Australian First Families of Wine - Welcome to the Next Gen Tour de Victoria 2012. Words by Justine Henschke
A year had passed, and once again this group of Next Genners of the AFFW (Australia’s First Families of Wine) found themselves bus bound for a chosen wine region of Australia, on the Next Gen Tour 2012. With South Australia and its racy rieslings and decadent shiraz ticked off the list, it was now time for the cool climate wine regions of Victoria. The AFFW is an exciting family winery initiative that brings together wine industry members with similar goals. The concept strives to take the heart and soul of Australian wine to the rest of the world, and to try to change the perception that Australian wine has created for itself as being a little industrial. These tours are the perfect chance for the ‘next gen’ to get to know each other just as our parents and their parents did, and to understand and appreciate the unique characteristics of each of the different family wineries around Australia.
The group of around 25 Next Genners met in Melbourne, where we made our way to the De Bortoli family winery in the lush surrounds of the Yarra Valley. Fuelled with excitement, we couldn't wait to see Steve and Leanne De Bortoli, their children Kate and Sophie, and to meet their cousins - all new to the AFFW tour bus. We started off with the Este Sparkling Vintage Cuvée and a ‘casual dinner’ - a large table laden with antipasti, hand-rolled gnocchi, homemade cinnamon doughnuts and local cheeses - that showed the generosity of their Italian heritage. We tasted our way through two beautiful Yarra Valley chardonnays (2010 Phi Single Vineyard & 2011 Estate Grown Chardonnay), finishing with the 2006 Reserve Release Yarra Valley Pinot Noir - a great match for the gnocchi.
After a 'MacBortoli' bacon and egg roll to recharge us the next morning, we set off for Campbells Winery in Rutherglen for a muscat and topaque blending challenge. A warm welcome from 5th Gen Susie Campbell, and a taste of their 1870 sparkling shiraz (made in celebration of 140 years of winemaking in Rutherglen and obtained by blending multiple vintages of their Bobbie Burns Shiraz) with mini Parker Rutherglen Red Pies - filled with a mixture of beef and mushrooms slow-cooked in a rich Bobbie Burns Shiraz red wine sauce.
A tour through the barrel cellar containing rare old Rutherglen muscat and a beautiful lunch of cod and duck followed. Then it was on with the blending challenge, as we endeavoured to achieve the perfect balance of oak richness and fruit sweetness. And the perfect reward - enjoying the finished product! With a fortified warmth in our chests to combat the crisp August day, we travelled just down the road to neighbour All Saints Estate for 'golf & grappa'. While the grappa was inhaled timidly, Nick's makeshift driving range (turf, tee, golf ball, driver) made for a great afternoon break - shots were cracked out into the paddock opposite. A beautiful estate that everyone should visit.
The Brown sisters (in an ironic twist, the 4th generation of Brown Brothers is all girls) had kept us guessing what they had planned for the night-time event at their winery in Milawa. Hints had been dropped about a bonfire. And when we saw ‘the fire’, it was jaw-dropping. Tea light candles led us from cellar door to five different parts of the winery to sample some classic styles (including the much adored Patricia sparkling and shiraz) and some unique grape varieties bred by the CSIRO, tarrango and cienna - all matched to dishes prepared by their Epicurean Centre head chef, Douglas Elder, recipient of a star in the 2013 Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Awards. The girls (and their cousins Nick and Eliza) told anecdotes as we visited the disgorging room, ‘the kindergarten’ winery, the barrel hall, underground cellar and Granny's house (where Patricia and John Charles Brown had lived), and the sharing of stories over a beautifully crafted meal and wine by candlelight made for a very special night.
The last stop of our Next Gen trip was to one of the most historic wineries in the group - Tahbilk Winery in the Nagambie Lakes Region. Fourth-generation Alister Purbrick showed us around the original building, dating back to the 1860s; it was like stepping right back into history, as almost nothing had been rebuilt or changed. A tour of the underground tunnels almost transported me to the wine tunnels of Champagne, and a special tasting of their Eric Stevens Purbrick range, 1860 Vines Shiraz and the crowd favourite, their 1927 Vines Marsanne, followed. As we sat through the masterclass in the museum, we all knew how fortunate we were to be in that room, and that we should not waste a moment of the big-heartedness that was being shown to the group. Our travels ended with one last wine being decanted into the Future Bucket (a silver-bucket-come-decanter that Peter Barry had engraved with the Next Genners’ names for each trip) and splashed back into our glasses for a toast to our gracious hosts, our fabulous tour leaders from Fireworks PR and to a great weekend.
A quiet bus made its way back to Melbourne - with reflections of the three days that had passed.
Our family stories are quite diverse; however, they all provide a fascinating insight into the lives and efforts of our past generations to produce good quality fruit for making into great Australian wine.
As the next generation, we have an opportunity to not only learn from the values of our parents and ancestors, but also to share the ideas with our now extended family, the AFFW. The energy and enthusiasm of the group will surely lead us to an exciting future.