina has been an important source of grapes for Jacob’s Creek and there has been an association with growers in that part of the world going back over 35 years.

The links there don’t go back quite as far as those with the South Australian Riverland, but they are just as strong. It’s a different background of grower.

In the South Australia Riverland they generally soldier settlers, where in the Riverina they tended to be Italian who’d settled there, having emigrated to Australia post Second World War.

Sunraysia, on the Victorian section of the Murray River, is far more recent. While we have been relying on Sunraysia/Mildura area for a number of years, it’s only been in the last five years that we’ve begun to build up direct and serious relationships with the growers.

But we’ve adopted the relationship and the philosophy – and there’s evidence already that these growers are enjoying and responding to our approach to the winemaker and grape grower relationship. We have substantially improved the quality of fruit – and hence wine – that we’re getting out of the part of the world.

We have growers in lots and lots of other areas, but they are the major ones.

In the last ten years or so we’ve developed quite a strong relationship with Clare, particularly with riesling but to a lesser extent with shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. We would now be, I imagine, probably the second or third largest purchaser of high quality out of the Clare Region – predominantly for Jacob’s Creek products.

Langhorne Creek is one of our biggest – if not our biggest – premium grape growing areas. For a long time we had relationships with a number of small to medium sized growers.

About ten years ago we decided it was a very exciting area and one way to increase our presence there was to establish what we thought would be a world-class vineyard there. That we did, with a view to providing us with very good fruit; to provide us with the opportunity to do an awful lot of experimentation as the vineyard was big enough to do that; and hopefully to provide some guidance to what was becoming an increasingly large viticultural region.

We are close to a stage where we will be drawing about 20 thousand tonnes of fruit from Langhorne Creek – which is not so far from fifty per cent of what is produced there. So it’s a very important area.

Our own vineyard is not as important today as it was when we developed it because Langhorne Creek has come of age. There’s now a critical mass of grape growers. And with that has come a lot more knowledge and a lot more infrastructure.

It’s a very good area because it tends to have a very low disease regime. It’s dry, therefore you can, to some degree, manipulate the viticulture by sensible and clever use of water.

And because of the natural air conditioning as the night breezes blow across Lake Alexandrina, evaporating water, and bringing night time temperatures down to ten degrees – despite the fact that day time temperature may have been as high as forty. This, of course, creates elegance in the fruit flavour.

And it’s close to home – about an hour by car or two hours’ by truck. As a consequence, we process the fruit locally.

The outstanding variety in Langhorne Creek is chardonnay. After that it’s shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, and merlot does well there, too. When you think about what Australia sells, it’s a great area.

The Limestone Coast zone is very important to Jacob’s Creek, though in volume terms it’s not as big as Langhorne. Stylistically it’s possibly more important.

We focus on three regions on the Limestone Coast: our greatest involvement is at Padthaway – where Jacob’s Creek has had an involvement for over 25 years. In the last 17 years we’ve drawn heavily on our own two vineyards there.

These produce, without doubt, our best chardonnay and some of the bests shiraz that Australia produces. It is not Barossa shiraz. It is not McLaren Vale shiraz. It’s a style of shiraz which is different. It suits Jacob’s Creek because there’s some elegance to it and it is without doubt the backbone to Jacob’s Creek Reserve Shiraz and plays an important part, albeit not in great volumes, in Jacob’s Creek Shiraz and Jacob’s Creek Shiraz Cabernet.

We source quite a bit of sauvignon blanc that supports JC Reserve Sauvignon Blanc. We’re now producing some very attractive merlot – for a JC Reserve Merlot due for release in October, 2006.

One hundred kilometres South of Padthaway, in Coonawarra, we have four distinct vineyards, all of them on the original cigar-shaped terra rossa soils. We have a number of long-term contract growers – in some cases with 20 year relationships.

Our focus nowadays is very much on cabernet sauvignon. Coonawarra is the sole source of Jacob’s Creek St Hugo Cabernet Sauvignon. It produces the base component for JC Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. And the very best Coonawarra cabernet forms a key component of Johann – the icon wine of Jacob’s Creek.

Abutting Coonawarra in the south and Padthaway in the north of the Limestone Coast region there’s an emerging region called Wrattonbully, producing some very exciting wines.

What impresses us most of all is the quality and purity of the chardonnay. And it looks like Wrattonbully will also be producing some very, very fine shiraz – much in the style that suits Jacob’s Creek, with lots of flavour and a degree of elegance to it.

Our interest in NSW in volume terms is primarily the Riverina. But in terms of the style component in Jacob’s Creek, Cowra and Canowindra have turned out to be – and they are both relatively new grape growing regions – in producing a very peachy style of chardonnay which has enormous citrus elegance to it.

Now on their own, they’re one dimensional wines, but in a blend they are absolutely fantastic. And we contracting something like four to five thousand tonnes from this part of cental New South Wales because it fits remarkably well with this concept of elegance in Jacob’s Creek. It’s a nice counter to some of the rich wines that we get from South Australia and Sunraysia.

