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Friday 28 August 2015

Is this Australia's most under-rated wine region?

Wine lovers heading to South Australia would probably opt to first visit the Barossa and McLaren Vale, then perhaps the Adelaide Hills, Clare Valley or Coonawarra. 

One wine region that is often unfairly overlooked is Langhorne Creek, which is less than an hour from Adelaide with a lovely country ambience.

The tiny hamlet of Langhorne Creek, population 668 at the last census, is where Wolf Blass 
sourced the fruit for some of his early trophy winners and the region still produces grapes for leading labels including Jacob's Creek, George Wyndham, Rosemount Estate and Wolf Blass. Over 85 per cent of the fruit grown in over 6,000 hectares of vines is onsold.  

“The problem we have in gaining recognition is that so much of the fruit produced here is used by the big companies, or in blends that often don't even mention Langhorne Creek on the label,” said Greg Follett from Lake Breeze, one of the outstanding local producers, at a recent media event. 

“When people visit us they learn about out region, characters and places – and that's why we are putting lots of energy into increasing the awareness of Langhorne Creek and its consistently great wines.” 

Langhorne Creek has a wine history dating back to 1850. It is best-known for cabernet sauvignon and shiraz, which account for 70 per cent of production but over recent years, considerable experimentation has occurred and a large range of grape varieties are grown, including malbec.

“We fill the gap in the market place between cool-climate wines and full-on warmer regions,” says Follett, alluding to the cooling lake and ocean breezes that characterise the district. 

Langhorne Creek is on the banks of the Bremer River, which flows into Lake Alexandrina. In winter, the river frequently floods across the vineyards, providing natural irrigation to the rich, deep soils. 

Among the labels to look out for are historic family-owned Bleasdale (above), Bremerton, Lake Breeze, Brothers in Arms (where the Metala vines are some of the oldest in the country), and Temple Brueur, one of the country's leading organic producers. At Cleggett you can try the unusual mutant white cabernet known as shalistan. 

You won't find many places to stay in Langhorne Creek other than a couple of vineyard cottages, but the hamlet is just 10 minutes from Strathalbyn and a short drive from Mount Barker in the Adelaide Hills. 

The Bridge Hotel serves fine pub grub (beware, the portions are enormous) and you can also get a fine meal at The Winehouse (the attractive shared cellar door of Heartland Wines, Gipsie Jack, Kimbolton, Johns's Blend by John Glaetzer and Ben Potts and also home to the Meechi micro brewery - middle pic), and at rustic Angas Plains Winery.

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Exploring Tasmania in considerable style

There are tours and there are tours. 

If your previous experience of a visit to Tasmania has been being crammed into a mini bus to visit several famous sites as quickly as possible then be warned that Kim Dudson does things rather differently. 

Dudson is the owner and operator of Bespoke Tasmania, which conducts tailor-made tours for small groups who are prepared to pay for exclusivity and access to attractions that are off the regular tourist track. 

The charming and knowledgeable Dudson knows Tasmania well, and can introduce visitors to leading fine food producers, artisan brewers, distillers and vignerons, artists, owners of heritage properties and more. 

Bespoke Tasmania is the official tour provider for guests at MONA Pavilions and the Henry Jones Art Hotel, two of Tasmania's most prestigious addresses, and Dudson is keen to curate tours that centre on special interests; particularly destinations not usually open to the general public.

My wife and I joined her for a Bespoke Gin Workshop at William McHenry & Sons Distillery at Port Arthur recently (you can read about this in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age Traveller section soon). It is highly recommended.

But Dudson also puts together premium small-scale tours to destinations including Hobart and surrounds, the Derwent Valley and the Tasman Peninsula, as well as putting together tours based on interests like wine and cider, or Tasmanian art history.

A Derwent Valley tour can look at the region's hops history (it is where Australia's hops-growing and beer-brewing industries started), as well as featuring lunch using stone-ground flour in a convict-built bakery on an 1830s estate, along with a whisky distillery tour and a visit to a trout hatchery.

"Basically, whatever people want to do I can put it together for them," Dudson says. "They can just sit back and enjoy themselves while I take care of everything." 

