Category Archives: Australia 2.0

You Won’t Find Vineyards in the Northern Territory, but Go Anyway

Yes, I know this is a wine travels blog (mostly) but I just returned from a month in Australia chasing vineyards, and tacked on a week in the Outback and Top End of the Northern Territory to both literally and figuratively dry out. The region sees very little foreign tourism, but even Australians, who consider it an iconic, must-see destination, are like New Yorkers and the Statue of Liberty–they’ve never been.

Well, you need to go–here’s why (with photographic evidence).

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The Australian Outback endures as a symbol of the rugged, remote reaches of the country; for many travelers, a visit to this iconic region holds romantic sway. Yet few first-timers spend more than a day or two in the Territory beyond Uluru (formerly Ayers Rock). Most pop in via a quick flight, check Uluru off their bucket list, and head back out to Sydney or the reef.

Yet, to truly grasp the rich, textured history of the region’s indigenous people; to witness the contrasts of colors and the changing moods of the landscape; to track, maybe photograph, the well-adapted, predominantly nocturnal wildlife; and to be moved by the rawness of this untrammeled wilderness, one needs to see the NT in its entirety. It can be done in a week, but ten days is ideal. Veering off the path will leave you reflecting on the greatness of the NT, and how valuable it, and the few primordial places left on earth, are. From the Red Center at Uluru, stretching 1800 km to the tropical Top End, no Australian itinerary should leave out the NT.

ENJOY THE OUTBACK IN STYLE

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The NT was once the realm of backpackers and campervans, in part due to the anemic lodging options. What choices there were looked like utilitarian cabins reminiscent of summer camp, with insipid food options.

Nowadays, the well-heeled traveler can visit the Outback, but curl up under a duvet at night. Outside Uluru, a recent $30 million overhaul ofAyers Rock Resort’s flagship property Sails in the Desert, breathed new life into a tired space. Rooms and interiors are gorgeous, drawing on indigenous patterns in carpeting, textiles, plush bedding, and wall art. Sample regional cuisine and Australian wines at the property’s fine dining restaurant Mayu; or indulge in a four-course, under-the-stars Tali Wiru dinner (which means “beautiful dune” in local Anangu language.)

Once you’ve reached the Top End, check-in to the Wildman Wilderness Lodge, two hours east of Darwin, and an hour from Kakadu National Park. Safari-style tents are pleasant when the weather is cool, but for the humid shoulder season, opt for the air-con Habitat Rooms, which are wood-and-glass, stand-alone modules on stilts, with a wall of windows from which to observe the wallabies at night. Food at the property is of high-quality (given the location), and nightly menus have local proteins like crocodile ceviche, kangaroo steak, and lamb.

KINGS CANYON

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I met several travelers while hiking the 6 km rim walk of Kings Canyonwho confessed to preferring the scenery and lack of tourist traffic of the Canyon to Uluru. It’s true, the Canyon, located inside Watarrka Park, is an undiscovered retreat—most tourists skip to the crown jewel down south. But the beauty of the sandstone cliffs, weathered formations like the Lost City, and desert anomalies like the Garden of Eden, a spring-fed oasis of exotic plants, gum trees, and prehistoric ferns, make it a crucial stop. For lodging, spend the night at the Kings Canyon Resort. Although pricey for what is essentially a 2-3 star motel, it’s the best option close to the park entrance.

ULURU-KATA TJUTA NATIONAL PARK

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It’s not just a rock. It’s no longer named Ayers. And it’s spectacular. For tourists who visit this spiritual place on a quickie tour, however, and skip learning about its importance to the Aboriginal custodians; or worse, ignore the wishes of locals by climbing it, they may leave feeling they traveled thousands of miles for a giant monolith. Uluru deserves to be pondered: study the peculiarities of its face, touch the unique surface reminiscent of kiln-fired clay, walk the 10.6 kms around the base, spend an hour in the Cultural Center, and certainly don’t miss sunset and sunrise.

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Kata Tjuta is another series of rocks a 45-minute drive further into the park. They are also remarkable in their oddity of location, formation, and sheer size. Often the site of sunset picnics, photographic opportunities abound as the rock’s color changes with the light.

THE GHAN TRAIN

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Traversing the length of the NT was once the domain of bus tours, or intrepid independents willing to peregrinate the 1500 km stretch of Stuart Highway from Alice to Darwin, in a campervan. Why not take an overnight train instead; reduce the journey from days of mind-numbing driving, to 24-hours of open bar and white tablecloth dining.

Although the Ghan originates in Adelaide (or Darwin), it stops in Alice Springs to pick-up passengers. The entire transcontinental route is an epic 3-day, 2-night, 54-hour journey, covering 2,979 kilometers. Gold Class guests bunk in small double cabins (singles also available), while Platinum suites offer both a sitting area as well as proper double bed (Platinum is significantly more expensive.) Both fares are inclusive of alcoholic drinks, multi-course meals, and a boat trip into the beautiful Nitmiluk Gorge during a 4-hour stopover in Katherine.

KAKADU NATIONAL PARK

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A world heritage site, the park covers nearly 20,000 square kilometers of gorges, flood plains, and wetlands. Visiting in one day is doable (I did it), but the vast space really deserves two or three days. Highlights include the Guluyambi boat cruise on the croc-infested East Alligator River near Ubirr. One of few tours utilizing Aborigines as guides, you’ll spot dozens of crocs, rock art, and learn about local culture. There are heaps of attractions in the park: billabongs, scenic vistas, rock art galleries, waterfalls, and bush hikes. Just remember—don’t swim in the waters of Kakadu. The region is rife with saltwater crocodiles that willeat you.

