Ladies’ First: Wine Awards Not A Sexist Gesture

Isn’t that nice? They’re letting the girls have a go. And all by themselves, too, to make sure they win!
The inaugural Australian Women in Wine Awards (AWIWA) are with us – and some mightn’t know what to do with them. “My first thought was: What a lot of sexist nonsense,” confessed wine writer and convert Winsor Dobbin. How many others questioned whether these were a “necessary” addition to the wine calendar, or deemed this women-only competition self-defeating, serving to undermine the very people it purported to champion?
I wouldn’t normally advocate this as a philosophical response… but you needn’t think, just act. Because the question here is not “Do I believe in gender-specific awards” but “Do I appreciate the contribution of women – their ideas, their gifts and their company?”
If the answer to the latter is “yes”, then shouldn’t something be done to boost the participation of women in wine? As it stands, we’re being cheated of our fair share of the fairer sex. AWIWA organisers say – and the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia doesn’t dispute it – that women make up between eight and 10% of the Aussie industry, with some areas such as viticulture in decline.
But hang on a moment – don’t we already have a chance to celebrate women through the myriad shows and competitions already doing the rounds? Yes, we do. Women have previously been named Winemaker of the Year, Sommelier of the Year and Dux of the Len Evans Tutorial. The present Chair of Judges at the Sydney Wine Show (Sam Connew), Gourmet Traveller WINE Young Winemaker of the Year (Gwyn Olsen) and Wine Communicator of the Year (Jeni Port) are female.
Even beyond these examples, I don’t think any of us would struggle to think of women whose wines we love, whose judgment we value and whose example we admire. But this is exactly the point: if we treasure them, why aren’t we doing all we can to ensure they’re able to participate fully?
The Australian Women in Wine Awards are the brainchild of Jane Thomson, a former Wine Communicator of the Year and founder of the Fabulous Ladies’ Wine Society. They’re designed to “acknowledge and reward the work of women in the Australian wine industry, and industry leaders who champion equality and fairness for all in the workplace.” Thomson in turn was inspired by the Women of the Vine Global Symposium, the first edition of which took place in Napa in March this year. That symposium served as the launch pad for the Women of the Vine Alliance, which states as its raison d’être “to support, advance, and connect women in the wine industry worldwide through education, advocacy, training, mentorship, and steadfast confidence in the value of women at every position in the field”.
The “field” of course extends beyond the scope of AWIWA’s initial four-category format, and organisers say they’re open to expanding it depending on the success of the inaugural awards. Beyond the winemakers, viticulturalists and business owners, there are those who work in finance, distribution, marketing and operations who are worthy of recognition. One sign of this broader thinking is the inclusion from the outset of the Workplace Champion of Change award. Open to both businesses and individuals – male and female – it recognises those who’ve provided outstanding support for women or have led the way in implementing female-friendly work practices.
Likewise it’s up to both sexes get behind the awards. I’ve spoken to women winemakers who are rightly proud of their achievements – and those of their female peers – but who are loath to identify as “women winemakers” because they feel their gender is irrelevant to what they do. Nor would they wish to give the impression they got where they are despite being a women (let alone because of it). But again, this misses the point. It’s not about playing the chick card. It’s about flying the chick flag.
Adelaide-based viticulturist Mary Retallack sits on the advisory board for the Women of the Vine Global Symposium. She’s proud of the way the US venture encourages women to seize opportunities and be more active in decision-making. Likewise, it lends them much needed support, “so we don’t lose women who are at the top of their game,” she says. “Initiatives like this mean women have ready access to mentors, can connect with peers more effectively, contribute sooner and more effectively.”
What she says goes to the heart of AWIWA’s importance. It’s not a perfunctory pat on the back; these awards should serve as a reminder of the talent pool we have and mustn’t squander. A reasonable number of women enter the wine industry and many go on to achieve top honours. But look again at those (admittedly rough) numbers: female participation at just 10%? It’s a huge imbalance and drastic waste of potential.
These awards ultimately aim to redress the balance and chase that potential. We can’t hope to be at the top of our game without promoting diversity – something Oliver’s Taranga winemaker and AWIWA judge Corrina Wright justly declares “a no-brainer”. Driving up quality is vital, too. And that means pushing for the good to be recognised and for the great to go further.
So don’t waste time wondering whether these awards are “necessary”. Instead think of women who make wine, tend vineyards, write restaurant lists, run businesses, put on events, welcome you at the cellar door and in any way make your wine experience better – and decide if you need them.
Here’s a chance to say “yes” and mean it.