Bespoke Tasmania: For bookings and enquiries ring 0429 636 348 or visit 

Monday 24 August 2015

A pleasant and spicy surprise in Adelaide

I'm staying in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Adelaide. It's an unremarkable chain hotel.

The staff are pleasant, with the exception of the cleaner who hammered on my room door at 9.20am and seemed miffed I was not long gone. The room is comfortable but unremarkable. It is somewhere to stay, but little more.

Located in Hindmarsh Square, the Crowne Plaza is a fair walk from most places you'd want to eat in Adelaide (particularly as it is very cold right now).

Arriving late last night I needed some fast food. There is a fairly grotty 24-hour Hungry Jack's around the corner, frequented by the types you'd expect to eat at an all-night burger joint. If the burgers are better at Hungry Jacks then you have to wonder what exactly they are being compared to.

I discovered that an "Angry Whopper" is a burger stuffed with insipid Jalapenos. It was not a patch on a Big Mac, let alone a real burger.

Fortunately tonight is Monday and another place around the corner is Sukhumvit Soi 38, which sells "Thai street food." It is packed and sells very decent Thai food, including takeaways.

The fact it is humming on a Monday night is a good sign, and the Hung Lay Moo (northern slow-cooked pork curry with pineapple, peanut and ginger) is hot and tasty for $18, although noticeably peanut free.

There is a lot of other good stuff on the menu, too; snacks, noodles and stir fries, as well as a very enticing selection of specials. 

It is an eatery well worth trying - and I'll be back next time I am in Adelaide with a request for even more spice (and peanuts). 

Tree funghi salad with minced tofu, mince, shallot, bean sprouts, chilli roasted lime and rice looks good, as does stir-fried line-caught local squid with krachai, green peppercorn and fresh chilli paste. 

Sukhumvit Soi 38, 54 Pulteney Street, Adelaide. (08) 8223 5472. Open for lunch Monday-Friday and dinner Monday-Saturday.

# The hotel housekeeping pest struck again on my second morning; this time knocking at 8.10am. If you are staying at this hotel make sure you use the "Do Not Disturb" sign.  

Saturday 22 August 2015

How the wine industry rallied to help a sick child

The wine industry is a fiercely competitive one, but also one in which everyone rallies around for a good cause.

When Archie, the five-year-old son of popular McLaren Vale winemaker Michael Fragos (Chapel Hill) and his wife Marianne, was diagnosed with desmoplastic small-round-cell tumor, a rare and very aggressive cancer, the local wine community responded, crafting a wine to raise funds for Archie's treatment.

Fellow Chapel Hill winemaker Bryn Richards made phone calls to seven local winemakers. Result: seven barrels of the best of their 2014 vintage were promised to help create a fund-raising blend. The Archibald was beginning to take shape.
The 2014 Archibald is a blend of grenache, shiraz, mourvèdre and tempranillo put together with assistance from Hardys Tintara, d’Arenberg, Wirra Wirra Wines, Samuel’s Gorge, Vinrock, SC Pannell, Hickinbotham Vineyards, Torresan Estate and Serafino Wines, among others.

Local artists, label designers and printers also chipped in, and Archie and his siblings sat down at the dinner table to work on their own masterpieces.

These art works have been converted into contemporary and stylish label sets. Numerous individuals have contributed their time and talents to help Archie’s fight and all proceeds are dedicated to aiding him and his family.

For more information or to buy the wine ($25 a bottle with a minimum buy of six), visit 

Two great gourmet options in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is a city that rarely sleeps. 

The locals love their red wine and their red meat as much as they love their tango and football - and often they do not head out for dinner until 10 or 11pm. 

Here are two very different wining and dining hot spots that should be on the itinerary of anyone visiting the Argentina capital. 