ABORIGINAL ART

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Kakadu National Park holds one of the highest concentrated areas of rock art in the world. As many as 5,000 Aboriginal sites have been found. Ubirr and Nourlangie are the most famous and accessible galleries in the park, Ubirr providing a veritable retrospective of Aboriginal history through paintings. The art is everywhere: bellies of boulders, the roof of cliffs, and on rock walls. Knowing how history turns out, glimpsing drawings of extinct animals such as the Thylacine or an Aborigine’s first sighting of a white man can make for unsettling viewing.

THE MARY RIVER WETLANDS

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This wetlands system is arguably the Territory’s most beautiful; it also has the highest density of crocs in the world. The Wildman Wilderness Lodge sits on the fringe of the region’s flood plains, and is a perfect base for exploring the area. Utilize lodge tours to visit the nearby, permanent billabong. Cruise at dawn to view a wildlife documentary in motion: hundreds of birds fluttering, squawking, and swooping about, while salties (saltwater) and freshies (freshwater) crocodiles lurk beneath the water or sunbathe on the shore. Try to spot a long-legged Jabiru or blue-winged Kookaburra—both make their home here.

LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK

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Looking for a swim in the wild? Visit Litchfield. Beloved by Darwin locals for an easy outing on hot days, this park, 1.5 hours from the city, features a multitude of waterfalls with plunge pools and rockholes sans the pesky (life-threatening) crocodiles. Rugged sandstone escarpments, spring-fed streams, termite mounds, and bushwalking trails provide a myriad of environments for outdoor enthusiasts to explore. Highlights include the double waterfalls and intimate plunge pool at Florence, set within an atmospheric monsoon forest. Wangi Falls is the granddaddy, and most popular, with a swimmable plunge that feels like three Olympic-sized pools in one.

THE MILKY WAY

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Our home galaxy can be seen from many nighttime vantage points across the planet, but at none have I beheld the glow of this white stretch of universe so brilliant. The lack of light pollution in the center of the desert, thousands of miles from civilization, allows for incredible stargazing. Guests at any Ayers Rock Resort can take advantage of nightly viewing sessions with a constellation expert and telescope.

*All photos are original except for the Milky Way and Wildman Wilderness Lodge

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Where I am going: Australia

My Epic Monthlong Journey Down Under

Part 1: Sponsored by Wine Australia,

Part 2: Independent Adventure

PART 1:

Savour

Departing JFK on Qantas, Wednesday, September 11.

SydneyThe Darling, September 13-15

Adelaide, for Australia’s First Global Wine Forum: SAVOURIntercontinental Hotel, September 15-19

Cool-Climate Wine Regions of Victoria and Tasmania, sponsored by Wine Australia, September 19-25

End of Wine Australia Program.

PART 2:

MelbourneThe Art Series Hotel: The Olsen, September 26-27

Alice Springs/King’s CanyonKings Canyon Resort, September 27-28

Uluru and Kata Tjuta (Ayers Rock)Sails in the Desert, September 28-30

Great Ghan Train from Alice Springs to Darwin, September 30-October 1

DarwinH Hotel, October 1-2

Mary River Wetlands near KakaduWildman Wilderness Resort, October 2-4

DarwinMantra Pandanas Hotel, October 4-5

Melbourne, Fitzroy neighborhood Air BnB private home, October 5-7

Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley Wine Tastings, overnight in Dandenong Ranges A Loft in the Mill, October 7-9

MelbourneThe Art Series Hotel: The Cullen, October 9-10

Return flight home on Qantas, October 10.

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Ben Haines of Ben Haines Wine, Yarra Valley, Victoria

Ben Haines Portrait

Ben Haines of Ben Haines Wines, Yarra Valley, Victoria

Signature Wines: Ben Haines Syrah, Ben Haines Roussanne, Ben Haines Marsanne and B-Minor “The String Section” Shiraz/Marsanne

Where were you born? Where do you live now? I was born in Adelaide, South Australia and now live in Melbourne, Victoria.

How did you get into the wine business? My father is a doctor, and my mother is in the arts; I guess the fusion of science and art was in my blood. I spent much of my childhood in the country surrounded by vineyards as well. My parents have always been great wine appreciators, so all of these aspects culminated in a life dedicated to wine.

What is most and least rewarding about being a winemaker? Most: Being part of the annual cycle of nature, exploration, and the people. Least: Nothing!

What are the benefits and challenges of making wine in your region? I’m based in the Yarra Valley region of Victoria, but a large part of what excites me about making wine is exploring different regions and terroirs year to year. Victoria has incredible diversity of geologies, soils and climates within such a small area. There is so much to learn from every vineyard site, and from every season. As with any vigneron, we also have to manage many challenges from the elements: frost, disease, pests, rain/hail, and even bushfires. Many of the best sites can be quite marginal – this is all part of the challenge and the charm of making wine.

Ben Haines Vineyard 2

Have Australians’ wine preferences changed in the last 10 years? Absolutely. Some cliché’s still dominate the market, but eyes are more wide open now than ever before. Australia has always nurtured its boutique producers, but in the last 10 years particularly, we have seen a real proliferation of small producers making really honest, interesting, high quality wines. The trade is also now keen to support these wines, and as a result, many are reaching far and wide. I believe this is largely re-defining Australia’s wine drinking culture and its global reputation. It’s difficult to generalize on broad style shifts, but variety is becoming something people seek, rather than fear.

Have you been to the U.S.? I worked in the Napa Valley in 2001 and have traveled to the East and West Coast several times since.