The entry deadline for the Australian Women in Wine Awards is Tuesday October 6, 2015. Enter at The winners will be announced on Tuesday November 17.

The Awards

The Award Categories for 2015 are:

• Winemaker of the Year – sponsored by Wine Ark
• Viticulturist of the Year – sponsored by Wine Australia
• Owner / Operator of the Year – sponsored by CellarHand
• Workplace Champion of Change – sponsored by Vinomofo

Way Out West: Frankland Estate Tour Insta-Diary

Its remote, pristine environment is the calling card of Frankland River, a sub-region of the vast, sprawling Great Southern region of Western Australia. It is, as you might imagine, bloody miles from anywhere. No noise, no fumes, no industrial eyesores – in fact very little to distract the senses from the pure air and even purer Riesling. Serenity, you say? Sip a beer in a kayak on the Frankland River and you’ll get it.

Just to give you a sense of it, we’re here: a little more than four hours from Perth – itself a city whose main claim to fame is being bloody miles away from anywhere else. It’s not the most scenic drive you’ll ever take but a pie at the Riverside Roadhouse in Bannister will keep you going – and the thought of arriving in this divine spot will do the rest.

The CellarHand team spent a weekend of glorious sunshine and wine with the Smith Cullam family in late June. Some of us were first-timers but in fact the two have been linked since before day one. Frankland Estate planted the seed of CellarHand when founder Patrick Walsh won the inaugural Frankland Estate Riesling Scholarship in the late 90s. This sent Patrick on a trip to the great Riesling regions of Europe and ignited an undimmed desire to share those great wines – and others – with Australian diners.

Fran­k­land Estate was estab­lished in 1988 by Bar­rie Smith and Judi Cul­lam. They planted their Isolation Ridge vineyard, which is also home to the newly constructed cellar door, on part of a farm where the family has run a wool-grow­ing enterprise since 1974. The deci­sion to take the wine plunge was inspired by their tour of French vine­yards in 1985, and also by two vin­tages they worked at Chateau Sene­jac in Bordeaux. Olmo’s Reward, a single-vineyard homage to Bordeaux, remains a key wine, as well as varietal Shiraz, Cabernet and Chardonnay from the same organically farmed Isolation Ridge vineyard. The hugely popular Rocky Gully range shows just what you can do with fruit grown in such immaculate conditions. And then there’s the Riesling – but we’ll get to that later.

Judi and Barrie were unfortunately overseas during our sojourn, so the hospitality duties were left to the next generation. This meant Hunter Smith, seen here on the winery verandah with welcome drink in hand…

…and his brother-in-law Brian Kent, who’s married to Hunter’s sister, Elizabeth. Brian made wine down the road at Ferngrove for six years before joining the family fold as full-time winemaker at Frankland Estate from the 2010 vintage onwards.

The afternoon we arrived, Hunter and Brian gave us a detailed look at everything in barrel – the Chardonnays, the Shiraz and all the components of Olmo’s Reward, including some particularly bright, fragrant Cabernet Franc. We also had a look at the 2015 Rieslings in tank. The year gave a stingy crop but the wines are looking superb – exceptionally vibrant and with trademark texture. Then came a couple of Rieslings spending a bit of time in barrel, including some exciting trials inspired by discussions at February’s Riesling Downunder event. Meanwhile a portion of all the single-vineyard Rieslings see some time in neutral oak, too…

…as does the entirety of this wine, Frankland Estate’s flagship Smith Cullam Riesling. It’s a just-off-dry style, again sourced from Isolation Ridge but this time made exclusively from the Geisenheim clone vines planted in 1988. The clone, named after the Rheingau town that’s home to Germany’s world-famous grape-breeding institute, is renowned for retaining particularly high acidity, which provides a counterpoint to the wine’s natural residual sweetness. It also played a vital role in our unwinding after all that hard work.

Saturday started with a monumental tasting of back-vintage and current-release wines, including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and a nine-vintage vertical each of Olmo’s Reward and Isolation Ridge Shiraz. The Olmo’s Reward showed something of a transition from a very restrained, super-traditional Right-Bank Bordeaux style in the late 90s/early 2000s to a more perfumed and fleshy expression – still with the same finesse – of recent years. The hallmarks of the Shiraz, meanwhile, were the transparent fruit, fine natural acidity, ironstone mineral character and a kind of a creeping complexity.