Further north in Mudgee we have our own vineyards and some very large contract growers. What appeals to us most there is the quality of the semillon which is very important for Jacob’s Creek Semillon Chardonnay and Jacob’s Creek Semillon Sauvignon Blanc.

The red wines of Mudgee are stylistically different from anything else in Australia. They have lots of up front flavour and then what people describe as a cliff – they come to an end. So, in their own right – and this is a classic case of where blending works – put them into a blend and they contribute some quite fantastic flavours. Now you don’t need a lot and we don’t have a lot. But a small bit of Mudgee is also key to this complexity we’re looking for in the Jacob’s Creek red wines.

From the Yarra Valley, Victoria, we draw sauvignon blanc as well as pinot noir for both red wine and sparkling wine.

From Tasmania we take chardonnay and pinot noir for sparkling wine. This material is key to the Jacob’s Creek Reserve Sparkling wine,

We take a small amount of chardonnay from Kangaroo Island – a unique small island where the climate is driven by the ocean temperature. It never gets extremely hot and it never gets extremely cold.

It’s a new grape growing area but it looks like, as a small player, an interesting component to some top end Jacob’s Creek chardonnays.

Interestingly, Kangaroo Island served as a staging point for early immigrants to South Australia. Johann Gramp landed there at a place called Reeves Point – now the name of Jacob’s Creek’s top chardonnay – and remained for several months before moving to the Barossa.

When Gramp landed there his group planted a mulberry tree from a cutting brought from Bavaria. That tree remains there. Cuttings from that tree were taken by Gramp to the Barossa and we have planted by Jacob’s Creek a substantial mulberry tree which is an offshoot of that original planting.

In Western Australia we have no winemaking facilities but we have relationships with two or three winemakers in whom we have a great deal of confidence to produce for us suvignon blanc juice which we then bring to South Australia for fermentation under our control.

We also take some semillon, riesling, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz. In a sense, you might say it’s still in an investigative, experimental stage. The quantities we take are not inconsequential but we’re still learning about how we might incorporate to benefit these flavours and these different flavours and style we’re getting out of Western Australia.

It’s my view that it would be wise for 15 per cent of JC being sourced from a region sufficiently divorced from where we currently are so that the weather patterns that influence where we are at the moment don’t influence these other areas – as part of an ongoing insurance policy, protecting Jacob’s Creek.

We grow close to 25 per cent of the fruit that goes to Jacob’s Creek. Of the remaining 75 per cent all but five per cent comes from growers with whom we have long term relationships. The remaining five per cent comes from areas, like Western Australia where we are still learning and still developing relationships with growers.

The whole basis of Jacob’s Creek is about reliability. That means we have to know the people we are dealing with and we have to have confidence in them. These long-term relationships guarantee the reliability of Jacob’s Creek. Other than seasonal variation we should get not surprises.

Looking to the future and given the constraints of a limited water supply in south eastern and western Australia, the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range, Queensland, probably has the capability to produce very good fruit – looking forward a decade or two.

Whether or not to include it in Jacob’s Creek will be Bernard Hickin’s decision.

There are a couple of things that are basic and unchangeable about Jacob’s Creek. Jacob’s Creek will always be 100 per cent Australian fruit and Australian wine. It will also always be 100 per cent bottled in Australia, so that it leaves Australia in a bottle with a label on it that guarantees that it is grown in Australia, made by Australians, bottled by Australians and shipped by Australians. That is absolutely key to the integrity of Jacob’s Creek. Being Australian is an integral part of Jacob’s Creek character.

A passion and way of life

For the people who are integral to Jacob’s Creek, it’s their passion, it’s their life, it’s their challenge, it’s their pleasure.

The people who actually make Jacob’s Creek are personally and passionately involved in it. The people who market it are equally passionate but in a slightly different way.

A step back from the makers a there’s group of people within Orlando – it might be viticulturists, vineyard managers, vineyard workers, people working in bottling, or grower liaison officers – who know that decisions they take have a significant bearing on Jacob’s Creek.

Within their own areas these people know what the winemakers want and they know why the want it – because it’s Jacob’s Creek.

Independent grape growers, too, are absolutely integral to Jacob’s Creek. They’re committed through a complex process where each grower has a relationship with a particular winemaker. This winemaker looks after a particular region and he or she will know the grape growers.

There’ll be a grower liaison officer as the commercial contact. And there’ll be a viticulturist. So they’ve got three points of a relationship that’s ongoing throughout the year. They’ll see the winemaker two or three times year; the viticulturist half a dozen times; and the grower liaison officer almost constantly.

And at least once a year those growers will have an opportunity to meet the Chief Executive and to see a marketing presentation giving global and domestic overviews and an update on how Jacob’s Creek and the company are travelling.

Separate to that each grower is invited to visit the winemaker responsible for his fruit and to taste the wine that it ended up in and to compare it to wine made from fruit from other growers.

They will also taste Jacob’s Creek to give them an understanding of what we are trying to achieve stylistically.The aim is to give the growers a feeling about Jacob’s Creek and where they fit into it – and the importance of where they fit into it. This helps them understand how they can contribute to making a better bottle of Jacob’s Creek.