Do you think Australia gets an unfair reputation in the U.S. for producing unbalanced, fruit bombs? Generalizations are unfair in general, as there are always examples that go against the grain. I often heard comments about the “sweet, sickly nature of all Australian Grenache”, and the “alcohol and fruit of all Australian Shiraz”. Broadly, Australia has copped a fair beating for producing high alcohol wines that are bold and blatant, and full of oak and concentrated fruit. I think the Australian wine industry would admit it has a lot to answer for in the development of this impression. The paradox is that these wines are not what the average Aussie drinks. These wines are becoming less prominent in our market. There are certain regions that continue to make high-voltage reds, as this is what they do best, and they have a strong market for these wines, particularly globally… It’s a vicious cycle. The key for us as an industry is to continue to showcase our great wines rather than “commodity beverages”.

Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected? There are two: Riesling and Marsanne. The majority of people think these wines are sweet, sickly and unpleasant, when in fact they are the two varieties that drink impeccably in both their youth and with age. They both have gorgeous aromatics, lovely texture and pair beautifully with food.

Ben Haines against the wall

What excites you most about Australian wine right now? The dynamic exploration of all aspects of sustainable viticulture and winemaking; the camaraderie, and sharing of knowledge & experience amongst producers; small, quality-focused producers; and open-mindedness of the trade and consumer

What do you drink when relaxing at home? Depends on my mood, the food and the weather. Most likely to be a GSM, a Beaujolais, a Roussanne or a cold beer.

What types of food do you like to eat; any special dishes you make/care to share? I could eat fresh seafood every day. A platter of freshly shucked oysters, silky delicate whiting, chili and garlic prawns grilled on the barbeque…with a cold glass of Godello. Happy days!

What music do you listen to? My brother and I grew up thriving on heavy metal! Much like wine, my listening is determined by my mood. My mother is a musician and so music has been a big part of my life. All genres of music have the potential to please me. Right now I’m enjoying some Frank Sinatra.

Which non-Australian wines do you like? I’m drawn to the wines of France’s Rhone Valley, both North and South for very different reasons. I also love the wines of Tuscany and Piedmont, and find great appeal in Spanish whites with food. I also believe Spanish winemaking is in an interesting and exciting phase, and we’ll see some amazing wines in the next 10-20 years.

If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? A surfing holiday in Costa Rica

Ben Haines Vineyard

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Stephen Chambers of Chambers Rosewood, Rutherglen, Victoria

Stephen Chambers pic

Stephen Chambers of Chambers Rosewood, Rutherglen, Victoria

Signature Wines/Prices: Muscat and Muscadelle. There are a range of these wines from a young-style (Rutherglen) all the way up to old wines with extended barrel maturation (Rare). The prices of these wines range from $20 to $300. Both those wines are fortified wine styles. However, we also make a range of table wines (not exported to the USA) of which we are gaining a reputation for, particularly a wine by the name of Anton Ruch, which is a Shiraz and Mondeuse blend and is sold at cellar door for $20.

Where were you born? Corowa (New South Wales), approximately 12km from Rutherglen.

Where do you live now? Rutherglen.

How did you get into the wine business? From a young age I remember coming down and helping out in the winery. Be it pressing buttons to turn pumps on-and-off, to selling wines to customers on a Saturday morning. From there I also conducted micro-fermentations of reds and white (whites worked out better, I tended to make vinegar out of the red grapes). So, realistically, by the time I finished my secondary schooling, it was pretty obvious what career path I would take.

What is most and least rewarding about being a winemaker? The most rewarding part of being a winemaker is the ability to view a product that you have had a hand in making. Whether it is a white table wine or a Muscat, the chance to sit back and try your wines after all the hard work of vintage is wonderful. The least rewarding aspect of winemaking is the constant washing; it is akin to cooking–everyone sits around and enjoys the end product but no one sees the amount of mess and the amount of cleaning required in order to achieve it.

What are the benefits and challenges of making wine in your region? One of the benefits of working in the Rutherglen region is the quality of fruit and the range of varieties that we have growing in the region. On a climatic note, the autumns are generally dry with warm days and cool nights, allowing fruit to achieve ripeness from the vine being active rather than from desiccation of the fruit. This is especially important for the Muscadelle grape which is a late ripening variety. This is also a challenge: managing all the varieties and getting them to optimal ripeness.

Have Australians’ wine preferences changed in the last 10 years? Yes, currently in whites, Sauvignon Blanc is king, whilst there seems to be no clear leader in the reds. Producers have toned down the use of new oak, and in some cases, the size of barrel and altered their MLF regime. This is in response to the maturing of the Australian wine palate which now wants well-balanced wines which are multi-layered, not just fruit-driven styles with lashings of oak.

Have you been to the U.S.? Do you think Australia gets an unfair reputation in the U.S. for producing unbalanced, fruit bombs? Yes, I have visited the U.S. on a few of occasions. That may have been a fair assessment 6 to 8 years ago, but now I think the majority are being judged by the minority on this question. Yes, there still are fruit bombs out there and in some cases they were the wines that helped open up the U.S. market. The advantage that Australia had was to produce fruit-driven wines which were consistent from year-to-year and appealed to the palate. These wines initially appealed to the U.S. palate, and therefore there was a great proliferation of these styles into the market. Another aspect of this style was the chasing of points from influential wine critics.

There was, however, always some concern that these wines may not last the journey and from all reports this is indeed the case. As we are all aware, tastes change as the palate matures and there is a desire to try something different. There were always better balanced wines being produced which did not solely rely on forward fruit expression and lashings of oak (in some cases residual sugar). Some of these wines were available in the U.S. market but many were domestic only, something that seems to happen in every market.

Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected? Hmm, tough question. Everyone will have their own variety that they will champion. Me, I would probably not be limited to one variety, but rather a multiple of minor varieties which if they are lost to us, may actually have greater impact than initially thought. An example is Gouais (or Heunsich Wiess). Gouais gets this name from the French and was seen as a peasant grape and the term ‘Gou’ being a term of derision. This variety has had a major influence on winemaking. Due to the Romans moving it around, it has had a hand in creating some of the main stream varieties such as Chardonnay, Riesling and Chenin Blanc. There are bound to be other varieties similar to Gouais in terms influence, but are seen as a great variety in other aspects.