Floreria Atlantico

From the outside, Floreria Atlantico looks like a busy flower shop that also sells wine. But the people milling around are not wanting to buy flowers, they are waiting to be admitted down a set of stairs to one of the most popular cocktail and wine bars in the capital – an after-work hangout for chefs and hospitality workers that is open until 4am at weekends. In addition to Argentine tapas (think dishes like barbecued kidneys cooked over fire wood, frog's legs, morcilla sausages and char-grilled octopus), are huge steaks on the parrillada and patrons drinking shots and colourful cocktails (the local specialities are listed as “criollos”). This basement speakeasy is long, narrow – and extremely vibrant. The later it gets the busier it becomes. Floreria Atlantico was named among the world's top 50 bars for 2015. Main courses $20-30; tapas from $10.

Uco Restaurant, Hotel Fierro 

Take an Irish chef, home-made ingredients and a garden setting in one of Buenos Aires' most funky boutique hotels and you have the unique ambience of Uco, a new eatery that is drawing sellout crowds to the Palermo Hollywood quarter of the Argentine capital. It is named after one of the wine districts in the Mendoza region and has a wine list curated by Andres Rosberg, one of Argentina's leading sommeliers. The food here is thoroughly modern. Chef Ed Holloway serves up dishes like ceviche-style salmon carpaccio with crispy fried plantain and mango salad, or perhaps crispy-skinned suckling pig with roast butternut puree and pickled vegetables, or maybe an 18-hour-cooked shoulder of Patagonian lamb. At dinner a seven-course degustation menu is on offer for $68, and each course can be paired to an oustanding Argentine wine. 

For more great Argentine wining and dining venues see

Thursday 20 August 2015

Is this the perfect Father's Day present?

Take Haigh’s Chocolates, Australia’s oldest family-owned chocolate maker. Add Yalumba, Australia’s oldest family-owned winery, and Coopers, Australia’s oldest family-owned brewery, and you have what just might be the perfect Father's Day present. 

The three multi-generational family-owned businesses have unveiled a unique set of chocolates to be known as “The Collaboration”. 

A special hand-made box contains several of each of three special chocolates:

# 70% Dark Chocolate Truffle – featuring a special blend of chocolate made with South American, Pacific and African cocoa beans. The richly flavoured truffle centre has been hand rolled in layers of 70% dark chocolate and decorated with shimmering gold fleck.

# Antique Tawny Fig Liqueur – ripe Australia dried figs steeped in Yalumba Antique Tawny for two weeks. The fruit is then dipped into a tawny infused fondant, enrobed in two layers of milk chocolate and hand decorated.

# Stout Ganache - a dark chocolate ganache centre is flavoured with Coopers’ award-winning stout. A top layer of smooth malt frappe completes the centre which is enclosed in premium dark chocolate and decorated with bronze pearls.

The distinctive box, made by Adelaide company Box Biz, features a large ornate ‘C’ that incorporates cocoa pods, grape vines and hops, an illustrative representation of the three businesses. 

“We thought it was fitting to launch this special project during our centenary year - a milestone we now share with both companies and the new truffle is in fact also our Centenary chocolate and this is its first release” said Haigh’s Chocolates chief executive officer Alister Haigh.

“The three chocolates were developed over a 12-month period with our product development team working in close collaboration with key people from Coopers and Yalumba with one of the final chocolates also featuring figs from Adelaide Hills producer Willabrand and the box being made in Woodville North at Box Biz. It is a true South Australian product!”

Yalumba proprietor Robert Hill Smith said: "To join together with Haigh’s and Coopers to celebrate the Haigh family’s centenary is a pleasure knowing that our families have been friends for many generations. 

"We are proud of all that we have achieved in our 166 years of family winemaking and we continue to look at new ways to collaborate with those around us. Combined, there is more than 400 years of history, hard work and success at Yalumba, Haigh’s and Coopers - something of which we should all be extremely proud."

The Collaboration can be purchased at Haigh’s Chocolates stores in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne and online The RRP is $39.75. 

A unique South African game reserve experience - on a budget

Gondwana Game Reserve in South Africa has launched a new tented eco camp for individuals or small groups of up to 10 people who want to find out about the life of a game ranger and spend time in the African bush. 

Located outside Mossel Bay, Gondwana is the only fynbos reserve in the world where the "Big Five" roam freely. It provided a memorable experience for my wife and myself. 