The effect is that they develop a pride in Jacob’s Creek. And if their fruit achieves a higher grading, the effect on the grower is enormous. They’re really chuffed. And they become even more committed.

Marketing and winemaking link

There’s a big link between marketing people and winemaking people because the direction that Jacob’s Creek is going – with the development of new products and with evolution of existing products – is very much the combined role of marketing and wine people. Neither one can act independently.

If through our observations at home or away we feel that changes should be made, we don’t just do it. We would then speak with marketing and say what we think ought to be done and ask if they agreed. It would be unusual for them to disagree, because the respect between marketing and winemaking is excellent. It has to be, because if that ever broke down the whole thing would fail.

The marketing people are quite prepared to accept – not blindly – the opinions being expressed by winemakers about how we rate with our competitors, what we might need to do, what we might think consumers are doing.

And in the same way, the winemakers respect what the marketing people are doing in terms of the evolution of the advertising, the packaging, the promotion of Jacob’s Creek. While we have views about what the label should like and what’s a good promotion and what’s not, at the end of the day there’s a lot of respect.

This is helped a lot by the fact that there’s this very rational guy sitting at the top, Stephen Couche. He’s like the gatekeeper.

Don Lester, the viticulturist behind Jacob’s Creek has 25 years service. He’s now in quality assurance.

Why I like going to work

I don’t think I’ve ever woken up and said, I don’t want to go work. I’ve woken up and said, this is not going to be a great day.

I routinely get up early and aim to be at work by 7 or 7.30am – and I might drop in at a vineyard or Richmond Grove Winery [Another Barossa winery of Jacob’s Creek owner, Pernod Ricard].

People who work at Jacob’s Creek are those that are concerned with getting things right. You could, say, make a blend in five minutes or you could say, look I want to try this, that, this that or the other – so, you could stay there for five hours until you’re satisfied. That’s the Jacob’s Creek approach. You might still end up where you started. But you’ve satisfied yourself that you’ve tried every possibility as to how you can make the blend more appealing. It’s not about being expeditious. The key people are those that keep trying and trying and trying.

Influence of staff passion for wine and food on JC wine style

If you go back to this basic premise of Jacob’s Creek that eight or nine bottles of every ten are drunk with or around food and therefore JC has to be something that works wonderfully well with food or is very supportive of food, then this food link is very important.

One of the reasons we employ Veronica Zarha, who is a stunningly good chef, is because she has a fascination with wine and food matching – especially with historic associations.

She’s, I think, Maltese. She works at the winery and she’s got a couple of kitchens – one at Roland Flat and one at the Heritage Vineyard – where, amongst other things, she fiddles around with local produce.

Veronica works closely with the winemakers. Whoever she reports to doesn’t get much joy out of her, because she completely ignores them.

Her focus is on food and wine, to the extent that she’ll periodically say, please bring me in yet again, I need to be put through a tasting, because I want to remember what it is that you people are saying about wine.

And she will try to come up with common sense (mostly) food that can be used for recipes and what have you with Jacob’s Creek – and try different things, so that we’ve got a series of recipes that are quite simple.

It could be as simple as oysters and riesling; or highly complex, depending on the occasion – so you’ve got the opportunity to say here’s a series of recipes – some simple, some increasingly complex – that work with Jacob’s Creek, and here’s the reason why.

So we get to enjoy her food a lot. She works wherever possible within South Australia. But where she can and because it’s an old property she uses our own produce: we’ve got quince trees, a range of olive varieties planted by the Gramp family years ago, peaches and figs – and then beyond that she uses local produce as much as possible,

So if we’re having fish it’ll be South Australian fish and if we’re having cheese it’ll be South Australian. In fact, we now have Barossa cheese. So, it’s as local as can be, but it has to be practical.

And if, say, the Jacob’s Creek UK team visits the Barossa and says gosh that was good, she’ll send information about the food and wine with them and they’ll distribute it when they arrive home.

While a lot of the food is South Australian, because fish is fish and lamb is lamb, you can adapt the recipes to any part of the world.

Veronica will shortly cook her first Jacob’s Creek all-Australian menu overseas – in Sweden – and hopes to do more of this in the future.

My travel

Over the year’s I’ve kept a travel record and in it I’ve just recorded by 6,500th flight – all of which is related to wine. It’s a combination of domestic travel, light aircraft travel and international travel throughout my winemaking career – including the fifteen odd years that I’ve been winemaking for Jacob’s Creek.

I get to see an awful lot of the world on behalf of Jacob’s Creek – forty different countries to date. And there’s a very real need to visit all the countries that sell Jacob’s Creek to communicate with the people that sell and market it so that they have the same understanding of Jacob’s Creek that we do. The contact needs to be a reasonably routine thing.

My role as the Jacob’s Creek global educator

An important part of my life is in providing an education to the people who market Jacob’s Creek around the world.

Sometimes, not always, it requires an education about wine. It always requires an education about Australia and Australian wine – and then, specifically to shed light on why Jacob’s Creek, within Australia, has its own niche.

In the UK I conduct education sessions for not just for our own people but for the restaurant and retail trades as well.

Unique characteristics of the Australian wine industry

One endearing element of the Australian character is the ability to be frank and open. This shows not just in Australian winemaking but in how winemakers talk about their wines to the press, the trade and the public.