What excites you most about Australian wine right now? The quality of wine being produced. Whilst there have been some exits from the wine industry in both vineyard removal and bankruptcies, those who remain are making very good wine even with the financial pressures and the challenges of the last 2 growing seasons.

What do you drink when relaxing at home? I drink a wide range of wines when at home relaxing–too many different ones. But my wife is partial to Pinot Noir, so we tend to drink a fair bit of that.

What types of food do you like to eat? Nothing specific. Our range of foods has been curtailed somewhat by the tastes of our daughter Zara.

Stephen Chambers rory and zara Rutherglen

What music do you listen to? Mainly alternative, when I do listen to music. I am finding at the moment that I am not making the time to do so.

Which non-Australian wines do you like? Are there any wines you can’t stand to drink? I don’t have any specific non-Australian wines I like (nor really any specific Aussie wines for that matter). I have found that by being willing to try new varieties or wines, you can always learn something. Not a great fan of non-vitis vinifera wines though.

If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? Late last year we had a family holiday in the Bay of Islands in New Zealand. If I was going to be anywhere else, it would be travelling through this area. We barely scratched the surface of what we could do last time we were there.

Is there a winery dog? Yes, there are 2 winery dogs. One is mine (Rory) and she is a 3-year Blue and Tan Kelpie. She has been great company during the vintage this year keeping an eye on me during pump overs and telling me when someone is coming!

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Andrew Cherry of Alkoomi Wines, Frankland River, Western Australia

Alkoomi Andrew Cherry

Andrew Cherry, Winemaker for Alkoomi Wines, Frankland River, Western Australia

Where were you born? Perth, Western Australia

Where do you live now? Alkoomi Wines, Frankland River

How did you get into the wine business? Started with a degree in chemistry and worked in hospitality throughout that time. This was followed by a three year trip around Europe and working in fine dining restaurants in Soho, London. Love of Chemistry plus a love of wine led me to a Post Graduate Diploma in Oenology at the University of Adelaide.

What is most and least rewarding about being a winemaker? Most rewarding is getting the wine to bottle intact and watching it develop with time in bottle. Ironically, the least rewarding would be the tedium of running the bottling line and actually getting the wine into the bottle!

What are the benefits and challenges of making wine in your region? We are benefitted by the inland cool climate, allowing slow ripening. The key is the cool evenings allowing acid retention as well as allowing us to harvest the fruit in the cold mornings retaining the hallmark freshness of the Frankland River region. The biggest challenge would be the remote location; this requires us to be very self-sufficient which ultimately results in a more sustainable operation on the whole. Our fruit is estate grown, harvested, made, bottled and stored on site until sold.

Have Australians’ wine preferences changed in the last 10 years? Yes for example the preference for wine styles of Chardonnay and Shiraz have become more restrained and elegant.

Have you been to the U.S.? Yes, though at the time I was 6 years old, and I remember that the orange sherbet ice cream in San Francisco was amazing.

Do you think Australia gets an unfair reputation in the U.S. for producing unbalanced, fruit bombs? In the past, perhaps that was true.

Alkoomi Panorama

Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected? Riesling…….Many people come to our cellar door and assume that Riesling is a sweet wine and will not initially try it.

What excites you most about Australian wine right now? My new refrigeration system! We recently upgraded our refrigeration plant and as a result have reduced our Carbon footprint by around 80%, have much more control of ferments, and have many fewer grey hairs at the end of each day!

What do you drink when relaxing at home? If not a glass of wine, then a home brewed beer or a Negroni or two.

What types of food do you like to eat? Any special dishes you make/care to share?

At the end of vintage every year, as the weather turns, we make a hearty dish of lamb shanks cooked with the grape skins of the 40-year-old Cabernet ferment for around 5 hours, served with polenta and a bottle or two shared with other winemaker friends who are also through with the onslaught of vintage.

What music do you listen to? It depends on what I am doing. V13 Crushing – Beastie Boys; Barrel work – Miles Davis; Cleaning up – Groove Armada; Lab Work – Sarah Blasko.

Which non-Australian wines do you like? Are there any wines you can’t stand to drink? Champagne is an obvious favourite. As for wines I can’t stand to drink, nothing springs to mind – I will try anything, but won’t keep drinking it if I don’t like it; there are too many good wines out there to dwell on the ordinary.

If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? As Autumn sets in I’d rather be visiting my sister in tropical Thailand!

Alkoomi Vineyard Sunset

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Hunter Smith of Frankland Estate, Frankland River, Western Australia

Hunter Smith in Vineyard

Hunter Smith of Frankland Estate Winery, Frankland River, Western Australia

Signature Wines/Prices: Olmo’s Reward $56, Isolation Ridge Riesling $40

Where were you born? Where do you live now? I was born in Frankland River and spent my early childhood growing up on our then “broad acre” farm (growing crops and sheep grazing) that my parents purchased in the early 1970’s. Due to our geographical isolation, when I was 11 years old, I went to boarding school in Perth. This was the start of 15 years of living and working away from the family property until my return in 2001. However, school holidays were enjoyed on the family farm and emerging vineyard and winery.

How did you get into the wine business? I grew up with my father and mother’s love of wine–a bottle was always on the table for nearly every meal (breakfast excluded, sometimes)! My parents were, and still are, Bordeaux drinkers – it was commonplace to have a bottle of Bordeaux at the dinner table. My parents encouraged me to do other things outside of the wine industry, so my desire to be actively involved in wine came quite late. It wasn’t fully cemented until I worked a vintage in Austria and Germany in the year 2000. It was then that I really decided to get involved with our family business.