The new program, which starts on October 1, is part of a conservation experience program. The six-day experience is a chance to get involved with the conservation work of the Western Cape’s biggest game reserve - and to contribute. 

The eco camp is aimed at those who want to get back in touch with nature. 

Guided by experienced trainers and rangers, the experience includes wildlife management activities such as visual monitoring, research and tracking of elephant, rhino, lion and cheetah, monitoring of birds and leopards or translocation and veterinary care of wildlife. 

Participants also learn bush skills and interpretation, as well as volunteering with the local community.

True to its conservation ethos, Gondwana is a leader in a host of sustainable practises. The reserve is located in a biodiversity hot spot and is the largest privately owned piece of land in the region. It is home to numerous critically endangered fauna and flora species. 

The reserve comprises 11 000 hectares of African bush, with views that stretch across untouched valleys to the Swartberg, Langeberg, and Outeniqua Mountain Ranges. 

As a hands-on game ranger participants actively explore life and the animal kingdom in the wilderness, and experience the conservation work that is vital to the preservation of its diversity. 

The research and findings from the program are fed back to Gondwana’s conservation department to assist in decision making and enhancing the reserve management plan. The itinerary includes plenty of game drives, bush walks, and down time.

Accommodation is provided in an eco-friendly tented camp set in a protected valley in the heart of the game reserve. The camp facilities include five large, comfortable twin share tents set on raised platforms each with a bathroom and covered deck area. All meals are provided in the recreational communal tent which includes kitchen, lounge, working computer station, and indoor and outdoor dining. 

Would-be cooks will learn about preparing traditional dishes in the safari camp.

Rates for the six-day/five-night program start from R10,500 (around $1,100) per adult per program sharing a tented accommodation. The tariff includes aaccommodation in tents, all food, linen and towels, all day activities and game drives and all travel within the reserve and to community activities

Further information contact reservations email  or call +27 21 424 5430.

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Australia's unquenchable thirst for Champagne

It is the drink of the angels – the preferred alcoholic beverage of rap stars, Formula One racers and big-winning casino high rollers.

Champagne, made in the cool north-eastern French region of the same name, is a beverage synonymous with style – and celebration.

Whether it be Pol Roger Cuvée Winston Churchill, Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque Brut, Krug Clos du Mesnil, Dom Perignon or tiny-volume boutique bubbly from an exclusive grower's own label, Australians simply can't get enough of the world's most prestigious sparkling wine.

Australians are now the sixth-biggest consumers of Champagne in the world – and import figures keep rising year after year.

The latest figures show that Australia imported 6,524 220 bottles in 2014 – an increase of 8.3% on the previous 12 months and ranking Australia behind only the UK, United States, Germany, Japan and Belgium in terms of bubbly love.

In total over 305 million bottles of Champagne were produced last year, a remarkable performance in such a competitive market. Italy is going gang busters with prosecco, Spain sells a lot of cava and Australia is now producing some world-class sparkling wines, mainly from Tasmania.

Australian consumers, however, are happy to pay for quality and the caché of Champagne.

So what exactly is Champagne, and what makes it different?

For a start, Champagne wines are exclusively produced from grapes grown, harvested and made into wine within the Champagne region.

There are no fewer than 15,800 winegrowers and 300 Champagne houses (Maisons de Champagne) across the Marne, Aube, Haute-Marne, Aisne and Seine-et-Marne regions, made exclusively from three grapes: pinot noir 38%, pinot meunier 32% and chardonnay 30%.

More than 70% of Champagne is produced by the houses (including the big names like Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Bollinger, Laurent-Perrier, Piper-Heidsieck, Pommery, Lanson and Taittinger) and around 30% by boutique grower/producers and co-operatives.

There are several strict rules surrounding any wine sold as Champagne; all are produced by natural secondary yeast fermentation in the bottle, a winemaking process known as ‘Méthode Champenoise’.

The rules prescribe everything from how vines may be pruned, limited grape yields per hectare and how long bottles must be stored before shipment (a minimum of 15 months).

