We landed in Melbourne and had a chance to catch up with a friend from London and Switzerland. Trish Edwards spoiled us by taking us to France-Soir, a restaurant where you have to book well in advance unless you have a local contact like we did! It could honestly be in Paris, but this is the melting pot of Melbourne, after all, the most famous city in Australia for its food scene. JC flew in a bit late so he missed lunch, but we all enjoyed a wonderful Japanese dinner at Kisumé before setting off on the second leg of our wine tour through Australia. We are so happy to see Qantas and SAA flights opening up to and from Sydney and Perth respectively, making it much easier access for South Africans and Australians to visit.

Victoria is Australia’s second-smallest state, tucked into the south-eastern corner of the mainland. It is home to more regions and individual wineries than any other state, with a huge diversity of regional and site climates.

MORNINGTON PENINSULA

Montalto

This was our first stop in this Victoria region famous for cool-climate wines, especially Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. We were given a vineyard tour by winemaker Cameron Wilson (driven in a Polaris vehicle because most rootstock is still original in Australia so there are strict rules against walking through the vineyards). We were astonished by the freshness and age ability of a 2010 ‘The Eleven Chardonnay. This was an unfiltered and valuable exchange and we understand precisely why Montalto has so many visitors.

Pt. Leo Estate

We were so happy to meet an old friend, Georgie Prout, who worked at Glen Carlou for 12 years and moved back to Australia in 2019. Together, we were able to pay homage to the late Arco Laarman, who had worked with Georgie and my brother David Finlayson at Glen Carlou and will be sorely missed. Georgie is now Business Development Manager at this fabulous estate, which was opened to the public in 2017. It has the most incredible view over the Mornington Peninsula and celebrates art (it has a large outdoor Sculpture Park), nature, architecture, food and wine. We had the most delicious lunch paired with Sparkling Wine and with a flight of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah – a delightful culinary experience. This modern tourist attraction will be a drawcard for visitors worldwide.

Jackelope

We then visited Jackelopes cellar door for a tasting, including some back vintages. It was great to eat at DOOT DOOT DOOT (this is the collective noun for a group of jackalopes, in case you’re wondering) and to stay in their accommodation. I was particularly impressed by their turndown, which is all about comfort and wellness. So well considered, it included a forecast of the following day’s weather, which helped us prepare for a super-early checkout, as we were nipping up to the Yarra Valley, about an hour from Melbourne.

YARRA VALLEY

Yarra Yering

Established in 1969, this is one of the oldest vineyards in the Yarra Valley, and it has just been named ‘The Real Review Winery of the Year Australia for the second time in seven years. We enjoyed a comprehensive tasting with brand manager Elita Vezis, including the most incredible aged Viognier Carrodus 2015 and the Carrodus Cabernet Sauvignon 2021. We look forward to hosting Elita at Creation in May as part of Wine Tourism Australia’s visit to the Cape Winelands, organised by Robin Shaw.

Chandon

There has been a rise in consumption of Méthode Traditionelle and Sparkling Wine around the world, so the pioneering spirit of Chandon in setting up on four continents makes good sense. Diversifying sites to mitigate weather and market risks while creating local jobs and looking after communities in Napa, Australia, Argentina, China and India is a brilliant move. We were fortunate enough to meet French-Australian winemaker Loïc le Calvez who heads up Chandon Australia. My favourite wine here was the Étoile but we also found the Ancestrale Rosé an interesting exploration of a heritage technique.

Innocent Bystander

Part of the Brown Family Wine Group, this is an accessible wine brand with an unpretentious approach, and the brand home also has a buzzing restaurant where we met group winemaker Geoff Alexander. What a great place to meet, with a delicious easy menu. I was very impressed with the choice of wine styles, and the anti-inflammatory food options.

Giant Steps

What we love about Jackson Family Vineyards is that each brand in every region retains the fingerprint of that region but benefits from the knowledge and strength of the team. At Giant Steps, we were hosted by Mike Lathan who had worked with our very own Urle Hanson in 2018 in Burgundy. The wines were exceptional across the range, but favourites were the Applejack Pinot Noir and Wombat Creek Vineyard Chardonnay. Thanks Mike, for taking time to see us while moving your cellar!

MILAWA (PLUS TASMANIA FLYOVER)

The next day we departed on a three-hour journey for Milawa in the King Valley, north-east Victoria, which is home to the Brown Brothers Winery (part of Brown Family Wines).

First we had a tour of the their Bankside Vineyards site with expert viticulturist Mark Pell, wine ambassador Andrew Harris, and Georgia Beavis who runs the cellar door. This site is high up on a plain and feels very remote. It is more frost resistant than the Milawa site, and there are a number of experimental varieties planted. We saw many different trellising examples and had in-depth discussions around micro-irrigation and determining exactly what a plant needs to stay healthy. We had lunch next to the tractor shed, overlooking the valleys around us, and it was really fascinating talking about different approaches to viticultural issues and opportunities.

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We then moved back down to the winery in Milawa, where we had the pleasure of being hosted by Katherine Brown, a winemaker and ambassador from the founding family. We tasted through older vintages in the premium range of Patricia wines, including a spectacular 2002 Riesling. There really is something special about the connectedness of a family business, and you certainly feel this total dedication and commitment from everyone at Brown Family Wines. People have worked here for years, so you can imagine what that looks like in Intellectual Capital.