What is most and least rewarding about being a winemaker? I have a fondness and interest for all kinds of agriculture and agribusiness. Winemaking is such a divers and rewarding career. One day you are in the vineyard kicking the soil and talking about microbiology and that afternoon you will be on the phone to your importer in California. To see your wines on the wine lists in some of the great restaurants of the world is hugely rewarding.

What are the benefits and challenges of making wine in your region? I will start with the benefits, there are many but to list a few important ones: The Frankland River region is remote and enjoys its inland position off the south coast. We get high temperature variation from day to night and cool persistent winds which make viticulture a real pleasure and allows us to quite comfortably grow in a low disease-pressure environment. Hence, our Isolation Ridge Vineyard that surrounds the winery is certified organic. The isolation of our winery provides many positives. However, it also has its challenges, perhaps the biggest being that our major markets are, literally, on the other side of the world!

Hunter Smith Vineyards

Have Australians’ wine preferences changed in the last 10 years? Absolutely. Australia like many of the markets we export to, is continually evolving and we have seen the Australian wine drinker become more savvy and more discerning. The increasing amounts of imported wines into Australia have really changed the wine landscape in a positive way and I think this has lent itself to the food-friendly, balanced styles of wine, a style we have been conscious of making from day one at Frankland Estate.

Have you been to the U.S.? Do you think Australia gets an unfair reputation in the U.S. for producing unbalanced, fruit bombs? I have, over the past 10 years, spent about 4 weeks a year travelling and selling our wines in the USA. It has been a great market for us at Frankland Estate and our focus has very much been in the premium end of the market. We have always felt Australia in general has a lot of work still ahead of it in promoting its best wines into the US market; you only had to go to the best restaurants of the USA to see the lack of great Australian wines on the menu. When currency was more in our favor it was possible to have nice, fruit-driven wines at an inexpensive price-point. Now this segment is tougher and we have seen stronger interest in the premium market; in wines that reflect terroir, are balanced and show a sense of location and identity.

Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected? WOW…this is a tough question. I am going to have to say Riesling! If everyone loved Riesling as much we do as a family here at Frankland Estate, every wine drinker would have a fridge full of it! It’s an amazingly transparent variety that can show a sense of place and a winemaker’s personality like no other variety. It also has many stylistic possibilities which I am sure adds to the complexities of understanding the variety for the average consumer. But, with a little knowledge, it can be some of the most rewarding drinking…from great “value for money” perspective, to some of the rare Trockenbeerenauslese wines and ice wines.

What excites you most about Australian wine right now? People are really doing a lot of soul-searching. Australia has enjoyed some amazing growth in export markets. However, due to a number of reasons, competition is strong and people are evaluating what sort of wines they are making. We have seen a strong push for winemakers generally to produce wines that are even more regional, more vineyard specific and more varietally- typical of their region. I think there are some amazing wines being produced by great young winemakers and these, I hope, will find their way out into the wine world and celebrated.

What do you drink when relaxing at home? A lot of Riesling. As I said before, there is great “value for money” in Riesling, but I do also have a love for wines from the northern Rhone.

What types of food do you like to eat? Any special dishes you make/care to share? I like eating! It’s an excuse to have a glass of wine in front of you. We live in an amazing part of the world and as a family we grow a lot of vegetables, fruit and meat on our own farm. My father has an incredible vegetable garden and as a family we go out of our way to eat fresh locally grown (if not our own grown) food. We are just a one hour drive to the south coast, where a fresh whiting or flathead can be on the dinner plate in a matter of minutes. It is this freshness and honesty in food that I like most, I believe it’s quite often referred to as “rustic food.”

What music do you listen to? I’m a bit of dork when it comes to music. I still haven’t moved on from the soft rock of the 80’s and 90’s; artist like the Stones, R.E.M and more recently casual stuff like Bon Iver.

Which non-Australian wines do you like? Variety is the spice of life and to limit it to just a region or two is hard. I spend a lot of time out in the markets selling wines from Frankland River — a region that is gaining in awareness but still has a long way to go. For this reason, I would consider I have a very open view on trying new wines. I prefer to drink wines that show their origin.

If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? I would like to take a backpack and wander through inland China. It sounds amazing!

Is there a winery dog? We have dogs that help with our sheep work but we leave the winery to the winery cat!

Hunter Smith Wine Cat Bazil 2

Anything else you care to share…. We look forward to hosting your readers at Frankland Estate. It’s worth the visit!

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Kate Goodman of Punt Road Wines, Yarra Valley, Victoria

Kate Goodman of Punt Road Wines

Kate Goodman, Winemaker for Punt Road Wines, Yarra Valley, Victoria

Where were you born? I was born on the east coast of Australia, 2 hours south of Sydney, just a hop, skip, and a jump from the ocean.

Where do you live now? I am now living in the Yarra Valley, Victoria.

How did you get into the wine business? I studied Microbiology when first out of high school, but it really wasn’t for me. A non-creative indoors, white coat environment didn’t really satisfy. I completed that degree, then went and got a cellar hand job in a winery in Mclaren Vale, SA. I Enrolled in a winemaking degree which I completed by distance education whilst working. I haven’t looked back and love what I do.

What is most and least rewarding about being a winemaker? Without doubt, the most rewarding thing is creating new wines every season, wines that reflect the year and something for others to enjoy. The least rewarding? Nothing springs to mind.

What are the challenges of making wine in your region? The weather, as it is everywhere!

Punt Road Wines

Have Australians’ wine preferences changed in the last 10 years? As a general rule, there is a move away from big, tannic, extracted red wines. Whites are also ‘slimming down.’ I wonder if Australian wine drinkers are become more adventurous as well.