A word on those single-vineyard dry Rieslings, then, before we return to the leisure aspect of the trip. The cellar door has the soils on display to sniff or sift through your fingers. Isolation Ridge sits on undulating north- and east-facing slopes with duplex soils of ironstone gravel over a clay sub-soil. Cool nights and long slow ripening periods allow gradual flavour development while maintaining the distinctive vibrant acidity. The wine tends to be floral and wound with powerful citrus, and with a texture that wine writer Philip White likens to “cool, molten gold”. Then there’s Netley Road, planted on an ironstone ridge that runs north to south, parallel with the Frankland River about 1.5 km north of the Frankland Estate winery. The old vines and loamy soils result in deceptively rich wines with remarkable structure and intensity.

And then there’s this one: Poison Hill. Planted in 1988, this three-hectare vineyard lies just on the northern edge of the Frankland River town site. The vineyard is located on a hill where the Heartleaf Bush, poisonous to all but indigenous animals, is found. The wines are perhaps the most seductive of the trio, with beguiling aromas of kaffir lime and bath salts, plus bracing, ultra-fine acidity.

It’s always important, wherever you taste wine, to go behind the scenes and see what really makes the place tick. In Australia, that means a visit to the local boozer. The Rocky Gully pub, which shares its name with Frankland Estate’s second label, is a case in point. A few frames of pool, some AC/DC and a round of the landlord’s proudly presented wine-of-the-month – rum-laced Port – set the scene for an afternoon away from the vines and winery, out among the unique nature of this place.

It was time for a relaxing spot of kayaking on Frankland River, with CellarHand’s newest recruit Tom Brushfield gliding through the water with all the elegance and arrow-like precision of….
…this very fine magnum of 2006 Isolation Ridge Riesling. A beautiful spot this – just 10 minutes or so from the winery – and a real reminder of the calming beauty of country Australia.

No need to slum it though. These marrons, cooked to perfection on Hunter and Brian’s makeshift barbie, went down a treat. And the weather! This was almost the middle of winter, remember.

That night, ensconced on the Frankland Estate property, there were plenty more great stories and wines swapped, including this pretty smart blind bracket of Shiraz.

The weekend was a memorable taste of this marvellous place and the deep roots the Smith Cullam family have put down here. Their conviction is palpable; we were honoured to have them share it so generously.


1997 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Shiraz

Beetroot, radish, truffle with mulberry and morello cherry on the nose. Very earthy, quite savoury. Good mouthfeel with lovely acid. Black cherry cheesecake, blood sausage and black pepper. Juicy and persistent across the palate, with crunch.

2004 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Shiraz

Lifted, florals, lots of plume and weight to the nose. Oak not a factor. Medium bodied with moreish acid. Tannins balanced and in a good place. At its peak? Very good vintage.

2009 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Shiraz

Rhône-like nose, very complex and alluring. Radish, ironstone then florals. Funky notes too. Mouthfeel is rich and layered. Lots going on; like the structure and brilliant texture. Bright, moreish acid and tannins well judged.

2010 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Shiraz

Vibrant ruby. Violets, cherry and nutmeg on the nose, enticing. Heady perfume. Palate is juicy and fresh, tannins noticeable. Really fresh acid, lovely tang to finish. Good wine, long and balanced. Classical Frankland Estate style.

2012 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Shiraz

Very aromatic. Raspberries, black fruits, sherbet, cardomom; so pure and delicious. Oak not a feature of the transparent palate; has that trademark Isolation Ridge trait of slow-revealed nuances. Tight, medium-weight and packing punch.

2013 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Shiraz

Tight, youthful, fuschia rim. Raspberry lift on nose. Palate is fine-boned and delicate, with ironstone mineral note and liquorice added to the palette of red fruits. Will need time but promises a great deal.

1995 Frankland Estate Olmo’s Reward

40% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot. Medium garnet, tawny rim. Lovely nose of leather, red fruits, tannins firm, silty & grippy. More leather on palate, with black- and redcurrant fruit. Powerful wine, with acidity – brisk and bright.

2001 Frankland Estate Olmo’s Reward

52% Cabernet Franc, 37% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec. Floral, perfumed, attractive and unwinding nose. Smoke, spice, leather, green peppercorns, menthol, eucalypt. Complex. Mouth filling tannins, terracotta and earth. Softer acidity, graphite. Very different wine.