While many drinkers use the term champagne as a generic term for sparkling wine, that is wrong: Champagne can only come from Champagne. As a general rule the cooler the region the higher the quality, so even chilly England now has a growing sparkling wine industry.

There are many styles of Champagne. Blanc de Noirs indicates a sparkling wine made purely from pinot noir, while Blanc de Blancs signifies a wine made from chardonnay. RD, means recently disgorged, and presumably fresher, while there are many different levels of sweetness.

Extra Brut on a label indicates less than 6 grams of residual sugar per litre, brut less than 12 grams, extra dry between 12 and 17 grams, sec between 17 and 32 grams, demi-sec between 32 and 50 grams and doux over 50 grams.

The oldest recorded sparkling wine is Blanquette de Limoux, which was invented by Benedictine monks in the south of France in 1531. Champagne dates back to the 1660s and the style was refined by a monk called Dom Perignon, whose name lives on today.

In the 19th century Champagne was far sweeter than it is today. The trend towards drier Champagne began when Perrier-Jouet decided not to sweeten his 1846 vintage prior to exporting it to London. Hence the designation Brut Champagne, the modern style, was born.

The vast majority of Champagnes are non-vintage wines, blends of fruit from several years, while vintage wines are made only in great years and usually in small quantities.

Australians are becoming much more knowledgeable about Champagne – and Champagne grows in popularity every year,” says Elisabeth Drysdale of the Champagne Bureau in Sydney.


Sunday 16 August 2015

How an artisan Australian gin made the world sit up and take notice

Stuart Gregor doesn't like to be reminded about it, but more years ago than either of us care to remember I was a feature writer on the Sydney Daily Telegraph and he was my copy boy - excellent at getting cups of coffee and fetching old newspaper clippings. 

The ebullient Stuart Gregor 

He was smart as a whip even then. 

And, of course, Stuart has had the last laugh. While I'm still batting away as a journalist he has created one of Australia's most successful public relations companies, Liquid Ideas, with a staff of over 25 go getters.

He's also a successful entrepreneur, having enjoyed success with the Donny Goodmac wine brand and as one of the founders of Four Pillars Gin, which has taken the premium liquor segment by storm. 

As you read this the Four Pillars distillery and tasting facility will be up and running at Healesville in the Yarra Valley, the latest attraction in a rapidly developing gourmet destination. It is open Thursday-Monday 10.30am-5.30pm. Negronis all round. 

Four Pillars has branched out 
The first Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin was only released in 2013 but the brand has attracted immense attention and is a staple in hipster bars wherever negronis are served.

The first gin was "made in a truly modern Australian style which captures Asian spice, Mediterranean citrus and some native Australian botanicals". 

The Four Pillars gins are distilled in a specially-made German still which produces batches of just 460 bottles a time. But it works. At last year's San Francisco World Spirits competition, Four Pillars won double medals.

In mid 2014 Stuart and his partners Cam Mackenzie and Matt Jones released their first Barrel Aged Gin and their latest baby is a Navy Strength Gin which, at 58.8% ABV, packs a real punch. 
Distiller Cameron McKenzie 
Four Pillars are making some associated products (including an Orange Marmalade and Breakfast Negroni). A great Australian success story. For details visit 

Saturday 15 August 2015

A Hobart hotel that's cheap but not so cheerful

I often need to stay in Hobart overnight (wanting a bed only) and have two budget, but very good, hotels where I can stay for under $100 a night.

My two favourites are the Alabama Hotel in the city and Montacute in Sandy Bay. Neither offers en suite bathrooms but both are charming, impeccably clean and full of character.

This time I left my run too late and had to resort to a back-up option, heading for the tried and true online booking site

On a busy weekend (there was an AFL match scheduled), I was surprised to find rooms with en suite bathrooms available at Harrington's 102, well situated in town, for $99 a night. 

I quickly made a booking. Big mistake. I should have done my research. 

If I'd have been better prepared I would have seen that 102 Harrington is ranked 47 out of 47 hotels in Hobart on TripAdvisor.

Not that it's terrible (certainly not as bad as some of the TripAdvisor reports). It just isn't very good. 

