Townsville Bulletin - Townsville Eye - - Drink -

Lots of winer­ies knock out a sec­ond or third tier la­bel. Of­ten those tiers are good value, more of­ten they are good quaffing wines, or your Fri­day night drinkers, but it’s rare they are some­thing you would serve at a din­ner party when you’re try­ing to im­press the Fa­ther-in-Law-to-be, for ex­am­ple.

At the other end there’s the winer­ies that might stum­ble onto a good patch of fruit, from their own win­ery or from con­tract grow­ers, knock out a good cou­ple of vin­tages and then it all goes pear shaped for them.

Then there are the rare few that knock out great wines across all of the range, and do it year, af­ter year, af­ter year, de­spite is­sues with weather or fruit qual­ity.

Gi­ant Steps is one of those rare winer­ies that are able to im­press over any of their range at any price, and do it time and again, con­tin­u­ally knock­ing out award­win­ning wines. A lot of their suc­cess comes down to the hard graft of founder Phil Sex­ton, and his wine­maker Steve Flam­steed, both of whom have had long in­ter­est­ing ca­reers but have al­ways grav­i­tated back to­wards wine.

Phil Sex­ton started off his work­ing life as a brewer at Swan Brew­ery in WA in 1981. That same year he started work on what would be­come his first win­ery, Devils Lair in WA’s Mar­garet River. Even­tu­ally Phil left Swan to con­cen­trate on Devils Lair full-time but the lure of good beer was too much. To­gether with two mates he started Matilda Bay. In 1997 with both Devils Lair and Matilda Bay sold off, Phil fi­nally found a suit­able site in Vic­to­ria’s Yarra Val­ley, and the process of cre­at­ing Gi­ant Steps started soon af­ter he added a sec­ond la­bel, In­no­cent By­stander.

He cre­ated the first vin­tage of Gi­ant Steps in 2001, and In­no­cent By­stander came on the scene in 2004, and he also found time to start a new brew­ery based in WA called Lit­tle Crea­tures. Phil started to plan ahead, want­ing to con­cen­trate on cre­at­ing sin­gle vine­yard ex­am­ples of his wines. Lion’s de­ci­sion to purchase Lit­tle Crea­tures in 2012, and Brown Broth­ers’ 2016 purchase of In­no­cent By­stander has funded that pro­gres­sion.

Steve Flam­steed is the per­son that does all the wiz­ardry with the wine, join­ing Phil in 2008 as Head Wine­maker so that Phil could con­cen­trate on run­ning Gi­ant Steps (and the as­so­ci­ated em­pire at the time).

I have a per­sonal be­lief that wine­mak­ers who have had many dif­fer­ent jobs and life ex­pe­ri­ences tend to make bet­ter wines, to that end Steve’s worked as a qual­i­fied chef, won a Queens Schol­ar­ship to study cheese mak­ing in France, then work­ing as a cheese­maker on his re­turn. He’s also been a ski in­struc­tor and most im­por­tantly, a wine­maker.

As a wine­maker he has worked for Leeuwin Es­tate and the Hardy Wine Com­pany, be­fore mov­ing to Gi­ant Steps op­er­a­tion. These two guys have an em­bar­rass­ment of riches when it comes to sheer tal­ent. In fact, Steve was named Wine­maker of the Year in 2016.

With Phil lead­ing the win­ery’s di­rec­tion and Steve knock­ing out wines, they will con­tinue on their multi-award win­ning way for many years to come.

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