2012 Frankland Estate Olmo’s Reward

70% Cabernet Franc, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot. Lots of fruit on the nose; cherries, berries, blackcurrant pastilles plus pepper (black). Autumn leaves, varietal pyrazines. Firm tannins. Lovely sweet fruits. Long and delicious.

2013 Frankland Estate Olmo’s Reward

66% Cabernet Franc, 27% Malbec, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon. Oak more obvious on the nose, with violets and red/black fruits. Fruit has more amplitude on palate. Fruit pastilles, red plums and mulberries; very good fruit, pencil shavings, leaf character adding support and complexity. More linear with balanced acidity. Good length.

2012 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon

Fragrant. Sweeter direct purple fruit. Bit of Bordeaux floral stuff too. Nice Cabernet leafiness and a touch of ironstone. Crunchy in the mouth – high acid. Juicy fruit too. Pronounced minerality.

2013 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon

Bright purple; vibrant and lifted on the nose. Turned earth and iron. Then juicy and supple but serious. Fine powdery tannin. Mouthwatering on the finish. Much to come. Good.

Marlborough: Where Everything’s Hunky Dory

It’s simply not right to talk about Marlborough without mentioning its beauty. As wine regions go, it’s far from alone in being picturesque. But this is beauty as context, an in-your-face blessedness that hits you the moment you get there. Its key export, Sauvignon Blanc, seduced the world by projecting a similarly blatant, sunshiny charm. This easy appeal is often overlooked but shouldn’t be. The wine proved that some people can’t have too much of a good thing.
That’s how Mike Allan from Huia Vineyards feels about his adopted home. He and wife Claire didn’t mean to end up here but they didn’t stand a chance. They were studying winemaking in Adelaide in 1990 and scored vintage positions there, Mike at Cloudy Bay and Claire at Corbans. “Very quickly we fell in love with it,” recalls Mike. “It was very energised. We just realised that Marlborough had an amazing climate and it just had everything that we loved doing right smack on our doorstep.”
They saw an ad in the local rag for a block of land on an old apple orchard in Rapaura that “looked to us like heaven”. They stretched themselves to the limit and bought it. That place is now Huia, and Marlborough has paid back its promise in spades.
“Within the wine community there’s a lovely joie de vivre of wine and food and that sort of thing. Malrborough’s not just great for wine, it’s great for growing anything,” says Mike. “There’s a real international flavour because everyone’s travelling. It’s very vibrant.” Then there’s the scenery; one hour up the road is the Molesworth High Country with its lakes and mountains, a second home for keen skier Claire and their daughters, Tui (22) and Sophie (18). Just 20 minutes away are the Marlborough Sounds and 1500km of coastline. The family has a launch there for Hunky Dory – the boat that shares its name with Huia’s second label – and Mike makes the most of it. He loves to cook, and the huge vegetable garden at home calls out for the local seafood. “There’s a lot of snapper and blue cod, and the Sounds are home to green-lipped mussels which are a perfect match for Sauvignon Blanc. It just doesn’t get better.”
As for the vineyards, it took four years’ toil to get the apples out and the land ready for planting. During that time, Mike deepened his relationship with the region at Cloudy Bay and Vavasour, while Claire went from Corbans to Lawson’s Dry Hills. By 1996, they had their own estate up and running. “It was the vitality of the wines we tasted when we got to Marlborough that told us we were somewhere special,” says Mike, accounting for the motivation that got the place built. And the allure of the signature grape is as strong as ever.
“Sauvignon Blanc produces so many different characters from different areas around the valley but there’s a common thread of really fine acidity and a wide range of flavours that go from tropical fruit to gooseberry-grassy,” he says. “I always find the challenge is not to try to show how much fruit you can jam in the bottle but how the different fruits can be made into something that’s really interesting and complex. I always had a problem with wines that are short-lived – it shouldn’t be a one-vintage wonder but something with the pedigree to last a few years.”
To this point, Mike and Claire opt to press rather than crush the fruit, aiming for purity over power. Though there’s no set recipe for barrel and lees work, these both play a key role in building complexity and rounding out the wine.
It’s clear that the Allans are spurred on by the friendships borne of Marlborough Natural Winegrowers. Known as MANA, this group was founded about four years ago and comprises Huia, Te Whare Ra, Hans Herzog, Seresin, Clos Henri, Fromm and Rock Ferry. These producers are either certified fully organic or on track to achieve certification by the end of 2015. It was conceived in the wake of “a perfect storm” for Marlborough: the planting frenzy of the early noughties culminated in a massive 2008 vintage that a GFC-shaken world couldn’t soak up. A lot of smaller producers struggled to survive – not least when they’d already been finding it hard to get their voices heard over the noise of the giants.
The MANA solution was to pool marketing resources, chip in for visits from international wine writers, consolidate buying power, share biodynamic preparations and trade knowhow on the fast-moving world of organics. “Our early aspirations are exactly as it’s unfolded,” says Mike. “We thought we’d be able to share and grow and learn together and that’s precisely what’s happened. There’s no inter-winery competition; it’s very collaborative and a hell of a lot of fun.”
Another thing they share is faith, firmly repaid by results, in Marlborough Pinot Noir. “I think it’s completely come into its own,” says Mike. Producers have a better understanding of the right clones, sites and crop loads. The vines now have a fair bit of age and, as he rightly declares, good Pinot Noir isn’t going to go out of fashion. “New Zealand is very strong south of Hawke’s Bay for Pinot Noir. Martinborough, Marlborough, Canterbury and Central Otago are all going to give you incredibly fine Pinot.” And the Marlborough climate once again may be its trump card, as it tends to give more reliably favourable vintages.
The sunny optimism that lured Mike and Claire here remains undimmed. Their eyes and minds are open, and they’re enjoying themselves. They’ve been invigorated by their 2015 crop of vintage winemakers, who brought fresh ideas California, Austria and Germany. Sophie and Tui, who’ve been helping with ferments since childhood, also pour their youthful energy into the mix.
“What’s lovely is that our vineyards are reaching maturity as well. We’re getting lovely consistency in our fruit quality. We’re completely estate grown. Some of those goals we set in the early days are really coming to fruition. The challenge is to keep the life and the vitality coming through.”

