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.
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.
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