Notes from Down Under


Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

Following a trip Down Under, Katherine Dart MW, Buying Manager of our wholesale arm, ponders the exciting potential and remarkable appeal of Australia’s wine-scene.

“The people are immensely likable— cheerful, extrovert, quick-witted, and unfailingly obliging…The food is excellent. The beer is cold. The sun nearly always shines. There is coffee on every corner. Life doesn’t get much better than this.”  Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country

Subsequent to my trip to this immense, beautiful and extraordinary country, I was not entirely sure whether I should I feel relief or disappointment that someone had already summed up –pretty eloquently – my thoughts and feelings about it. Then, on re-examining Bill Bryson’s astute words, I realised that one key element was missing: wine.

My first thought was more holistic and all encompassing: how could anyone forget about wine? However, my second was a little more focused on the matter in hand – is it feasible to state or suggest that wine from Australia could add to the quality of one’s life, and have the potential to make it at least a little better?

To elaborate on this slightly grand notion, I feel that many growers are producing wines that will, in equal doses, delight and defy expectations – this is certainly true of the producers that we represent. A sense of place and precision was a common thread that ran through all the wines I tasted during my visit. Almost without fail, they managed to balance ripe fruit with freshness and definition, while embracing the different challenges that each vintage inevitably brings.

My trip spanned west to east across the great continent starting in Western Australia, at Frankland Estate where there is a spirit of endeavour and a desire for constant improvement at this family-run estate. Small changes and innovations continue to help push the quality of the wines with each vintage.

Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

Next to the Barossa and Elderton, where Alister and Cameron Ashmead manage – with distinct aplomb – to successfully produce a selection of wines that embody exceptional quality, commercial accessibility and fine wine status. The basis to this success if the quality of their vineyards, which represent the very image of vine health and vitality. Dean Hewitson has also now based himself in the Barossa and he is a lucky man, in part because he is the custodian of a truly incredible vineyard in the form of the Old Garden, but also because the ongoing potential of all the sites he works with should be obvious to anyone tasting wines. There is a feeling of controlled concentration and varietal awareness, as well as an elegant expression of the benefits that the Barossa Valley can offer.

I then travelled to Giaconda to meet the extraordinary Rick Kinzbrunner. Giaconda can be found just outside the town of Beechworth in the foothills of the north-east Victoria Alps, and is a special place. The vineyards around the property are planted with Chardonnay, Shiraz and Pinot Noir. Here Rick produces some of Australia’s finest wines with a truly world class Chardonnay (see the latest cover of Decanter Magazine).

Finally I journeyed to the Mornington Peninsula to meet father-and-son team Garry and Rollo Crittenden. Garry is beginning to take a step back and Rollo is now firmly at the helm, balancing the production of classic, cool-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with exciting experiments using Tempranillo, Friulano and Savagnin.

Generosity and approachability were common themes on the trip – both in the people and the wines. I appreciate that this is perhaps a fairly predictable response to Australian wines, but it does have a counterbalance. Indeed, this factor does not and should not cloud the innate ability of so many Australian wines to stand the test of time. The potential to gain increased complexity with age, while potentially offering drinking pleasure in the meantime, is no mean feat. In fact, it is something to be celebrated, along with the cold beer, great coffee, expansive, breath-taking swathes of land and mind-boggling enormity of this unique country.