The Vineyards: Single-Site Symposium

Heiligenstein, Uhlen, Reiterpfad, Hermannshöhle, Grillenparz – all such evocative names. If you’re into Riesling, they’re also names to make the mouth water, calling to mind complex, ethereal, thrilling wines. Here, in the third of three videos shot at CellarHand’s recent single-site tasting in Melbourne, some of the most famous Riesling makers on the planet take you to the exact birthplace of their wines. When all’s said and done, it’s all about the vineyard…

Relishing Regionality: Single-Site Symposium

Diversity in Riesling? You bet. This is the second in a series of three videos we shot at our recent single-site tasting during Riesling Downunder. The breadth and quality of the wines was, predictably, exceptional. And it was great to taste the wines in context – learning from their growers about the traditions, climate and geography from which the wines were born.
These brief interviews star the likes of Erni Loosen, Steffen Christmann, Cornelius Dönnhoff and Willi Bründlmayer. The video takes in their regions and others as diverse as the Rheinhessen and the Rheingau in Germany, Austria’s Wachau and the remote Frankland River in Western Australia.

The Joy Of Riesling: Single-Site Symposium

Several of the world’s best Riesling makers came to Australia in February 2015 for Riesling Downunder. As a sideline to this celebration, CellarHand hosted a tasting in Melbourne and Sydney featuring one vineyard each from some of these tremendous producers, including Dönnhoff, Frankland Estate, Dr. Loosen, Georg Breuer, Wittmann, A. Christmann, Heymann-Löwenstein, Koehler-Ruprecht, Stadt Krems, Gunderloch and Bründlmayer. We asked each of them what it was about Riesling that made this grape so goddam wonderful

Riesling Downunder Tour: Insta-Diary

Riesling Downunder has come and gone, and what an event it was. A three-day celebration of all things Riesling, with hundreds of members of the public, trade and media involved. It’s been a particular delight for CellarHand, as proud distribution partners of event founder Frankland Estate and co-sponsor clos Clare.

We were fortunate to play host to 12 producers from Austria, Germany and Alsace whose wines we import into Australia. It was important to justify this mammoth journey for them, so we crammed as much as possible into the week, giving them a chance to meet as many Riesling fans as possible and running them ragged in the process. In tribute to that effort, this is a little Instagram travelogue of their Aussie tour.

The first port of call, fresh off the plane, was Toorak Cellars, where an annual Summer of Riesling party had been organised on Saturday, 7th February. In addition to our European guests, Aussie stars John Hughes of Rieslingfreak and Mac Forbes were represented. The latter’s experimental batch whole-bunch Riesling is being tasted by Rheinhessen winemaker Philipp Wittmann in the picture above.