The hotel, which promises "luxury accommodation", looks fine from the outside - and the welcome from a Chinese gentleman I took to be the owner was warm and welcoming. He offered useful parking advice, as well.   

At first glance the room was small, but clean and functional. Win. 

Except for the fact that every other guest appeared to be an exuberant young backpacker. And the ones on my floor all seemed to know each other and were happy to shout from room to room even at 10pm. 

It was a cacophony of sound. 

Even worse was the discovery that walls were apparently made from wafer-thin material, so you could hear your fellow guests' ablutions and snoring.

Worse again was the plumbing. Every time a fellow guest took a shower, or went to the toilets, the pipes would rattle and roar like some pre-industrial-revolution machine. And the bed was a bit lumpy. 

Throw in the fact there are no lifts and steep stairs, the TV was not tuned in to all stations, along with the fact that wifi is available only in the lobby and 102 Harrington is unfortunately accommodation of last resort. 

When I checked out at 7.30am there was no one in reception, so I could not report my dissatisfaction in person. And no breakfast is on offer. 

Pity that. In future I'll make sure to book The Alabama or Montacute well in advance. 

Harrington's 102, 102 Harrington Street, Hobart. (03) 6234 9277.    

Friday 14 August 2015

The hippest little cellar door bar in the Yarra Valley

It is just across the road from the Healesville Hotel and Barrique Wine Store, and directly opposite the funkiest public toilet block in Victoria. 

Mac Forbes, one of the Yarra Valley's most innovative winemakers, earlier this year opened a new tasting facility in the heart of Healesville.

The Graceburn Wine Room is part cellar door, part wine bar, part funky place to hang out with cool kids and even cooler wines. 

“Given we don't have a cellar door at the winery we decided to open Graceburn to be able to share this personal experience with those who enjoy our wines.” Forbes said.

“Graceburn is the Mac Forbes tasting room but hopefully offers a lot more than a standard cellar door. 

"We are very excited to offer a range of back vintage wines, an amazing selection of specialty teas (with many parallels to our own wines) and a small list of 'friends' wines that come from persons that have been connected with our journey to date."

So think experimental batch wines from Forbes himself, under the EB label, and snacks that range from squid ink salami to anchovies and other seafood, charcuterie, cheese platters, pork and chicken liver terrines and toasties. 

The wines on offer are wines for enjoying rather than pontificating about. And they are available by the glass, bottle or flight.

It's hipster and happening. I loved it.  

The Graceburn Wine Room is at 11a Green Street, Healesville. It is open noon-7pm Sunday, Monday and Thursday and 11am-9pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Check out the new-season semillons - and win a Hunter break

If something works then there is no reason to change it. 

Spring is an exciting time of year for lovers of fresh white wines; and there is nowhere better to taste the vibrant new Hunter semillon releases than at Hunter Valley Uncorked Balmoral. 

This will be the 10th edition of of the event that reduces Sydney's lower north shore to gridlock and it will be held on Sunday, October 11. 

The event, sponsored by North Shore BMW, will showcase more than 20 of the Hunter Valley’s finest wineries, restaurants and producers on the shores of delightful Balmoral Beach.

Wine lovers are invited to purchase a glass and tasting coupons on arrival and work their way around the region; sipping and speaking with winemakers and restaurateurs and hearing the stories behind their wines and dishes. 

The PR material says:"Hunter Valley Uncorked Balmoral has something for everyone – fine wine, fine food and live music, making it the perfect spring day out". 

I can't figure out why it is still called Uncorked, however, as hardly anyone in the Hunter still uses those unreliable pieces of bark to seal their wines. 

All visitors to the event will have the chance to win a midweek escape for four driving a BMW courtesty of North Shore BMW, with two nights accommodation at The Sebel Kirkton Park Hunter Valley including daily breakfast and a three-course dinner for four at Infuzion Restaurant; along with 18 holes of golf and spa treatments at The Vintage’s Chateau Elan.

Gates will open at 11am, last wine vouchers will be sold at 4.30pm, last wine poured at 4.45pm. Free shuttle buses will operate approximately every 15 minutes from Mosman and Spit Junction to Balmoral Beach during the hours of the event.