Australian winemakers will talk openly about what they’ve attempted to do with their wines and will equally openly talk about what they see as shortcomings and how they plan to overcome these in future vintages.

The Australian industry has a number of unique strengths.

One of them is cooperative research and development where we pool our resources in cash and generate world class R & D in terms of wine and viticulture.

There are two main reasons for this co-operative approach. If we attempted it individually the resources would be insufficient. And, second, if anyone sells a bad bottle of Australian wine it reflects on all of us.

You want your neighbour to make good wine – not as quite as good as yours, perhaps – but good wine, nevertheless. So this cooperative research guarantees that this information gets out to everybody and, in a sense, is forced upon them.

At a more informal level, winemakers talk to each other. If we have a problem that we haven’t seen, I know we could ring up a counterpart in another company and say, look have you seen this. And if they had, they’d say, yep – and this is how we went about fixing it.

I don’t believe any other winemaking country – except perhaps New Zealand – enjoys this level of cooperation. It’s integral to Australian wine quality.

It’s interesting that the United States and Chile have written to Australia seeking to copy our cooperative research model, something we’ve consciously built to be an enduring part of our winemaking culture.

Its success in Australia comes from a preparedness to make it work. And that springs from our culture. We can explain how it works to our friends in the US and Chile, but that doesn’t mean they have the preparedness or culture to make it work in their environment.

It’s a reflection of Australia. The nature of Australians is such that you can sit down and work together. It is a friendly country. You trust one another. You’re quite prepared to share information with other people because you know you’re not going to be exploited. And when the boot’s on the other foot, you know they will help you.

It comes to a point where it’s every man for himself, when you’re in the market. But until that point you sit down and work together.

This is very much the Australian ethos and it goes back to our very beginnings. If we hadn’t worked together and cooperated, we wouldn’t have survived.

Jacob’s Creek Reserve Range – a consumer perspective

The reason we introduced a Reserve range was to provide somewhere for those people who were Jacob’s Creek drinkers and wanted to move – and particularly outside of Australia where we were Jacob’s Creek and that was it.

So, if you moved on from Jacob’s Creek there wasn’t anywhere to go. In Australia you might know the link between Jacob’s Creek and Orlando. So we needed something to offer those people and the Reserve range fulfilled that role in giving those people something that Jacob’s Creek familiar, but that was Jacob’s Creek at a much higher level.

The second role was to attract those people whose entry level was $15, not $8 – because those people would not consider Jacob’s Creek and here was a way of interesting those people. And perhaps if they liked the Reserve to encourage them, in a sense, to trade down.

And the third bit, which is in a sense the most important bit, was to do something that made a statement about Jacob’s Creek and about building the reputation of Jacob’s Creek – that this brand which everybody likes and respects but knows is good value at $7 to $10 bottle actually has much better credentials. It can make remarkably goodcwine that warrants you paying $15 or thereabouts.

In terms of the winemaking philosophy each of the wines in the Reserve range had to be very, very faithful to the Jacob’s Creek style. So it wasn’t a matter of making a better chardonnay, or a better riesling or a better shiraz. It was very much a matter of making a better Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay or a better Jacob’s Creek Shiraz.

So it had to fit the Jacob’s Creek mould and it had to be something that whoever bought it would know immediately that they’d got something that was worth more than they paid for it.

You got something that was better than you were anticipating – and for two reasons. One, somebody buying for the first time a better bottle of Jacob’s Creek is going to be suspicious. They know where Jacob’s Creek is, so you’re buying it on the basis of well, if I’m disappointed, then it won’t be a surprise.

So you’ve got to cater for that sort of cynicism by having something that guarantees when that person gets to it they’ll say, Jesus Christ, I was wrong. That’s a bloody good wine.

And for those people who are not cynical, the same sort of thing, I’ve got myself a very good bottle of wine for $14 or $15. I’m delighted with what I’ve got.

That was the message behind it.

Comparing old world wine styles to new world styles

When it come to Australian wines it’s words like generosity, flavour, softness and roundness. Australian wines are not harsh, bitter, thin and they tend not to be acidic. There’s more generosity to them in terms of colour, flavour, palate. Probably people in the sort of markets into which we sell nowadays drink more wine socially than would have been the traditional European thing where it was perhaps more tied around meals.

I think a lot of wine consumed in Australia and in the UK is just a drink. And a lot of European styles are quite difficult in that situation. Most are fairly astringent reds. And the whites tend to be much leaner and more austere than Australian white wines which are generous in the sense that they’ve got plenty of alcohol, the fruit’s ripe, so there aren’t any green or weedy flavours. The wines are well made so you tend not to get oxidised sulphur flavours that come through in similarly priced European wines.

You’re getting well made wines because the fruit’s good, therefore there are no extraneous flavours being introduced into the wine. You’ve got nice, ripe flavours which are soft and round and generous – it’s got nothing to do with sugar – it’s about ripe fruit flavours. Just having a glass of wine, you can understand the enormous appeal of having a glass of Australian chardonnay.

