A fam­ily af­fair

Home to a rich his­tory shaped by gen­er­a­tions of fam­ily wine­mak­ers, Aus­tralia of­fers wine lovers a unique com­bi­na­tion of per­son­al­ity, qual­ity and di­ver­sity


W hat’s in a name? Wine lovers of­ten talk about Old World or New World wines, but the terms ‘old’ and ‘new’ can’t be ap­plied with a broad brush­stroke when it comes to wine. You’ll find young, start-up winer­ies in the tra­di­tional wine-pro­duc­ing re­gions of Europe; and winer­ies with gen­er­a­tions of his­tory in the south­ern hemi­sphere. And cer­tainly when it comes to Aus­tralian wine, the New World is not ac­tu­ally new.

In fact the con­ti­nent of Aus­tralia boasts a long his­tory, with an­cient ge­ol­ogy that spans an in­cred­i­ble 3.8 bil­lion years, and of­fers wine­mak­ers some of the most var­ied and com­plex ter­roirs in the world. From loam and clay sed­i­ments, de­posited around 500 mil­lion years ago in South Aus­tralia’s Ade­laide Hills, to the deep red vol­canic soils of Vic­to­ria’s Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula, cre­ated 40 mil­lion years ago.

Add to this Aus­tralia’s unique cli­mate, spe­cific mi­cro­cli­mates and in­di­vid­ual to­pog­ra­phy of val­leys, moun­tains and coast­line, and it’s easy to see why the first wine­mak­ers to ar­rive in this un­spoiled land were able to start plant­ing a wide range of grapes and mak­ing a va­ri­ety of wine styles – ex­per­i­men­ta­tion that is still go­ing on to­day as the coun­try’s wine scene con­tin­u­ally evolves.

The pi­o­neers

Many of those early pi­o­neers brought with them the ex­pe­ri­ence of a wine­mak­ing her­itage stretch­ing back through gen­er­a­tions. Ideas and tra­di­tions from Italy, Ger­many, France, Greece and more, found a home in the south­ern hemi­sphere, where they were re­freshed and adapted to cre­ate a uniquely Aus­tralian ex­pres­sion of wine.

To­day that eclec­tic her­itage is re­flected in the great fam­ily wine­mak­ing dy­nas­ties of Aus­tralia, cu­ra­tors of the coun­try’s fine wine tra­di­tion. They in­clude Aus­tralia’s First Fam­i­lies of Wine – names such as Hen­schke, Tyrrell’s, Yalumba, De Bor­toli and d’Aren­berg that are well known to any wine lover – who col­lec­tively have over 1,380 years of wine­mak­ing ex­pe­ri­ence across 48 gen­er­a­tions.

From gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion

‘It’s hum­bling to walk to work ev­ery day past vine­yards that my great-great­grand­fa­ther planted,’ says Chris Tyrrell, fifth gen­er­a­tion of the Hunter Val­ley win­ery estab­lished by Ed­ward Tyrrell in 1858. ‘He cleared the land by hand and made the wines with­out elec­tric­ity or re­frig­er­a­tion.’ Tyrrell’s first vin­tage was made in 1864. Fast-for­ward to the present day and Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon has scooped nu­mer­ous in­ter­na­tional awards and been named a Decanter Wine Le­gend.

The im­por­tance of a multi-gen­er­a­tional fam­ily wine­mak­ing her­itage is cen­tral to the Tyrrell’s wine­mak­ing phi­los­o­phy. ‘For us, this is in our blood, this is what we do, this is who we are,’ says Chris’s fa­ther, Bruce Tyrrell. ‘At Tyrrell’s we like to em­brace the past, but al­ways have one eye on the fu­ture,’ adds Chris.

Links be­tween past and fu­ture are be­ing forged all over Aus­tralia. In the Barossa, Tim Du­val has joined fa­ther John Du­val, winemaker at Pen­folds for 29

years, to work on their own fam­ily la­bel. David Franz Lehmann, son of the late great Peter Lehmann, launched his own epony­mous Barossa win­ery fo­cus­ing on eclec­tic, small-batch wines. They in­clude the Al­ter­na­tive View FA 600 Shi­raz, a unique blend of just two 300-litre bar­rels, sourced from ex­cep­tional vine­yards.

Trends such as small-batch wine­mak­ing re­flect the ex­cit­ing evo­lu­tion of the Aus­tralian wine scene, as cur­rent gen­er­a­tions work along­side the next gen­er­a­tion to de­velop new ideas and in­no­va­tions. By shar­ing their pas­sion and ex­per­tise, they are also able to re­act to is­sues such as cli­mate change and sus­tain­abil­ity.

Shared vi­sion

In Mar­garet River, mother and daugh­ter wine­mak­ers Di and Vanya Cullen share a be­lief in sus­tain­able viti­cul­ture and a nat­u­ral ap­proach to wine­mak­ing, first mov­ing to or­ganic farm­ing in 1998, then to bio­dy­namic in 2004. To­day Cullen wines such as the Diana Made­line Caber­net Mer­lot are cer­ti­fied bio­dy­namic and car­bon neu­tral. ‘It’s im­por­tant for us to know we are car­ing for the earth and do­ing no harm in what we do. It’s be­come a way of life for us,’ Vanya says.

While a shared wine­mak­ing phi­los­o­phy gives con­ti­nu­ity, it can also act as a spring­board for new ideas. Vanya’s nephew Nic Pe­terkin (one of 12 third-gen­er­a­tion Cullen cousins) grew up sur­rounded by wine – his mother is Shel­ley Cullen and his fa­ther is Mike Pe­terkin, founder of Pierro win­ery. How­ever, Nic wasn’t con­tent to rest on his fam­ily lau­rels, and fol­low­ing a de­gree in oenol­ogy at Ade­laide Univer­sity, de­cided to strike out on his own.

Nic launched his LAS Vino brand in 2013 – those ini­tials stand for Luck, Art and Science. In line with the Cullen fam­ily phi­los­o­phy, he makes min­i­mal in­ter­ven­tion wines, us­ing grapes sourced from across the Mar­garet River re­gion and work­ing with in­di­vid­ual grow­ers who farm sus­tain­ably.

Fourth-gen­er­a­tion Lisa McGuigan is an­other ex­am­ple of a fam­ily winemaker blaz­ing their own trail. Fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of her great-grand­fa­ther, grand­fa­ther and fa­ther – all Hunter Val­ley wine­mak­ers – McGuigan has pro­duced a range of sin­gle-va­ri­etal wines from ex­cep­tional sites across the coun­try’s wine re­gions.

It’s an­other neat twist on that multi-gen­er­a­tional fam­ily wine her­itage, and a per­fect ex­am­ple of the bold ideas that are cur­rently shak­ing up Aus­tralia’s wine land­scape. For more in­for­ma­tion see www.aus­tralian­wine.com

The Tyrrell Fam­ily

Jus­tine and Prue Hen­schke

Nic and Mike Pe­terkin

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