“Restaurant Australia” (the subject of two recent columns) was not the only attempt to re-brand Australian wine that we experienced at Savour Australia 2013. Other groups are busy getting the message out in their own ways using both high tech and “old school” approaches.
We encountered two memorable statements that deepened our understanding and appreciation of Australia and its wines. One had wine-making families tell their stories up close and personal. The other let the wine itself do the talking. Together with the Restaurant Australia campaign they made a compelling case. Here are the details.
Sue and I were fortunate to be invited to a dinner hosted by Australian First Families of Wine and it was an eye-opening experience. The First Families are principals in twelve family-owned Australian wineries that together span the continent’s history, wine regions, and styles.
The member wineries are: Brown Brothers (based in Victoria, founded in 1885), Campbells Wines (Rutherglen, 1870), d’Arenberg (McLaren Vale, 1912), de Bortoli Wines (Victoria and New South Wales, 1928), Henschke (Eden Valley and Adelaide Hills, 1868), Howard Park Wines (Western Australia, 1986), Jim Barry Wines (Clare Valley and Coonawarra, 1959), McWilliam’s Wines (several regions, 1877), Tahbilk (Victoria, 1860), Taylor’s Wines (Clare Valley, 1969), Tyrrell’s Wines (Hunter Valley and other regions, 1858), Yalumba (Barossa and Eden Valley, 1849 — oldest of them all!).
Founded in 2009 (dark days for Brand Australia) this is an exclusive club, as Graeme Lofts explains in his history of these wineries, Heart & Soul: Australia’s First Families of Wine. What do they have in common? Australia, of course, and family ownership plus the longevity to be able to offer a vertical tasting of at least 20 vintages. Some are very large and others relatively small, but they are all top quality producers with a multi-generation point of view.
They are all export focused, too, and so naturally worry about how their wines in particular and Australian wines more generally are viewed by global consumers, especially those in China and other growing markets. James Halliday writes in the book’s foreword that “The underlying rationale for the formation of Australia’s First Families of Wine was the realization that export markets had either lost sight of or had no way of knowing about Australia’s rich history, its diverse regional and wine styles, and the fierce personal commitment of the best winemakers to the production of high-quality wines true to their variety and geographical origin.”
Medium and Message
The idea was to provide counterpoint to the stereotype of Australian wines abroad, according to Halliday. “The wines have none of the corporate or industrial aroma attached (no matter how unjustly) to the brands produced by the largest Australian producers.”
So how do the First Families make their case? Not by relying on flash websites and streaming video, as effective as they can be. If the medium is the message, those media might send the wrong message about these fine wines.
No, in fact, they do it the hard way, the old school way. The families (all of them, or at least representatives of each and every one) travel to key markets and host dinners and events like the one we attended. There is real wine in real glasses, real people tell their stories and make their case. These are family wineries, you see, and family is always personal. So the message is personal and the medium must be the same.
I was impressed by the commitment. There were no empty First Family places at our dinner despite the group’s recent return from a grueling round of more than a dozen events in East Asia. The show must go on, as they say in the theater, and they seemed to draw energy from their audience, their mission, and each other. Quite an experience!
Yalumba Museum Tasting
The second effort to define Australian wine was necessarily even smaller and more focused, but the impact may still be substantial. Yalumba’s proprietor Robert Hill Smith (who was also at the First Families dinner) invited a few of us to The Old Lion Cellar & Tunnels in Adelaide to take part in a special tasting of museum wines.
Our meeting was only the 24th in a series that began in 1977. Initially the focus was internal, I’m told, to let Australia’s young winemakers taste some of the very best wines across both time and space and be informed and inspired by them. A sure cure for “cellar palate” complacency!
Gradually the focus has evolved and it was clear that our tasting was meant for export — to leave a strong impression on Savour Australia 2013’s international delegates. And it (plus Robert Hill Smith’s engaging personality and a bit of excellent cuisine) certainly did the trick. Scroll down to see the list of wines we sampled.
Australia Three Ways
Restaurant Australia aims to use the power of modern media to cast a spell on consumers that will entice them to experience Australian food, Australian wine and … Australia! It targets the big global stage and seems well suited to its role.
Australia’s First Family of Wines is a more personal experience that lets a dozen families speak for the nation’s fine wine. It’s a different stage (an intimate theater versus a huge IMAX screen) and a different audience, but powerfully effective because of that.
The Yalumba tasting, for those of us lucky to experience it, is the ultimate personal experience — a conversation where the wines literally speak for themselves, telling stores of the past and present with implications for the future.
Taken together, these efforts make a strong statement about Australian wines! Here — because I can’t resist sharing them — are the wines of the Yalumba tasting. Enjoy!
- Pewsey Vale “The Contours” Eden Valley Riesling 2002
- Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling 1973
- Yalumba Riesling 1938
- Yalumba “The Virgilius” Eden Valley Viognier 2010
- Yalumba “The Virgilius” Eden Valley Viognier 2007
- Yalumba “The Virgilius” Eden Valley Viognier 2003
- Giaconda Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2010
- Vasse Felix Heytesbury Margaret River Chardonnay 2008
- Heggies Vineyard Reserve Eden Valley Chardonnay 2006
Shiraz — Eden Valley
- Henschke Hill of Grace Eden Valley Shiraz 2006
- Henschke Hill of Grace Eden Valley Shiraz 2004
- Henschke Hill of Grace Eden Valley Shiraz 2002
Shiraz – Clare Valley
- Jim Barry “The Armagh” Shiraz Clare Valley 2006
- Jim Barry “The Armagh” Shiraz Clare Valley 1994
- Jim Barry “The Armagh” Shiraz Clare Valley 1989
- Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
- Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
- Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
Cabernet Sauvignon & Shiraz
- Yalumba “The Signature” Barossa Cabernet Shiraz – The 3 Amigos 2004
- Yalumba “The Signature” Barossa Cabernet Shiraz – A. “Eddy” Waechter 1992
- Yalumba “The Signature” Barossa Cabernet Shiraz – A Harold Yates 1966
- Yalumba Shiraz Port No. 9 1922
Special thanks to Robert Hill Smith for including us in the museum tasting. Thanks as well to the First Families, especially Victor De Bortoli, Prue and Stephen Henschke, Chester Osborn of d’Arenberg and Tom Barry.
I couldn’t say it better, Stuart.
Those dinners sound ‘special’, corporate razzmatazz cannot compete with real people sharing passion… oh to be a fly on the wall… great post!
Very interesting. In the museum tasting, how were there 1938 Riesling and 1966 Cab Shiraz, if I may ask?
Thanks for asking! The Riesling was dark and pretty much gone — interesting to taste a 75 year old wine, but not delicious. I appreciate the opportunity to taste a wine from such a different time in terms of winemaking practice. The 1966 Cab Shiraz was a bit faded but still elegant and interesting with life left in it in my opinion. It was a treat to see how The Signature evolved over the years.
Definitely an experience! Thanks for sharing!
Sounds like a great experience – very envious!