It’s just a very easy thing to drink. You don’t have to think about it. It’s got flavour and softness and, importantly, there are no turn offs. There isn’t a green acidity at the end of it. There aren’t some funny flavours that you’re not sure where they came from.

And, furthermore, the next bottle you buy is going to be very similar, because unlike buying European wine, where you buy chardonnay X today and chardonnay Y tomorrow – you don’t have this opportunity to buy by brand, and a lot of old world winemakers don’t have the same philosophy about reliability that we have.

I don’t know whether it’s because they consciously try to bring out the expressions of the vintage – “this is the way it was, this is what you get”. I’m sure it’s not, unless you’re at the top end. But to some degree that’s the philosophy, rather than trying to produce something which is reliable so that the consumer from year to year’s going to develop some loyalty because he knows pretty much what he’s going to get.

And it’s not natural seasonal variation. It’s a lack of dedication. There’s no reason in the world why five, six, seven-pound European wine has to be as bad as it is.

What is special about the Barossa

It’s typifies what Australia is all about. And what is interesting from a UK point of view is that there are little townships in the Barossa – we regard as quite big – but the biggest one has 2500 people, and the smallest one is three or four hundred. In other words we’re talking about something that is quite small and cute.

It’s a spectacular place. We have cool winters around fifteen degrees. We have warm summers around 30 to 40 degrees. There’s open space. There are places in the Barossa where you can sit all day and not see a motor car.

You can sit in parts of Jacob’s Creek and you might glimpse parts of a few odd buildings in the distance – so it’s still very rural.

The most appealing time to me is summer, when the hills have gone brown. I reckon the brown Barossa hills when the grass has dried off provide a contrast to the green vines in the valley that’s just absolutely fantastic.

I know you’re meant to think the autumn is the best when the vines leaves change – and it is wonderful. But just love these lovely brown hills.

When I’m overseas and somebody says what is your favourite colour, I invariably say brown. They look at me and I say it’s because brown reminds me of home – and

it’s not brown awful, it’s brown lovely. You get these wonderful brown colours.

The Barossa is a wonderful place to live and work in because it’s between what is station country 60 kilometres to the north at Burra where it’s grazing country and it doesn’t rain and Adelaide, 80 kilometres to the south.

You’re in between and you have the best of both. It’s really is very much a rural lifestyle. In developing behind Jacob’s Creek we have gone to great pains to bring Jacob’s Creek itself back to the way it would have looked when William Jacob was still alive and Johann Gramp established his vineyard.

Over the intervening 150 years there had been the introduction of all types of new species of European trees and flowers and what have you, which have crowded out the native vegetation.

So in recent years we’ve taken Jacob’s Creek back to where it was. It’s just wonderful to go down and sit there – whether there’s water or not in the creek (and for six months there isn’t) and look at trees that would’ve been alive and growing when William Jacob and Johann Gramp arrived there 160 years ago. Those trees are still there.

It’s now pretty much the way it would have looked and would have sounded – not the same Kookaburras and not the same Magpies, because it’s a few generations on, but the bird life is still the same.

You can actually say, in many respects, nothing has changed in 150 years. Sure, if you listen, you might hear a truck on the road or a tractor in the vineyard, but so much is identical. We still grow vines – the same varieties from the same cultivars. The soil’s the same. The climate’s the same. The hills still look the same. And Jacob’s Creek itself still looks as it did. It’s wonderful that so much in 150 years hasn’t changed.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2006 and 2020
Transcript of an interview with Phil Laffer, Canberra, 16 March 2006


Wine review – Mount Majura, David Hook, McW Reserve 660

Mount Majura Canberra District Mondeuse 2016 $29
DNA analysis by Jose Vouillamoz in 2008 revealed Savoie red variety, mondeuse noire, to be either a half-sibling or grandparent of Australia’s signature variety, shiraz. Mount Majura’s Frank van der Loo first tasted mondeuse in France’s Savoie area early this century and was “struck by its delicious spicy character”. He planted mondeuse at Majura in 2010 and released the first wine in 2015. The second vintage provides unique medium-bodied drinking, featuring bright, fruity flavours reminiscent of summer berries infused with spice.

David Hook Central Ranges Hilltops Nebbiolo 2015 $38
Hunter-based David Hook sources fruit from the NSW Central Ranges area, including the Hilltops Region, centred on Young. Piedmontese red variety nebbiolo makes light coloured, highly aromatic wines with an at-times aggressive bite of tannin that seems at odds with the light colour. Hook’s version captures the variety’s alluring floral notes and fruity–savoury flavours. However, while the tannins give notable grip to the finish, they are comparatively tame for nebbiolo and work well with savoury food.

McW Reserve 660 Canberra District Syrah 2016 $22–$28
Former Canberran Jim Chatto now heads the McWilliams winemaking team where he presided over production of this juicy, loveable Canberra shiraz. I came across it in Dan Murphys, Cairns, while guiding an old mate through the confusing world of wine. Served lightly chilled in the warm FNQ climate, the wine impressed for its vivid crimson colour and equally vivid fruit flavours. A touch of spice, typical of Canberra shiraz, and fine, soft tannins completed a delicious drink-now dry red of real character.