Also present was Hunter Smith of Frankland Estate, who made a lengthy journey from his Great Southern home to host Riesling Downunder. The bottles he’s holding are double magnums of his flagship single-vineyard Riesling, Isolation Ridge, from the 2005 vintage. What were they for? Why, another party, of course.

Those large-format Frankland Estate wines, and a host of other Riesling magnums and double mags, were poured at a CellarHand welcoming party in honour of the European visitors, attended by many friends from the Melbourne wine trade as well as other visiting winemakers. That’s what the ice chest was for: a Saturday night garden party like any other – but with more German accents and smarter wines.

Sunday 8th February saw the start of Riesling Downunder proper, kicking off with Riesling Riot, a five-hour public tasting at The Peninsula in Melbourne’s Docklands. More than 70 producers presented their wares to 300+ attendees. Almost as soon as you entered the hall, you were greeted by the smiling face of Willi Bründlmayer of the Kamptal (above), whose winery Jancis Robinson refers to as “a beacon for Austrian wine”.

Across the room from Willi was Sarah Löwenstein from Mosel winery Heymann-Löwenstein. She was pleased to be travelling with her good friend Kathrin – Kaddie to her friends – Starker, who makes the wine alongside Sarah’s father, Reinhard. As always, the wines are thrilling and thought-provoking – the kind of Riesling that is always one step ahead of you.

Cornelius Dönnhoff from the Nahe region of Germany was also there. It’s often said that these wines are close to perfection. Presumably in this photo Cornelius is explaining exactly how close. The wines he showed to the public were all  newish arrivals from 2013: the estate dry Riesling; the Tonschiefer Riesling (from grey-slate soils) and the airy and aromatic off-dry Oberhäuser Leistenberg Kabinett.

Johannes Hasselbach arrived in Melbourne with a cold he’d picked up from his two young children during the chilly winter in his native Rheinhessen. Combined with the jet lag, it wasn’t the ideal state to be in for such a gruelling schedule. But you could barely keep the smile off his face – especially when he clapped eyes on his good friend Theresa Breuer, of Rheingau winery Georg Breuer.

On Sunday night, the scene was set for a very special dinner at Tonka, off Flinders Lane in the heart of Melbourne. Modestly titled Rockstars of Riesling, the dinner was the brainchild of Tonka sommelier Travis Howe and featured the wines of eight producers in the CellarHand portfolio. Seven of them are pictured above. They are (from left to right, with the wine served in brackets following their name): Lucas and Johanna Pichler (FX Pichler ‘Dürnsteiner Hollerin’ Smaragd 2008); Steffen Christmann (A. Christmann ‘Königsbacher Ölberg’ 2013); Philipp Wittmann (Wittmann ‘Westhofener Morstein’ Grosses Gewächs 2009); Theresa Breuer (Georg Breuer ‘Rüdeshemer Berg Schlossberg’ Erstes Gewächs 2012); Johannes Hasselbach (Gunderloch ‘Nackenheimer Rothenberg’ Auslese 2006); Erni Loosen (Dr. Loosen ‘Erdener Prälat’ Kabinett 1980 and Dr. Loosen ‘Erdener Prälat’ Auslese 2009); and Cornelius Dönnhoff (Dönnhoff ‘Norheimer Dellchen’ Grosses Gewächs 2007).  Missing from the laneway photo-op is Sarah Löwenstein, whose Heymann-Löwenstein ‘Winninger Röttgen’ 2009 was served at the dinner.

The Rockstars evening featured a delicious, four-course meal of light, subtly spiced new-wave Indian cuisine lovingly matched with the wines. It was open to the public, with plenty of other Riesling Downunder winemakers also grabbing a ticket. Here’s a photo of the so-called Rockstars’ table, with Johanna and Lucas Pichler closest to the camera.

Monday marked the first of two days of masterclasses at Riesling Downunder. The above shot was taken in the kitchen at the Peninsula, where a pack of wine-loving professionals volunteered to open, check, taste and pour the wines for the various themed tastings  - one of off-dry to super sweet wines, one on ancient and contemporary winemaking techniques, another featuring Rieslings from emerging regions, another again for aged wines and the fifth a monster, 30-wine session looking at dry Rieslings from across the globe. This is where the 2013 Wittmann Morstein Grosses Gewächs Riesling pictured above came in. And bloody good it was, too.

