A Next Generation Tour of Victoria - by Karen McWilliam
Six generation family member, Karen McWilliam joins the Australia's First Families of Wine tour of Victoria ...
By Karen McWilliam
After the success of the inaugural Australia's First Families of Wine Next Gen trip to South Australia last year, the Next Genners gang were a highly excitable bunch when we all met aboard our Cobb & Co coach bound for the Victorian wineries of De Bortoli's, Campbells, All Saints Estate (the Brown family), Brown Brothers and Tahbilk (the Purbrick family). This year there were a few fresh faces amongst the group as representatives from ten of the 12 AFFW members reacquainted themselves with old friends and made new ones. I was looking forward to visiting the Victorian wine regions of the Yarra Valley, Rutherglen, the King Valley and Nagambie Lakes district as well as continuing to hear about the family stories of some of the AFFW members. The fine varieties of Pinot, Chardonnay, Muscat, Topaque, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Marsanne, amongst others, famous from these regions, would all be on show for us to taste and enjoy over the course of the weekend. I couldn't wait!
Our first stop was De Bortoli's Yarra Valley. We were met by our hosts Leanne De Bortoli and her husband, Steve Webber, who is their chief winemaker in the Yarra Valley, with a delightful glass of Este, an artisan style sparkling from the region, which had spent a long time on lees and had been riddled by hand - much to the non-enjoyment of the riddlers Steve explained. But their hard work paid off and produced a delightful Champagne region style sparkling - yeast, light bead but a lingering taste which dazzled the taste buds. The evening's fare was in keeping with the Italian roots of the De Bortoli family and we were spoilt with antipasto platters, duck risotto and homegrown Italian sausage over freshly made gnocchi, accompanied by the region's famous Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah, so named to avoid confusion with a big Barossa Shiraz as this is lighter in style with a medium body and palate not dissimilar to the Pinots from the region. The scene had been set for a weekend of culinary delights. Our the wine tasting continued through dinner with De Bortoli's iconic Noble One botrytis Semillon from their winery in the Riverina, New South Wales, close to our Hanwood winery and very similar in style to our Morning Light Botrytis Semillon.
We ventured back to De Bortoli's for bacon and egg rolls for breakfast and the opportunity to view the surrounding vineyards in the daylight. The chilly morning showcased why this region is considered to be a cool climate area which has produced some of the finest Pinots in the country. Our bus drive was as expected quiet as we travelled to the northern tip of Victoria to Rutherglen, close to the Murray River and NSW border town of Corowa where McWilliam's Wines first entered the Australian wine industry 135 years ago when our founder, my great great great grandfather, Samuel McWilliam first planted vines and commenced producing wines for family and close friends. It was a shame that we couldn't drive just that little bit further over the border to visit this historic site. Next time perhaps.
Once we reached the quaint little town of Rutherglen we were met by sisters Susie and Jane Campbell at the Campbells Wines cellar door. Their mother Prue introduced herself and excused her husband, the chief winemaker and CEO, Colin, whom had lost his voice and was unable to welcome us vocally but he managed to expressively. We were treated to some wonderful local produce, accompanied by sparkling Shiraz, another iconic wine which is distinctly Australian.
The Campbell family recently celebrated 140 years of winemaking on this site. You could sense the history and age of the place as we toured the old winery, vats and wine barrels. We sat down to lunch amongst these old barrels and were treated to the delights of the Bobbie Burns Shiraz and Durif - a variety which is still relatively unknown in most parts of Australia. The Rutherglen region is famous for its fortified wines, particularly their luscious Muscats and Topaques (formerly Tokays), and Campbells' wines were no exception. The family winery was also quite instrumental in the development of the new Australian classification system for fortifieds, required due to the European Union naming conventions. Due to Colin's absent voice, winemaker Tim stepped in and conducted a Muscat and Topaque tasting, guiding us carefully through the four levels of classification for Muscats and Topaques. Increasing in quality and reliability the new levels are as follows: Rutherglen, Classic, Grand and Rare. The Grand and Rare Muscats were the standouts.