Who will be in attendance? Allandale Winery, Bimbadgen, Briar Ridge, Brokenwood Wines, De Iuliis Wines, Eagles Rest, First Creek, Glandore, Hungerford Hill, James Estate, McLeish Estate, Mount Pleasant, Oakvale, Pepper Tree, Peterson House, Ridge View, Saddler’s Creek, Tallavera, Thomas Wines, Tulloch Wines and Tyrrell’s Wines. 

And there will be tasting plates from Hunter eateries Ridge View, The Cellar, The Verandah and Twine, along with music from the Daley Holliday duo.

For full details visit:

Monday 10 August 2015

Awards for women in wine: sexist or necessary?

My first thought was: What a lot of sexist nonsense. 

Not your usual sexist nonsense this time, but an awards event for one sex only: women. 

The Fabulous Ladies’ Wine Society, which promotes wine to female consumers, recently announced the launch of the Australian Women in Wine Awards "to acknowledge and reward the work of women in the Australian wine industry, and industry leaders who champion equality and fairness for all sexes in the workplace".
Jane Thomson 

I know there would be an uproar if there were to be an award for "best male winemaker", or "best male viticulturist" but maybe these awards are not as silly as it may seem. 

After all, only 10% of those involved in the winemaking industry are women, and I regularly hear tales about discrimination. 

As David Breuer of Temple Breuer Wines, who employs two women winemakers, points out so accurately: "You do not, as far as I know, need a penis to make wine." 

I was also swayed by conversations not only with Fabulous Ladies founder Jane Thomson (don't try arguing with her) and some of the finest winemakers in the country, including Sam Connew of Stargazer and Corrina Wright of Oliver's Taranga, who say that it is essential women wave the flag for those doing well in the industry until the numbers bear some semblance of equality. 

“For decades we’ve been wishing and hoping to see a significant rise in gender diversity in the Australian wine industry,” says the feisty Ms Thomson. “Unfortunately, wishing alone hasn’t worked. Current estimates put female participation at around 8-10%, and some areas - like viticulture - are actually in decline. 

"The Australian wine industry needs positive female role models and leaders. With these awards we hope to highlight a few more of them.” 

So here we go: the awards, the first of their kind in Australia, offer four categories which will be judged by six members of an advisory board that is made up of some of the industry’s leading female talent. 

The entry deadline for the Australian Women in Wine Awards is Tuesday, October 6, 2015 and winners will be announced on Tuesday, November 17.

The Award Categories for 2015 are: 
Winemaker of the Year - sponsored by Wine Ark 
Viticulturist of the Year – sponsored by Wine Australia
Owner/Operator of the Year – sponsored by Cellarhand
Workplace Champion of Change – sponsored by Vinomofo 

The advisory board includes Jane Thomson (chair) – Founder & Managing Director of The Fabulous Ladies’ Wine Society, Samantha Connew - winemaker and owner of Stargazer Wines and Compass Wine Consulting, Jeni Port - wine writer, Corrina Wright - CEO and winemaker at Oliver’s Taranga, Toni Carlino – independent wine marketing consultant and Jenny Houghton – viticulturist and owner of Maygars Hill Vineyard. 

Sunday 9 August 2015

Ben Who? Changing of the guard as low-profile Bryant takes the reins at Jacob's Creek

After 40 years with the same company, Bernard Hickin has announced his retirement as chief winemaker for Pernod Ricard (which includes Jacob's Creek and the former Orlando brands) as of June 2016.

Hickin joined the business (then known as G Gramp & Sons) in 1976, the same year as the Jacob’s Creek label officially launched.

Hickin will be succeeded by Ben Bryant, a young Australian winemaker who joined Pernod Ricard Winemakers (then Orlando Wines) in 2000. He has since held a number of winemaking, operational, marketing and brand development positions, including chief winemaker for Wyndham Estate.

“I have inherited not only a world-class brand in Jacob’s Creek, but a world-class team of passionate winemakers who have worked tirelessly to make the brand what it is today – and I look forward to joining them on the next stage of the journey,” Bryant said.