It must have been about this time that someone pointed out, I think not unfairly, that the wine’s creator – 2014 Gault Millau Winemaker of the Year, Philipp Wittmann – was pretty much the George Clooney of German wine. Judge for yourself.
The weather throughout Riesling Downunder was great, as you can see from this photo of Alsatian visitor Freddie Blanck of Domaine Paul Blanck in Kientzheim, pictured here having a playful tussle with Mornington Peninsula-based viticulturist son, Lucas.
And on Tuesday night the curtain came down on Riesling Downunder. There was time for a quick snap before the Europeans divided into four groups, with dinners and tastings planned at Harry & Frankie, Bar Nacional (with Rathdowne Cellars), City Wine Shop and Milton Wine Shop.
Wednesday morning was time for something different: a Riesling classification tasting and discussion. If that sounds a bit dry… it is. But it’s vital that sommeliers and others in the industry understand the laws governing quality and style in Europe’s top winegrowing regions. German and Austrian Riesling is less baffling than many assume but there are subtleties to it and a little understanding goes a long way. That’s why we invited a range of industry professionals and members of Sommeliers Australia to Supernormal in Flinders Lane for this intimate gathering. Why Supernormal? The answer lies in the photo above. They are believers…
We asked three winemakers to explain their classification system to those gathered, with a flight of wines to illustrate the characteristics of each category. The presenters were Steffen Christmann (above, left, with Franz-Josef Gansberger – aka Goose – of Stadt Krems), who as president of Germany’s VDP was ideally placed to explain the system in his homeland. Also speaking were Lucas Pichler, of FX Pichler in Austria’s Wachau region, and Willi Bründlmayer, who talked us through the system for the Association of Austrian Traditional Wine Estates.
Afterwards we crossed Flinders Lane to The Chapter House for a tasting of single-vineyard Rieslings. Each of the European producers, as well as Frankland Estate and clos Clare, showed two wines from one special vineyard each – say, one current vintage and one aged Riesling, or one dry and one sweet. It was a truly fantastic line-up of wines to show to a select band of Melbourne sommeliers and wine writers. Hamming it up in the picture above are Dominik Sona of Koehler-Ruprecht in the Pfalz, along with Kaddie Starker and Johannes Hasselbach.
Johannes hogged a fair bit of limelight, as this was also the sole Australian showing of the Wurzelwerk project wines. This is a three-way, border-hopping juice-swap initiative between Gunderloch in the Rheinhessen, Alwin and Stefanie Jurtschitsch of Weingut Jurtschitsch in the Kamptal in Austria, and Maximilian Von Kunow of Weingut Von Hövel in the Saar. In 2012, the three wineries swapped a portion of their harvest from their finest vineyard – Rothenberg for Johannes, Heiligenstein for Jurtschitsch and Scharzhofberg for Von Hövel – and made a wine each from all three sites with minimal intervention (spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel). The idea was to get a fresh perspective on their own patch of dirt, and a deeper understanding of what terroir and Riesling are all about. The nine, eye-catchingly packaged wines (one from each producer from every vineyard) provided an enthralling study for the somms and journalists present.
The shared respect, flow of knowledge and indeed friendship between winemakers from all corners of the planet was a constant theme. Here’s a photo of Belinda Thomson of great Victorian Riesling grower Crawford River catching up with Goose of Stadt Krems.
In a similar vein it gave an opportunity for Australia’s wine writers to have an in-depth catch-up with the Europeans. In some cases these friendships go back many years, such as that between fellow members of the Académie Internationale du Vin, Willi Bründlmayer and James Halliday.
There was a brief moment at the end of the so-called Single-Site Symposium when the group. seemingly in a state of flux since they touched down, got to sit still for a second and pose for a group photo.
Then it was off for a public tasting and dinner at Prince Wine Store in South Melbourne, an independent outlet whose newly opened Sydney sibling hosted the same group a couple of evenings later. Hard to say if it’s a Riesling thing or pure coincidence, but three of the protagonists – Patrick Walsh of CellarHand, Erni Loosen and Prince Wine Store partner Philip Rich – all turned up in matching checked shirts.
And from there to Sydney for the final stretch of the tour. Thursday afternoon saw a repeat of the Single-Site Symposium, while United Cellars hosted the Europeans for an evening tasting. After that, there was time for a quick drink at Opera Bar, where Theresa Breuer and Johanna Pichler called the shots.
And by then they’d shown their sites and seen the sights. The most noble of the noble-grape’s proponents had been reduced to little more than a rabble of Riesling nuts. Here they are, on the harbour, saying good night once and for all.
What an honour it was to have them here, and to shine the spotlight once more on this most beautiful of white-wine grapes. Until next time: Prost und tschüß!