Have you been to the U.S.? I have been to the USA numerous times, the first time was as a high school exchange student in upstate NY. I have also made wine in California for a previous employer. I have holiday’d and done a number of sales trips. I love New York, so feel free to invite me any time!

Do you think Australia gets an unfair reputation in the U.S. for producing unbalanced, fruit bombs? I think Australian wine has been given a broad brush of sameness. Whilst some regions do produce big, fruity wines (and I believe these are a valid style, just not my style ), there are many cooler climate regions that have been continuing to do their own thing, producing wines of elegance and freshness. They are just being rediscovered and appreciated for their varietal integrity, complexity and ability to sit evenly with food rather than compete with it.

Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected? Chardonnay is back on the radar after many years on the periphery; Cool-climate Shiraz is cool again, and so perhaps is Cabernet Sauvignon. A solid noble variety, often brooding quietly, when made well, can be most rewarding.

What excites you most about Australian wine right now? The degree of experimentation seems to be huge, winemakers are really pushing boundaries and pushing to get the most from their grapes. Cooler regions are being pursued. Savoury wines are back in fashion.

What do you drink when relaxing at home? Depends on the ‘occasion’ although I am very partial to Chardonnay, I would drink more Burgundy if I could afford it.

What types of food do you like to eat? Cooking is relaxing for me. I will try my hand at cooking anything. I do enjoy blending my own spice mixes to make a good curry and anything slow-cooked during the winter.

What music do you listen to? My tastes are so varied: from Nick Cave , First Aid Kit, Sharon Jones, and Martha Wainwright. I listen to many genres.

Which non-Australian wines do you like? Who doesn’t love Champagne or Burgundy! I also enjoy drinking Spanish and Italian wines–the tannin structure, mouthfeel and flavor profiles are delicious.

If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? Spain. I have worked in and visited Spain a couple of times. I enjoy the Spanish way of eating, the architecture of the south and the shoes!

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Tim Smith of Tim Smith Wines, Barossa Valley, South Australia

Tim Smith on bike

Tim Smith of Tim Smith Wines, Barossa Valley, South Australia

Signature Wines/Prices: Barossa Mataro/Grenache/Shiraz $35 USD, Barossa Shiraz $35 USD, Eden Valley Viognier (TBD)

Where were you born?  Where do you live now?  Born in Adelaide, South Australia. Now resident in Vine Vale, via Tanunda, Barossa Valley.

How did you get into the wine business? Drinking a bottle of old Yarra Yering Dry Red #2 then meeting it’s maker, Dr Bailey Carrodus, coincidentally a few months later. I wanted to make something that had such an alluring bouquet.

What is most and least rewarding about being a winemaker? Most rewarding: travelling overseas, and talking to people that have tried and liked the wines. Least rewarding: Spending too much time doing the ‘admin’ side of the business!

What are the challenges of making wine in your region? Water is a big issue, as is growing grapes and getting them to be flavor ripe at lower sugar levels.

Have Australians’ wine preferences changed in the last 10 years? Yes, we are tending to drink more cooler-climate style red wines. Hopefully we stop drinking Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and discover our own unique whites as well.

Have you been to the U.S.?  Have visited the USA a number of times.

Do you think Australia gets an unfair reputation in the U.S. for producing unbalanced, fruit bombs?  I do think we are misunderstood in terms of the diverse range of styles that we actually do make. Sure, there are producers who still make the old fashioned, extracted, ‘blood and guts’ style of Shiraz, but playing devil’s advocate, there is still a market for those styles. Australia is not just one region people! The Yarra Valley is vastly different to the Barossa which is vastly different to the Barossa, etc.

Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected? Lots. I think Australia has a good understanding of what it does best, i.e Shiraz, Cabernet, Riesling, Mataro, Grenache etc, but the current fascination for ‘new’ or ‘alternative’ varieties fascinates me. We have had our core range of varieties for up to 160 years now and they have thrived in our country for a very good reason: they grow well and we make them well. I’m not down playing interest in new varieties, but for example there is the same validity applied to Tempranillo thriving in Spain: it grows well there and is made well there because it is understood.

What excites you most about Australian wine right now? The younger generation of winemakers, especially the guys I tend to have a beer with. They just ‘get it’, mostly. Another thing that I am grateful for is the number of inspirational people I have met along the way in this business–not necessarily winemakers (but mostly so). And the people that have given me the chance to be a part of this wonderful journey. Enough soul searching for now…

What do you drink when relaxing at home? Cotes du Rhone, Aussie Riesling for weekdays, St Joseph, Condrieu, Cote Rotie for weekends!

Tim Smith Barossa Valley

What types of food do you like to eat? I really love good locally home grown vegetables and meat. I’m a fan of the ‘low food miles’ concept. We have a breed of pork raised locally (Berkshire Gold) which is particularly tasty, as well as of course great Australian Angus beef. As part of working in this industry I’m fortunate to be able to eat in some of the best restaurants in the world, which is fine, but there is nothing so satisfying as a great meal at home.

What music do you listen to? The clichéd ‘all types’ but I am especially partial to Australian music. Some Aussie names off the top of my head: Paul Kelly, The Beasts of Bourbon, Keith Urban, Cold Chisel, AC/DC, The Living End, You Am I, Nick Cave. Internationally: Santana, Led Zeppelin, Johnny Cash, Kings of Leon, Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Rolling Stones, Tom Waits. Get the picture?

Which non-Australian wines do you like? Non-Australian wines I drink the most of include but are not limited to: Cote Rotie (Jamet, Guigal); Cornas (tasted the 2010 Clape Cornas recently in Cornas–best Northern Rhone wine I have had the pleasure of tasting); Bandol–visited Domaine Tempier recently as well; and other Southern Rhones including Usseglio and Chateau Rayas.

