The Australian - Wish Magazine - - DRINKING -

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.

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