RAVENSWORTH’S BRYAN MARTIN BRINGS AN UNUSUALLY VARIED EXPERIENCE TO WINEMAKING.
Some people pursue winemaking from a young age; others receive their summons to the grapevine later in life. For Bryan Martin of Ravensworth Wines, located in Canberra’s Murrumbateman district, the journey to first owning a vineyard and then becoming a winemaker was a long and convoluted one, with its surprising genesis in the suburbs of Canberra and then in London, with the help of Rolling Stone Bill Wyman.
The young Martin was not a natural scholar, leaving school early and pursuing a mechanics apprenticeship, followed by dreams of being a concert pianist. But it was in London that the love of wine took hold, which tied in with a fascination for food and exotic ingredients of the time, such as avocado.
As an Italian waiter in a small Mayfair hotel owned by Wyman, which was frequented by the likes of Michael Caine and the occasional former James Bond, Martin had the opportunity to sample many of the world’s greatest wines. “I took to wine and got deep into Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Loire,” he says. Another stint as a waiter on a ship in the Bermuda Triangle did nothing to quell a growing passion.
Martin returned home and entered the wine trade in the 1980s just as Australians were beginning to swap their longnecks for a bottle of chardonnay or shiraz. The high Australian dollar meant locals were able to cheaply purchase and enjoy wines from around the world, which Martin regularly sampled. Few, if any, trainee managers in the Australian liquor trade of the time had the kind of tasting experience that Martin had fit into a very short apprenticeship.
A couple of years later, after managing a Tasmanian country hotel, Martin studied viticulture. He purchased a block of land with his wife Jocelyn and a range of partners before founding Ravensworth wines in the rolling hills outside the small village of Murrumbateman. After entering the wine trade just as it was taking off, his choice of vineyard land close to Canberra was also at the head of the curve.
It was not long before the long-established and now iconic Clonakilla would achieve widespread success with its iconic shiraz viognier. Straight out of university and needing some income to support a growing family and wine business, Martin scored a job with this fancied neighbour managing the winery. At the same time he was contacted by the Canberra Times, which was looking for a columnist on life, food and travel plus the odd restaurant review. With his varied work history, Martin was uniquely qualified for the position. (A recently published part-cookbook part-journal Tongue & Cheek, co-authored with photographer David Reist, brings together a collection of these columns.)
Martin struck gold at Clonakilla, becoming heavily involved with a local star that was making a name for itself on the international stage. Tim Kirk’s crusade at the forefront of establishing cool-climate Australian shiraz styles in the Canberra region gave Bryan not only experience in crafting high-quality wines but also regular tastings of a diverse range from around the world, building further on his broad experience.
That experience provided the confidence that, combined with his inquisitive style, saw Ravensworth Wines take a distinct turn into more unique and thought-provoking styles. In a single vintage Martin may have more than 20 grape varieties and dozens of separate parcels in the winery. “I look at vintage like going to a market to buy food,” he says. “Sure, there’s stuff you need – shiraz, riesling and sangiovese has always been a real passion – but what else was around?” The traditional shiraz and riesling styles make up the minority at Ravensworth. Initially the interlopers included a stunning sangiovese and white Rhone varietals but the range has now broadened to include fiano, zinfandel, nebbiolo and grenache.
With the experimentation has also been a move toward more natural grape-growing and winemaking techniques. Five years ago the vineyard switched to organic practices with a tendency towards natural winemaking. A nouveau-style gamay that is sold unfiltered soon after bottling, and a fizzy, slightly murky riesling fermented in large ceramic eggs are two more unusual but delicious wines that push the envelope.