Are there any wines you can’t stand to drink? The only wine I can’t stand to drink would be Marlborough Sauv Blanc, and anything not made with (a) a pedigree and (b) a passionate producer.

If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? I am right in the middle of vintage as I type this, so a secluded beach and a fishing rod sounds great!

Anything else you care to share? Can’t wait to get back to New York in September! Also, thanks for the opportunity to tell you a bit about my region and myself.

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Filed under Australia 2.0, Tim Smith Wines of Barossa Valley

Stuart Pym of Stella Bella Wines, Margaret River, Western Australia

Stella Bella Stuart Pym Personal Margaret River

Stuart Pym of Stella Bella Wines, Margaret River, Western Australia

Where were you born? Perth, Western Australia.

Where do you live now? Margaret River, Western Australia. I have lived in other places as well.

How did you get into the wine business? I often get asked this, and my normal response is gravity – I fell into it. My parents had a strong interest in wine, and planted a vineyard in Margaret River in the early 70′s. I finished a completely unrelated degree about the same time, and was bumming around looking for something to do (realised I didn’t want to be a phys-ed teacher once I finished the degree), so I helped them out in the vineyard and winery, and found myself interested in it. I started a correspondence degree in winemaking in 1983.

What is most and least rewarding about being a winemaker? Most–you get to take your work home with you; least–I am not an early morning person, and you frequently have to start early.

What are the challenges of making wine in your region? Margaret River has a very good climate, so compared to many other regions, there are very few challenges that present themself. However, there are more logistical challenges, like getting good staff. Certainly the distance from everything else can present challenges, as well as bringing the special Margaret River attitude.

Have Australians’ wine preferences changed in the last 10 years? Yes, like the rest of the world, we have discovered Sauv Blanc from NZ. Similarly there appears to be a desire for fresher, more fruit-oriented wines, but at the most fundamental level, most people want wines that have flavour, balance and harmony (at a good price). At that level, there has not been that much change.

Have you been to the U.S.?  Do you think Australia gets an unfair reputation in the U.S. for producing unbalanced, fruit bombs? Yes, I have been to the US. I don’t think our reputation for unbalanced fruit bomb wines is unfair, because we have made lots of wines like that. First, we have because we can (it is one of the blessings of our grape growing, in that we can and do get pronounced varietal fruit characters –it is part of our unique terroir), and second, because that was what was being rewarded by the journalists, or demanded by the public. If we are guilty of anything, it is not promoting the variety of wine styles that come from the many regions of the country. Not all red wines come from the Barossa, and not all have the characteristics of Barossa Shiraz. Margaret River is 2000 kms from the Barossa Valley, and our wines are very different.

Stella Bella Stuart Pym Margaret River

Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected? I desperately want to say Chardonnay here, because I just don’t understand how people can say I don’t drink Chardonnay (I know this is from you–Simply. Never. Do. I. Drink. Chardonnay.) The least understood and appreciated variety of any repute, however, (avoiding all the obscure varieties that are being “rediscovered”) has to be Gewurztraminer. The wines have such distinctive aromatics, flavour, texture and personality, yet people want to drink Pinot Grigio? Explain that.

What excites you most about Australian wine right now? The fantastic run of great vintages Margaret River has had –7 and still rolling.

What do you drink when relaxing at home? Many and varied, but usually from Australia, Spain, Italy or France. I am trying to cut down on the many.

What types of food do you like to eat? I have a similarly eclectic taste with food. My preference is for someone else to cook it, and do the dishes. I am not a big fan of offal, everything else is fair game though.

What music do you listen to? I have broad tastes in music. I used to listen to a lot of jazz and contemporary types of music. However, as I have aged, I prefer less challenging music, and now prefer more textural and tonally based music, rather than as many awkward notes in the shortest possible time. I guess I have matured. I still have all my old CDs and records, and do listen to them occasionally. I don’t like rap.

Which non-Australian wines do you like? Are there any wines you can’t stand to drink? I like Barolo, white Burgundy, Sancerre, reds from Priorat, Champagne and most other wines. There are many wine styles I don’t drink regularly, but none that I can’t stand to drink.

If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? The northern hemisphere is cold at the moment, so I’ll skip wine regions, and have New York, because it is New York.

Is there a winery dog? We have four winery dogs at the moment. My winery dog is Poppy, the Irish Wolfhound. She has just turned 4. We do have a new addition to the winery dog list, Lucille, a 25-week-old Irish Wolfound. She is a redhead, and named after Lucille Ball. We also have Matilda the Border Collie, and Axel the Labrador.

Anything else you care to share? In my spare time I play one of my guitars, or work in my vineyard.

Stuart Pym and Poppy

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Phil Sexton of Innocent Bystander and Giant Steps, Yarra Valley, Victoria

Phil Sexton Giant Steps

Phil Sexton of Giant Steps and Innocent Bystander, Yarra Valley, Victoria

Signature Wines:

  • Giant Steps single vineyard wines, $35
  • Mea Culpa Shiraz $45
  • Harrys Monster (named after Phil’s’ son Harry; Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine) $45
  • Innocent Bystander Moscato $6.99 in can, $11.99 750mL bottle

Where were you born?  Where do you live now?  Born in Melbourne, brought up in Margaret River (Western Australia) and now live on my vineyard in the Yarra Valley (near Melbourne).

How did you get into the wine business? Started life after University as a pupil Brew master in a large brewery. I slowly graduated to wine as my palate and interest developed. My first wine venture was 1981 when I planted Devil’s Lair vineyard in Margaret River.

