Al­ways room for qual­ity

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - James Halliday

RON Brown is the wily old fox head­ing the Mav­er­ick Wines part­ner­ship with Jeremy Vogler, Adrian Bell and Christo­pher Tay­lor (the wine­maker). Brown is based in Tokyo and has had a lead­ing role in many facets of the wine sales in­dus­try of Ja­pan.

He and his part­ners moved swiftly dur­ing the grape sur­plus years to ac­quire four vine­yards in prime po­si­tions in South Aus­tralia’s Barossa and Eden val­leys in 2004. They are Trial Hill in Pewsey Vale in the hills of the east­ern Eden Val­ley; Old Ben in the so-called High Eden Val­ley; and Barossa Ridge in the Vine Vale sub­re­gion and Greenock Rise in the Greenock sub­re­gion in the hills of north­ern Barossa.

Mav­er­ick pro­duces four sin­gle-vine­yard shi­razes from th­ese plant­ings, Trial Hill Eden Val­ley Shi­raz be­ing the flag­bearer. In all, there is a touch over 30ha, the lion’s share to shi­raz (17ha plus), the re­main­der a mix of chardon­nay, ries­ling, grenache and caber­net sauvi­gnon (plus or mi­nus 2ha each), with smaller parcels of mer­lot, caber­net franc, petit ver­dot, semil­lon, rous­sanne and viog­nier. Vine age is be­tween four and more than 100 years, the ma­jor­ity of vines 10 to 30 years old.

The pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial as­sem­bled is slick and so­phis­ti­cated, par­tic­u­larly given the wide range of mar­kets Mav­er­ick has al­ready pen­e­trated. In Aus­tralia it is a mix of the best restau­rants in Syd­ney (namely Tet­suya’s, the Boathouse on Black­wat­tle Bay, Catalina, Assi­ette, Ate­lier and Le Pel­i­can) and Ade­laide (the Grange Restau­rant at the Hil­ton, the Hy­att Re­gency, Cos and more) plus spe­cial­ist re­tail­ers in both cities. In­ter­est­ingly, Melbourne has, with one ex­cep­tion (Europe Cel­lars), been ig­nored.

In Tokyo, 11 of the most de­sir­able restau­rants and ho­tels carry the wine, plus the Hil­ton in Osaka. In ad­di­tion, sales to Bri­tain, Sin­ga­pore and The Philip­pines are to be fol­lowed by the US, Rus­sia, In­dia and Scan­di­navia.

The cake is be­ing sliced very thinly: pro­duc­tion in 2006-07 was a lit­tle more than 3000 cases but is pro­jected to rise to more than 7000 cases in 2008. Time will tell whether drought and frost will stand in the way. The big­gest vol­ume of any of the in­di­vid­ual vine­yard wines so far re­leased in Aus­tralia is 970 cases (the 2006 Mav­er­ick Twins Barossa Grenache Shi­raz Mataro) with the 2005 Trial Hill Shi­raz (a beau­ti­ful wine; 96 points, $60) only 460 cases.

This may all seem a smoke-and-mir­rors game but the qual­ity of the wines is ex­em­plary and the prices sen­si­bly pitched. More­over, 30ha of vines should be ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing 15,000 to 20,000 cases, as­sum­ing they are in full bear­ing.

At the mo­ment much of the vol­ume is in two wines: Aus­tralian Ter­roirs Barossa Chook Red (a shi­raz) and Eden Val­ley Chook White (a chardon­nay). The deriva­tion of the name for th­ese sec­ond la­bels is dis­tinctly quixotic. Brown asked Andrew Cail­lard to pro­vide a brightly coloured paint­ing for the la­bel. Cail­lard, as well as co-head of Lang­ton’s wine auc­tions, is an ac­com­plished painter. He rang Brown to say some chooks had mys­te­ri­ously found their way on to the paint­ing and asked whether this was OK. The an­swer was in the af­fir­ma­tive and the planned Ter­roirs White and Red had Chook ap­pended to the names.

The price was planned to be 20 per cent above large-sell­ing brands such as Ja­cob’s Creek but to of­fer greater value, both in qual­ity and by sin­glere­gion ori­gin. The suc­cess of the wines took Mav­er­ick by sur­prise, the 2000 cases of each dis­ap­pear­ing overnight. The plan is to dou­ble pro­duc­tion in 2008, us­ing (as in ’ 07) grapes from young vines plus con­tract-grown grapes.

It pays to be in the right place at the right time if you read the cards right. The shift from grape sur­plus to acute short­age has oc­curred with dizzy­ing speed, mak­ing the tim­ing all the more fe­lic­i­tous. Just as droughts end with rain, there is likely to be an­other sur­plus down the track. When there is, Brown and co will prob­a­bly be there to take ad­van­tage.

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