Mount Majura Canberra District Touriga 2016 $29
Touriga provides an earthy, grippy contrast to Mount Majura’s bright and chirpy mondeuse, also reviewed today. Touriga shares mondeuse’s vibrant freshness and medium body. But earthy, savoury character and fine, grippy tannins give it a distinctly separate character. Winemaker Frank van de Loo suggests this late ripening variety’s success in Canberra is due to recent warm vintages. He writes, “The 2015–2016 season was our warmest to date (as measured by heat degree days), illustrating the ongoing effect of global warming”.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan
First published 1 August 2017 in the Canberra Times

Aussie wine reviews – seven varieties, six regions, four states

Jim Barry Veto Riesling 2015
Lodge Hill vineyard, Clare Valley, South Australia

Peter Barry and sons Tom and Sam put a bit of the mongrel into their new riesling. It zigs away from Australia’s traditional pure, delicate, lime-like style towards greater ripeness, with notably more body, grip and texture. Later harvesting, partial barrel fermentation in older oak and prolonged ageing on spent yeast cells contributed to the more assertive style. However, it remains bright, fresh, vibrant and recognisably riesling. The intensity of fruit flavour and strong acid backbone suggest good ageing potential. However, it remains to be seen whether the richer texture and grip add to its age-worthiness or bring the wine to early maturity.

Bremerton Graciano 2013
Langhorne Creek, South Australia


The red variety, graciano, grows in small quantities in Spain, Portugal and Sardinia. In Spain it makes a “fresh and aromatic contribution to Rioja blends, and the small but growing number of varietal wines”, writes Jancis Robinson. At Canberra’s Mount Majura winery, Frank van de Loo, includes it blends, but also makes a straight varietal. And down in Langhorne Creek sisters Lucy and Rebecca Willson let graciano loose in this cellar-door wine ( Deep coloured, with vivid crimson rim, it offers vibrant berry and herbal flavours on a brisk, acidic palate

Curly Flat Chardonnay 2013
Curly Flat vineyard, Macedon Ranges, Victoria

Fermentation and maturation in oak barrels introduces aromas, flavours and textures not found in the grape itself. The affect of oak varies from resiny, woody and intrusive to a symbiotic one, where the oak lifts the whole wine to another level of drinking pleasure, even of beauty. We find this in the painstakingly handcrafted wines of Curly Flat. The interplay of intense fruit flavours with the oak, and the spent yeast cells during maturation, results in a powerful, multi-dimensional, silky, elegant dry white.

Hay Shed Hill Shiraz Tempranillo 2012
Margaret River, Western Australia

In 2012 eastern Australian vignerons shivered through their second consecutive cool, wet vintage. But their Western Australian counterparts experienced, “an almost complete lack of summer rain with early season high temperatures giving way to mild middle and late vintage pattern”, writes Hay Shed Hill owner, Michael Kerrigan. The sunshine shows in Kerrigan’s lovely blend. Ripe, juicy, soft shiraz forms the base of the blend, while a small amount of tempranillo adds tannic grip and exotic spicy notes.

Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2014
Hunter Valley, NSW


If you enjoy Hunter semillon’s idiosyncratic style, Elizabeth remains one of Australia’s best value cellaring wines – and a great beneficiary of the screw cap. For a modest price, you can cellar a dozen, drink a bottle every year or two, and enjoy the journey from the light and lemony freshness of youth to the honeyed, toasty mellowness old age. The screw cap ensures the sound condition of every bottle opened over the years. Before the screw cap, cork-sealed semillons yielded widely varying results, from the brilliant to undrinkably oxidised, or cork tainted.

Lindemans St George Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
St George vineyard, Coonawarra, South Australia
A recent masked tasting paired Lindemans St George Vineyard Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon1998 with Chateau Calon-Segur 1996. The host, Bob Irwin and wife Chizuru, couldn’t have found more perfect examples of these regional specialties. From the first sniff, wine number one could only have been a Coonawarra cabernet; and wine number two a classic “claret” – a blend of cabernet and merlot from Bordeaux’s Medoc sub-region. The 17-year-old St George remained vibrant, varietal and beautifully elegant – and an absolute pleasure to drink. The current-release 2012 vintage possesses similar qualities and should provide outstanding drinking for several decades.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2015
First published 4 and 5 August 2015 in  and the Canberra Times

Beer review – Moo Brew and Young Henrys

Moo Brew Hefeweizen 330ml $5
David Walsh’s Moorilla winery, Moo Brew brewery and Museum of Modern and New Art, share a site just a short drive from Hobart. The brewery’s wheat beer, made in the Bavarian style, appeals for its pale lemon, cloudy appearance, distinctive banana-like aroma, fresh, lemony palate and delicate clove-like aftertaste.

