Family Ties – Australia’s First Families of Wine, Unlocked 2013

“What would you do, baby, without us?”

Families. They can be the source of all comfort, and the cause of endless angst. And when you’re working in the family business, all of that and more can be felt in a single day.

So you can only imagine the conundrums at the Christmas table when you have 12 families all working together to promote their wine brands to Australia, and the rest of the world.

Australia’s First Families of Wine was an initiative that began in 2009, and brings together 12 of Australia’s most prominent family owned wineries.

    Yalumba    Campbells    D'Arenberg    Henschke    McWilliams    Tyrell's Wines

     Taylors Wines    Jim Barry Wines    Brown Brothers    Tahbilk    Howard Park    De Bortoli Wines

And where WOULD we be without them? These are the big names of Australian wine. They ARE the Australian wine industry. With over 1200 years of experience between them, and vineyards that straddle 16 different wine regions and date back up to 150 years, these are the names synonymous with Aussie wine.

They’ve banded together to use their collective fire power to promote the idea of the Australian wine family, their importance to the industry, their role as custodians of the land, and the high quality of wine they produce. In early June they descended on Brisbane for a big family shin-dig. It was a chance to show some of the rest us wine boffins (the lucky ones!) what they’re up to.

What does Dad do when all the family gets together? He pulls out the “good wine”.  And, true to form, that’s exactly what the Dads did.

The morning began with all the patriarchs sitting up on the stage talking us through their hand-selected museum releases. The “family jewels”. The cellared favourites that are usually held under lock and key.

150 invitees sat at long tables in neat rows, ensconced by Riedel glassware and a few crackers, looking up at the elevated stage with adoring admiration as we sipped our way through some monumentally impressive wines and listened eagerly to the stories behind them.

And while there was LOTS to admire, what became obvious very quickly is that, even among these rather endearing families, the wine industry is still very much a man’s world.

It wasn’t just the sheer number of men on show – and the complete absence of women – but also that the commentary they provided occasionally had a whiff of the patronising and misogynistic about it. Indeed, we weren’t even five minutes into the day before the first anti-Sauvignon Blanc jibe was made, openly mocking those (predominantly females) who enjoy it. The fact that several of the families present are producers of SB didn’t seem to matter.

And, despite there being tens of thousands of dollars worth of wine being poured, there was still plenty of room for a bit of good, ol’ blokey buffoonery whenever the opportunity arose.

Don Draper called. He wants his office back: The overtly masculine Australian wine industry is still very much alive and well – but the future brings hope for gender balance in the “Next Generation”.

It wasn’t until well after lunch, when the “Next Generation” of the families came out on stage to talk us through a tasting of “New Direction Wines”, that we finally started to see a few fabulous ladies get a look in.

“You’ve just spent the better part of the day hearing from no less than 15 men about wine, before you finally get to hear from me, a woman,” said Katherine Brown of Brown Brothers as her introductory statement. And it was great to see that she wasn’t alone. Justine Henschke, Jane Campbell, Leanne De Bortoli, Lucy Hill-Smith & Hayley Purbrick were all there alongside her, bringing the panel back up to a 50/50 gender balance.

These talented and engaging women are finally taking their long awaited place in the family firm. And they’re doing so in increasing numbers. Colin Campbell (Campbells Wines) had even remarked earlier in the day that the number of women in these families that are rising through the ranks is “remarkable.” (Interesting choice of words Colin, but we get the sentiment.)

Perhaps, when this next generation takes the helm the gender debate will be well and truly null and void. But until then, we raise our glass to the women in the next generation of Australia’s First Families of Wine, and watch with interest as they make their voices heard and lead the macho Australian wine industry into the 21st century.

Sha la la la

The Museum Release Stand Outs

Cellar Door_ShirazMondeuse&CabBrown Brothers Aged Release Shiraz Mondeuse Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Mondeuse isn’t an Unforgiveable Curse. It’s a rarely used grape variety from the lesser known Savoie wine region in south-eastern France. And what it imparts is a delectable richness, and a wine that ages more slowly. It’s become somewhat of a signature blend for Brown Brothers and it’s not hard to see why. Inky dark, medium bodied, and just downright classy, filled with dark plums, chocolate and smokey more-ish-ness, but with great balance thanks to some welcomed fine tannins. Delish.


HG01-05 nv Stelvin 1Henschke Hill of Grace 2004

This vintage of one of Australia’s most famous premium wines is currently sitting around $600 a bottle! Luscious, complex, and silky smooth, this is sex in a glass – but even more mind blowing. Sure, you could have a weekend in Noosa for that money, but instead sell your children and stock the inner recesses of your pantry (in lieu of cellar) with as much of this as you can get.



The Dead Arm Shirazd’Arenberg ‘The Dead Arm’ Shiraz 2002

It gets its name from the ‘dead arms’ they cut out of the vines every decade or two. Dripping with juicy, dark fruit, the intensity and purity of flavour which has a lot to do with the fact that the vines are treated with such loving care. No herbicides, minimal input, organic sprays only. Winemaker, and second generation d’Arenberg, Chester Osborne admitted he’s even considering using Guinea Pigs to feed between the vines to reduce machinery needed to remove grass and weeds. Now, THAT is new generation wine making…


The New Directions Favourites

12HRIPOHoward Park Porongorups Riesling 2012

Hurrah for the new style of Australian Riesling! This little number has all the heady florals and ripe pear flavours, but with a zingy, citrus finish – thanks to the combination of Riesling grapes from two different sites in the Great Southern area of WA.



SixtiesBlockCampbells Sixties Block 2008

The Campbells “Sixties Block” vineyard is home to an eclectic range of obscure varieties that were planted during the 196os, and this wine is a blend of seven of them. Lovely texture, and lots going on – juicy dark plums up front, and an earthiness to finish.



TWP _BordeauxTaylors Winemaker’s Project 2010

A very approachable and highly enjoyable Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet Savignon, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, all predominantly sourced from the family estate. Lovely choc-mint and mulberry flavours complemented by elegant tannins.  The “Wine Makers Project” label gives Taylors winemakers the unique opportunity to experiment and innovate with new grape varieties and different winemaking styles. Only small batches are made, and despite best attempts we haven’t been able to find any of this available anywhere! (Instead, the current release of the WMP blend is a GSM.) Bring this one back please Taylors!

By Jane Thomson