A blending challenge was then set to match the Classic level of Campbells' muscat based on various samples taken from the Solera system in place. What a great teaching exercise. From Campbells Wines it was then a short bus ride to the Brown family's All Saints Estate, owned and managed by the Brown siblings - Eliza, Nick and Angela. Pre-empting the palate fatigue of fortifieds we were awoken by the homemade Grappa. After a short tour of the winery, our motor skills were tested by the siblings as we were encouraged to tee off into the vineyards from the back of the staff breakout area. A short stop as we were scheduled for dinner at the Brown Brothers winery in the King Valley where the younger generation were to take charge for the night. Ross Brown and his wife Judy welcomed us to the facility and with a small amount of concern Ross handed over the keys to the winery to his daughters Katherine, Caroline and Emma, and niece and nephew Eliza and Nick. So our fellow next genners would be in charge for the rest of the night.
Brown Brothers winery is quite a large facility and so that the tour party could get an indication of the depth of this winery our evening was to be based around a progressive dinner, travelling between the various corners of the winery from the cellar door to the disgorging room of the sparkling process, the kindergarten winery, barrel shed and Ross's secret cellar. Along the way we were treated to the amazing delights and creations from the Brown Brothers' Epicurean Centre chef, Douglas Elder, recently crowned with one hat in the 2012 Good Food Guide. Each course perfectly matched to showcase the depth of the Brown Brothers wine range, including the best of their best from the Patricia named range - a tribute to the matriarch of the family. Our last stop on this magical, mystery progressive dinner was Granny's house - Patricia and John C Brown's house - transporting us back into the homes of all our grandparents and memories of our first introduction to our families' businesses. This was the heart of the AFFW movement - history, heritage and family.
The tour flashed by and we were soon to reach our final destination and winery on the Victorian Next Gen Tour, Tahbilk Estate, owned and operated by the Purbrick family. The property was originally called Tabilk Tabilk, understood to mean "place of many waterholes" to the indigenous "Goulburn tribes". The Purbrick family, over the generations, have spent a lot of time ensuring that the historical buildings and surrounding wetland areas have maintained their original nineteenth century appearance. They have done a fantastic job and we were instantly transported back in time to 150 years ago as our bus approached the old winery and cellar door. Homemade scones, jam and cream were a welcome respite at the Tahbilk wetlands cafe before being greeted by Alister Purbrick, Chief Winemaker and CEO. We were then ushered onto Bob’s wetland cruise. Bob has been with the company for well over 30 years and was a wealth of knowledge on the billabongs and native landscape. This serene educational tour helped revive the senses. We toured the original winery and cellars established in the 1860’s. One could be forgiven for thinking we had actually been touring a historic French chateau, passing the old wooden barrel fermenters with a slight scent of dusky must in the air.
Alister led us through a tasting of some of the finest Marsanne, Shiraz and Cabernet, amongst others, from the region, including the amazing Eric Stevens Purbrick range and single vineyard varieties. As last cab off the rank for our wineries visited over the weekend, the wines were as stunning as the rest of them.
Our last supper followed. The Barry siblings took the opportunity to use the Future Bucket (an institution set up on the first tour by their father Peter) one last time for the Next Genners before returning it home to the Clare Valley to help with holding the chicken feed. The decanted wine did not carry hints of corn or grain thankfully.
It was then time for us to make our final journey back to our various states, cities and towns. Our bond as broader family members and ambassadors has strengthened and lifelong friendships forged from this second Next Genners tour. An amazing organisational job had been pulled off by the girls from Fireworks PR and those behind the scenes at each winery, culminating in a fantastic weekend and the Victorian wineries of De Bortoli’s, Campbells, All Saints Estate, Brown Brothers and Tahbilk have raised the bar even higher. A big thank you to everyone involved in this successful weekend. I look forward to hosting the Next Gen trip in my home state of NSW next year.