Young Henrys Real Ale 640ml $8
Young Henrys of Newtown, Sydney, base their Real Ale on the English best bitter style. Medium, bright-amber coloured, it offers a rich, warming, malty backdrop to its quite assertive hopping. The hops affect the aroma and flavour and give a lingering bitterness to the finish.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2014
First published:

  • 16 December 2014 in
  • 17 December 2014 in the Canberra Times

Wine review – Paxton, Vinaceous and Coppabella

Paxton AAA McLaren Vale Shiraz Grenache 2012 $17.10–$22
Our tennis, red wine and curry group tested David Paxton’s blend of shiraz and grenache with a range of spicy flavours, including fairly hot chilli. Generally we find fresh, fruity young reds with soft tannins retain their flavours and sit comfortably with a diversity of spicy flavours and food textures. Paxton’s wine sits square in this style, offering the bright, cherry-like aromas and flavours of shiraz, combined with the musk and spice of grenache. Chilli alone knocked the fruit out momentarily, but it bounced back deliciously and soon enough the bottle emptied.

Vinaceous Red Right Hand
Margaret River Shiraz Grenache Tempranillo 2013 $22.50–$25
The distinctive Vinaceous brand brings a colourfully labelled, vivacious range of wines to your dinner table. The striking “Red Right Hand” label portrays the naked-torso flame-thrower in action – which seemed appropriate as we slurped it down with the beef vindaloo and butter chicken. The vivacity of fruit carries this red joyously across the palate. It’s a festival of summer berry flavours and spice, with a savoury undercurrent and assertive though ripe and soft tannins. The distinctive tannins most likely come from the tempranillo component of the blend.

Coppabella Single Vineyard Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2012 $20
Jason and Alicia Brown of Moppity Vineyards, Young, added chardonnay to their menu by acquiring the Coppabella vineyard in the higher, cooler Tumbarumba region. They produce three chardonnays from the site: the very serious “Sirius” 2013 ($60), the taut, slow evolving (and sensational) “Crest” 2012 ($x, one trophy, two gold medals) and the classy, entry-level “Single Vineyard” 2012 (one gold medal). From a cool vintage in a cool region, it reveals the shimmering grapefruit- and nectarine-like varietal flavour of chardonnay beautifully woven in with the textural and flavour inputs of barrel fermentation and maturation. The price is likely to be discounted below the recommended $20.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2014
First published 22 and 23 November 2014 in and the Canberra Times

Wine review – Robert Stein, Rusty Fig, Hand Crafted by Geoff Hardy Moppity Vineyard and Houghton

Robert Stein Riesling 2014 $35
Robert Stein vineyard, Mudgee, NSW

At the excellent St Isidore restaurant, Milton, we kicked off a joyous lunch with the delicious Robert Stein riesling. Riesling can be austere when young. But winemaker Jacob Stein backed the natural lime-like varietal flavour of this one with gentle mid-palate texture. The flavour comes from the family’s 38-year-old vines, located at about 600 metres. And he uses three techniques to build texture: allowing about ten per cent of the blend to ferment naturally on skins for about a week; leaving the wine on spent yeast cells for a short period; and arresting the ferment to leave about eight grams a litre of grape sugar in the wine. Nine grams a litre of natural acid offsets this low-level sweetness, creating a mouth-watering sensation of full flavour, smooth texture and a tease of sweetness, with brisk, refreshing acidity. The wine will be released mid December and will be available at cellar door ( and selected retail outlets, including Plonk, Fyshwick.

Rusty Fig Savarino 2014 $16.50–$23
Rusty Fig vineyard, Bermagui, NSW

In 2002, Gary Potts and Frances Perkins planted the 1.6-hectare Rusty Fig vineyard between Bermagui and Cobargo. They produce red and rose wine from the Spanish variety tempranillo and two whites, verdelho and savarino (made from the savagnin blanc grape). All of the wines are made by Brian Sinclair at Brindabella Hills Winery, Hall. Rusty Fig Savarino 2014 worked well with a variety of seafood at St Isidore restaurant, Milton, recently. It provided an interesting departure from riesling, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay with its medium body, citrus-like flavours and dry savoury finish. It’s available at Plonk Fyshwick, several south coast bottle shops between Moruya and Eden and by the dozen only online (

Hand Crafted by Geoff Hardy Teroldego 2012 $25–$28
Adelaide Hills and Langhorne Creek, South Australia

What a surprise to find on St Isidore restaurant’s list a wine made from Trentino’s little-known teroldego grape – a relative of both shiraz and pinot noir. Geoff Hardy planted the variety at Langhorne Creek in 2003 and later at Kuitpo in the cooler Adelaide Hills. Hardy’s son, Sebastian, says until 2009 they made the wine from Langhorne Creek fruit then moved to blends from both regions. They now favour the material from the Adelaide Hills for its brightness and ability to develop flavour at low potential alcohol levels. The 2012 appealed for its medium body, fresh mulberry and blueberry-like fruit flavours, fresh acidity and savouriness – a tasty, refreshing red to enjoy on a hot day down the coast.

Moppity Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 $30
Moppity vineyard, Hilltops region, NSW

Canberra’s neighbouring and slightly warmer Hilltops region rivals us in shiraz quality but appears to have the edge with cabernet sauvignon. Jason and Alicia Brown’s 2013 Moppity, with three trophies and two gold medals, shows what the region can do. The medium-bodied, elegant red displays pure, bright, ripe-berry varietal aroma and a palate to match – complete with juicy mid-palate flesh that easily carries the firm backbone of tannin.