What is most and least rewarding about being a winemaker?  Most rewarding is showing and discussing my wines with kindred souls around the world. Least rewarding is the continual battle for cash; it is a very capital-intensive business and there are few rich winemakers. But then if we were rich, we would just spend it all on new barrels, new equipment and better bottles of other peoples’ wine to try with our friends and colleagues.

What are the benefits and challenges of making wine in your region? Being close to a very wine and food centric city like Melbourne is of considerable advantage; we sell a lot of wine within 1 hour of our winery, to knowledgeable and interested customers.  Challenges include being surrounded by other great producers; it is hard to stand out from the crowd when you are in illustrious company, but then, we really love that anyway. Other challenges include a trying climate; we are very cool and some vintages are a struggle, even with early ripening varieties such as Pinot Noir, particularly our higher vineyards (up on the side of the Great Dividing Range). 

Have Australians’ wine preferences changed in the last 10 years?  Yes, very much so. I would say there has been a dramatic shift to more classically styled wines, which come from cooler climate areas. There is a tendency towards lower alcohol wines that are fully ripe (this is a viticultural and location-based challenge); a tendency towards minimal intervention, both through the sourcing of single vineyard sites, hand viticulture, indigenous fermentations and minimal additions from there on, particularly with the use of sulfur. Customers are seeking out these wines and are very interested to learn about them as well as asserting their preference this way.

Have you been to the U.S.?  Yes, many times. I even lived there for 2 years in Portland, Oregon working on the Bridgeport Brewery as a sabbatical from my wine business at that time, Devil’s Lair in Margaret River.

Do you think Australia gets an unfair reputation in the U.S. for producing unbalanced, fruit bombs? On reputation, I think that we have been master of our own demise, to some extent. Just because everyone claps and cheers when you take your clothes off, doesn’t mean that you are taken seriously or that it is going to do you any good. So yes, we went with the applause rather than our gut and wine instincts. This second wave of Australian wine that is starting to get more attention (off a tiny base) has always been around in Australia and we are seeing serious attention paid to these wines as we trickle them into your market. But they will always be in small volumes as they come from smaller family producers such as ourselves (=no capital market pressures); from small, carefully tended, special vineyard sites; and require explanation and hand selling, rather than brand-based selling. So I don’t expect there will ever be a huge wave of Australian wine hitting your shores again, rather a steady influx of well-made, appellation and often site-specific wines made by smaller producers.

Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected? From Australia, it would have to be Semillon. We don’t grow it as it prefers warmer climates, but probably the wine I drink most with my team would be aged Hunter Valley Semillon. It’s an art to grow and make properly in the challenging environment north of Sydney, but the end result is heaven in the bottle; we don’t talk about it very much because we would rather it stayed here in Australia.

Giant Steps Vineyards

What excites you most about Australian wine right now? The inevitable return to what fine wine is all about: great sites and dedicated, uncompromised and independent producers doing what they believe in, slowly. Rather than a beverage industry directed by marketing men and corporates.

What do you drink when relaxing at home?  Aged Hunter Valley Semillon, Rieslings (Australian), Pinot Noir (from everywhere) and Chardonnay (from cool appellations), cool climate Syrah/Shiraz (including Northern Rhone) and good beer, including Bridgeport IPA (yes, it’s on tap in Australia) and Trumer Pils (yes, also on tap in Australia). Currently, I am really enjoying the wines from Ted Lemon at Littorai (CA). They are inspirational examples of low/no intervention wines. It’s our peers that excite us most of all.

What types of food do you like to eat? Australian/Thai based food. This cuisine is a big movement in Australia and marries the precision and spice of High Thai (Thailand is not far away) cooking with the robustness and enthusiasm of classically trained Australian chefs (see Thai Cooking, by Australian Chef David Thompson). Also, thin crust pizza from a wood burning oven (no cheat heating, i.e. gas flames)  We have a huge business at our winery based around “the dragon”, our wood burning oven and I never tire of the classic Italian styles (with respect, not Wolfgang Puck styles).  They go with any wine.

What music do you listen to? Jazz: Brubeck, Coltrane, Burrell, Jarrett, Loussier and French Jazz in general; classical (but not “best of”), and alt rock and country. I have every album by Manchester (England) composer and guitarist Vini Reilly/Durutti Column and as a contrast, but certainly not second, Nick Cave, Townes Van Zandt and every album by John Prine.

Which non-Australian wines do you like? I love Chablis (most sites, most producers), Barolo (same as for Chablis) and my partner Donna loves grower Champagnes…. so of course “I love them too”… but with tongue out-of-cheek, I love what the grower producers are doing, with what was previously a very controlled front.

Are there any wines you can’t stand to drink? First of all, I do not like infused wines in general, but some of the new botanical styles are intriguing. I don’t like high alcohol wines (hot) so I avoid them. I have a huge problem with producers who refuse to deal with cork problems. Why should we pay good money for faulted wine, even if it was great when it went into the bottle?

If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be?  Where I am right now as I am writing to you: Paris. It’s got it all and if I could improve my French a bit, I would move here. I am kidding. If I ever make any money in the wine industry, I will plonk myself right on my front porch and enjoy the view…. and the wine.

Is there a winery dog? Yes, three vineyard dogs: Timmy and Elsa the Golden Retrievers and Edie, the Brown Labrador. All are very selective consumers of high-quality wine grapes (they know exactly where to go in the vineyard) and vintage life becomes focused around stopping them eating the best fruit before we get to it!

Anything else you care to share? If your readers ever plan to visit Australia, they MUST plan properly. Allow 4 weeks (at least) or they will do little more than the tourist shuffle, and miss the heartbeat of a very different culture located in one of the most unique environments in the world.

 Giant Steps Timmy1 Giant Steps Elsa

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Filed under Australia 2.0, Phil Sexton of Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander, Yarra Valley