Tom Barry: Wedded To Riesling

Tom Barry’s marital contract is pretty much written in Riesling. That’s how much he loves the stuff. When he and wife Olivia tied the knot a couple of years ago, they did so in one of Australia’s most lauded Riesling sites and went head-to-head in noble-grape competition. “We got married in the Florita vineyard with Thai food and German Rieslings from our birth year,” Tom recalls. “It’s a famous German tradition that you compare the vintage of your birth.” That meant 1986 for Tom, 1987 for his bride. The groom was outgunned. “1987 was definitely a bit more youthful and fresh,” he says. “The missus definitely got the nod there.”

If both those vintages sound recent, that’s because they kind of are. But Tom learned the Riesling ropes young. “I think it’s just that typical thing with wine families; you’re always drinking round the table. Riesling was the chosen wine of the time. It started with dad, and granddad before that was a big advocate for Riesling in the Adelaide area.” These days Tom is third-generation winemaker at the helm of Jim Barry in Clare. Together with younger brother Sam, he also runs the clos Clare label, which enjoys acclaim for its own single-vineyard Riesling from the Florita site in Watervale. In 2013 Tom’s achievements earned him the Young Winemaker of the Year gong at the prestigious Gourmet Traveller WINE awards.

Among influences is Alsace producer Hugel, a mainstay of the Barry household growing up after father Peter worked with Marc Hugel at Rothbury Estate in the Hunter Valley. Tom’s European education went a step further in 2010 when he travelled to Germany’s Mosel Valley. Working vintage with family friend Erni Loosen he was struck by the estate’s painstakingly specific treatment of fruit for its myriad single-vineyard wines. This was followed by vintage 2011 at Salomon Undhof in Austria’s Kremstal region. “The wines Bert Salomon makes from those vineyards are fantastic,” he says. Closer to home he reserves praise for what Barrie Smith and Judi Cullam have achieved at Frankland Estate. “They’ve put Frankland River on the map with Isolation Ridge and the other beautiful Rieslings they make.”

As for the Barrys’ not inconsiderable achievements in the field of Riesling, Tom views the purchase of the Florita vineyard as a game-changer. “It was such a bold move by dad and his brothers to buy it back in 1986. It was a huge step forward, being able to work with that very famous piece of land.” With that kind of pioneering spirit, it’s little wonder that Jim Barry has joined forces with revered Riesling peers Pikes and Framingham in taking the Frankland Estate International Riesling Tasting to the next level, reincarnated as Riesling Downunder. The event, a three-day celebration for the general public, media and wine industry, runs from Sunday 8th to Tuesday 10th February in Melbourne.

“I just think it’s such a nice thing to get together and hopefully open more people’s eyes to the joys of Riesling,” he says. “I’ve always enjoyed getting to these events and catching up with people who are so passionate and committed to Riesling.” A personal highlight is always the Riesling: Beyond the Ages masterclass. “All those old wines that people so generously pull out of their cellar to open and taste – they’re phenomenal, and to see how they hold up is really exciting.”

Tom Barry’s Life-Changing Rieslings:

1978 Leo Buring Leonay Riesling (Clare Valley)

“We had this wine back in 2009 when we celebrated 50 years of Jim Barry. It was made off the Florita vineyard by John Vickery. We had a couple open; one was a bit far gone but the other was absolutely sublime. It was so beautiful and fresh still. He’s an absolute master.”

1981 Joh. Jos. Prüm. Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett (Mosel)

“This is one that really sticks in my mind. That wine just blew me away. Just phenomenal.”

Dr Loosen Erdener Prälat Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel (Mosel; no specific vintage)

“It’s just so beautifully concentrated.”

2004 Jim Barry Florita Riesling (Clare Valley)

“The first Florita we did. It’s looking absolutely sensational at the moment.”

2010 Framingham Riesling Auslese (Marlborough)

“At the last Frankland Estate International Riesling tasting, Andrew (Hedley) from Framingham got a standing ovation for his Auslese. It was that bloody good, everyone was thinking it was German. For a New Zealand Auslese to get everyone up applauding was really amazing.”

Click here to book tickets and find out more about Riesling Downunder  

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