Bryant has so far kept a very low profile within the the Jacob's Creek operation and his appointment will come as a surprise to many industry observers. 

He has only 15 years of experience in the wine industry and only just over a decade as a winemaker. He's been promoted over existing team members Rebekah Richardson, Daniel Swincer and Nick Bruer.

Following in the footsteps of industry legends Ian McKenzie, Phil Laffer and Hickin, he has big shoes to fill. 

As a student, Bryant earned a little extra cash pruning vines in the Central Ranges of New South Wales.

He grew up in Mudgee and his first position was as a cellar hand at the local Poet’s Corner Winery, which was then owned by Orlando Wines. 

Gripped by the wine bug, he enrolled in oenology at Charles Sturt University. He has subsequently worked in numerous regions across Australia, including the Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley and Riverina, as well as doing a vintage in China. 

He joined the winemaking team at Wyndham Estate in 2008 and was named chief winemaker in 2010. He has since had a marketing stint in Hong Kong. 

Throughout his 40 years in wine making, Hickin (above) has been responsible for several major innovations, including moves to increase sparkling wine production and varietal labelling.

He was appointed chief winemaker of Australian brands in 2006, and then Jacob’s Creek global chief winemaker in 2010.

Brett McKinnon, global operations director for Pernod Ricard, paid tribute to Hickin's commitment.

“We are extremely grateful for the contribution that Bernard has made towards our success,” he said. “He will be missed by the team and we wish him all the very best for his retirement.”

Hickin will remain with Pernod Ricard until June 2016 and will assist with the transition and focus on various winemaking projects within the company portfolio.

Jacob’s Creek is one of Australia’s leading global wine brands, offering quality wines with great varietal expression. The brand was first launched in 1976 and is named after the place where Johann Gramp planted his first vines on the banks of Jacob’s Creek in 1847. In doing so, Johann founded the Gramp & Sons business and created a history of winemaking innovation that dates back over 160 years.

Saturday 8 August 2015

An excellent base from which to explore three wine regions

Staying in motels in country regions of Australia can be fraught with pitfalls.

There are motels with wafer-thin walls so you can enjoy sharing the activities of your neighbours; motels with no wifi, or where the bath towels are the size of a dish cloth.

There can be issues with cleanliness, flickering or dying bedside lights and TV remote controls that are dead as a dodo; which you only discover after the reception desk has closed and you want to watch the football.

Fortunately, none of these are an issue at the Strath Motel, where I laid my head for the past two nights while exploring the vastly under-rated wine region of Langhorne Creek.

Home to wineries including Bleasdale, Bremerton, Lake Breeze, Cleggett, Temple Bruer, Brothers in Arms, Heartland, Kimbolton and Angas Plains, among others, Langhorne Creek is a little short of accommodation; with just a handful of self-catering cottages. 

It has excellent venues for lunch, including The Winehouse and Angas Plains, and a wonderful old country pub, the venerable Bridge Hotel, which serves huge, rustic and tasty meals.

If you want to stay in a town, however, then Strathalbyn, a 10-minute drive away, is your best bet. And the Strath Motel offers comfortable digs at affordable prices, as well as being just 15 minutes' drive from Mount Barker and the Adelaide Hills and a short drive from the many attractions of McLaren Vale. 

It is also the gateway to the Murray region and close to Lake Alexandrina and Victor Harbour.

Strathalbyn is a lovely, if not lively, old town with historic buildings and recommended eateries in Leo's and the Victoria Hotel.

The Angas River winds its way through the centre of town and there are some very pretty gardens.

The Strath Motel has 23 rooms with a choice of standard, twin or family accommodation. There are TVs, internet access, iron, ironing board, toaster, microwaves, fridges and reverse-cycle air conditioning that kept me toasty warm on brisk nights.

There are tea and coffee-making facilities (the biscuits were replaced after I scoffed them on the first night) as well as free on-site car parking.

It's not five-star, but it is very comfortable. And it ticks all the boxes for warm country service. 

The Strath Motel, 4 North Parade, Strathalbyn, South Australia. (08) 8536 3311.