Moppity Vineyard Reserve Shiraz 2013 $70
Moppity vineyard, Hilltops regions, NSW

Moppity vineyard produces a potentially confusing range of six shirazes under various Moppity and Lock and Key labels. The wines range in price from as low as $14 for the basic Lock and Key wine, to $120 for Moppity Eclipse. The quality is exceptional across the range, which has collectively won three trophies and 23 golds this year. Moppity Reserve 2013 triumphed at this year’s Great Australian Shiraz Challenge. It was the first NSW wine to take the title in the show’s 20-year history – against 400 shirazes from 60 regions. It’s a powerful but elegant, supple and savoury shiraz, with an underlying fruit flavour reminiscent of the region’s juicy, ripe, black cherries. The value pick of the range is Lock and Key 2013 (three gold medals).

Houghton Crofters Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2013 $15–$19
Pemberton and Margaret River, Western Australia

Western Australia’s Houghton brand was long ago absorbed into Hardys and is now part of the Accolade Wine Group. Under Hardys, Houghton expanded its WA offerings beyond its Swan Valley base to cooler regions hundreds of kilometres to the south. Those southern areas of Western Australia pretty well own the sauvignon blanc–semillon blend category in Australia, albeit in a range of styles. Houghton’s blend from the Pemberton and Margaret River regions delivers lively grassy and passionfruit-like flavours. All the emphasis is on fruit and drink-now pleasure.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2014
First published 18 and 19 November 2014 in and the Canberra Times

Wine review – Majella, Holm Oak, Frankland Estate, Clonakilla and Illuminati

Majella Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 $33–$36
Majella Vineyard, Eastern Coonawarra, South Australia
The Lynn family’s Majella vineyard produced grapes for some of Coonawarra’s best reds, including Wynns, before the family finally turned to making wine under its own label in the early nineties. Majella quickly built a big reputation, while maintaining modest prices. In the excellent 2012 vintage, for example, Majella cabernet offers wonderful drinking and outstanding long-term cellaring at a fair price. This is elegant, perfectly balanced Coonawarra, built on deep, cassis-like varietal flavours backed by firm but ripe tannins – all the elements required for longevity.

Holm Oak Ilex Pinot Noir 2013 $23
Australian pinot comes in many styles, from the comparatively burly and tannic to more highly fragrant, lighter bodied fruity versions like Holm Oak’s Ilex. It’s not trying to be a complex Burgundy look alike, but more a fragrant, fresh and fruity expression of the grape variety – of a style achievable only in a cool growing region like Tasmania. It captures pinot’s lively raspberry-strawberry and red cherry flavours, but at the same time offers a little texture and a fine backbone, based on tannin and acidity.

Holm Oak Arneis 2013 $25
Holm Oak vineyard, Tamar Valley, Tasmania
The Piedmont white variety, arneis, now grows in several Australian regions. But Holm Oak’s Bec Duffy claims to be the only Tasmanian vigneron currently doing so. She writes, “Being the coolest areas where arneis is grown in Australia, we tend to get more floral, melon and citrus characters as opposed to the peach and almond characters this variety is generally known for”. Duffy’s style is most appealing, offering a tangy, melon-rind-like tartness with mouth-watering lemony flavour, on a soft, richly textured, fresh palate.

Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Riesling 2013 $28.50–$35
Frank Estate Isolation Ridge vineyard, Frankland River, Western Australia
Although it weighs in at a modest 11.6 per cent alcohol, Frankland Estate’s single-vineyard riesling delivers big loads of aroma, flavour and texture. Indeed, the aroma and flavour volume seems particularly generous for the generally delicate riesling variety, suggesting a warm ripening period in 2013. The big aroma, however, remains pure varietal riesling in an appealing lemon-like way. The lemony varietal character flows through to the round, soft palate and slightly grippy, dry finish.

Clonakilla Shiraz 2013$35
Hilltops, NSW
Clonakilla’s cash cow, to be released 2 September, reveals all the ripe and juicy glory of the warm 2013 vintage. From the Hilltops district, centred on Young, it’s reminiscent in its sweetness of ripe, black cherries, the other irresistible regional specialty. The fleshy, chewy fruit comes with an exotic spicy character and the sleek, silky texture of well-ripened tannins. All that fruit, sweetness and soft tannins means easy drinking now. But the wine’s intensity and harmony suggest good cellaring for perhaps a decade in the right conditions.

Illuminati Riparosso Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2012 $9.49–$12
Abruzzi, Ital
Dino Illuminati’s medium-bodied, savoury red accompanied our recent drive from Darwin, south to Katherine, west to Kununurra, WA, down to the Bungle Bungle Range, up to Kununurra, then west along the Gibb River Road, north to the Mitchell Falls, then south and west on the Gibb road again to Windjana Gorge. A Chateau Shanahan favourite since its Australian debut in 1991, the wine proved itself (lightly chilled) in the great Australian outback. It starts with clean, fresh fruit flavours, then a delicious, teasing, Italian savouriness sets in, distinguishing it from the generally more fruity Australian styles.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2014
First published 6 August 2014 in the Canberra Times