We stayed at the Lancemore Milawa hotel just over the road and this was super practical, in a lovely, mostly rural environment. The next day we were back at Brown Family Wines in the garden early, tasting the Oyster Plant among everything else that is grown and harvested for the kitchen daily. Then we were taken on a thrilling virtual Tasmania flyover, seeing from the air what makes Tasmania such an exciting cool-climate winegrowing region, and then tasting it in the Brown Family’s Devils Corner and Tamar Ridge ranges. Finally, after a tour of the cellar, we enjoyed a slow lunch.

Fowles Wines

It was good to catch up with Georgia Velt at this cellar door and restaurant, nestled in the Strathbogie Ranges en route back to Melbourne. What an extraordinary range of wines. I was especially impressed with the concept of Ladies who Shoot their Lunch. The idea behind this branding is to get people to pair the right wine with the right food easily, and the reference to adventurous women suggests that they have nailed a particular market perfectly. The label changes every year, which means not only have the wines become collectable, but the labels and posters too. To have engaged consumers in this very straightforward but beautiful way is inspired (and inspiring).

NEXT STOP: PERTH & MARGARET RIVER

Six times bigger than South Africa, the sheer scale of Australiais incredible, so when visiting the winegrowing areas, you have to be prepared to get on planes and spend hours in your car getting to destinations. The question is, is it worth it? The answer is, yes, 100%. But after three super-busy weeks we decided to take it a little easier over our weekend in Margaret River, tucked in the in Australia’s south-western corner, around 270 kilometres from Perth

Vasse Felix

This is the region’s founding winery, and we popped in to do a fabulous tasting of Chardonnay, including the famous Heytesbury Chardonnay 2022 made from the Gingin clone. Thisclone seems ideally suited to the terroir and creates a very distinct style of Chardonnay with a lot of frisson. Another wine enjoyed by all of us, including Glenn’s Stellenbosch University oenology friend Tallia, was the Tom Cullity Cabernet Sauvignon-Malbec 2020.

Woodlands

We were given a very informative tasting and treated like royalty (noting that this exceptional service was provided to customers across the room). After tasting their famous Cabs, we enjoyed a charcuterie platter with the best selection of cheeses that I have ever experienced at a winery. There must have been 20 or more cheeses to choose from, and the very best.

On our way to town, we saw a mob, troop or court of kangaroos. They are just everywhere in Margs, and I think how you name a group reflects how you feel about them! Of course, we thought they were super cute, especially with their facepaint’ markings. Unfortunately, pictures are few and far between because they move too fast, and even though they live in an urban environment, they are still relatively shy.

Leeuwin

The following day, after a walk on the beach, we had a special lunch with Phil Hutchison who is the head winemaker at Leeuwin, arguably the most famous producer in the whole of Australia. This is where Glenn has worked as a cellar intern for the past few months (from January to April), and it’s just beautiful. Phil and his team just have a knack for producing outstanding wines that are super elegant and fresh with a beautiful balance of texture, including the Art Series which combines fine winemaking with paintings by the finest Australian artists on the labels. We had a chance to taste some back vintages which were superb, ageing very gracefully with freshness and elegance. My favourite of the day was the Margaret River Chardonnay 2014. Incidentally, they also use the Gingin clone!

Glenn absolutely loved his experience in Australia, where clearly the sun, sea, surf, diving and fishing (never mind the winemaking) make it the closest match to home. He felt a deep connection to Margaret River, and we really feel his practical experience here will benefit his development as a fine winemaker. Here are the pics to tell the story.

Xanadu

Before our arrival here, Glenn Goodall had already been chatting over WhatsApp with my brother, David Finlayson, reminiscing about the two vintages he did for my dad in 1992 and 1998. Named Halliday Winemaker of the Year in 2023, Glenn has unbelievable technical knowledge and he has inspired winemakers like Phil Hutchison of Leeuwin as they used to work together. We did an extensive barrel tasting, and it was interesting to hear about the techniques he uses to make sure the wine shines rather than the wood, which is beautifully nuanced. We then tasted through Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, and I have truly never tasted such beautifully perfumed Petit Verdot. The finished wines are all standout wines, but for me the Stevens Road Cab was notable. We were super impressed by how sustainable Xanadu is, including how much purified rainwater is captured from the roofs and stored in tanks.

Cullen Wines

The Cullens were the first in the region to do a lunch pairing with their biodynamic wines, and it is outstanding – probably the best pairing menu we experienced. We also had a chance to explore the biodynamic principles in their garden spiral.

On our final evening in Margaret River, we were invited to Glenn Goodall’s home for dinner, and what a blast! We had so many good times to share about the time Glenn spent in SA with my family, right down to pictures of the dogs. My mom certainly adopted all the foreign interns during the harvests they worked in South Africa, and JC and I feel lucky that this has now been so beautifully reciprocated for our Glenn.

Thank you to all our hosts:

Robin Shaw of Wine Tourism Australia for all your contacts across the industry but particularly for the time that you personally spent with us in the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale, and for your organisation in Victoria.

Libby Cupitt for taking care of us for a week, including the grand tour of McLaren Vale.

Cassidy Shaw for taking Glenn to the Barossa.

Without reciprocity and serendipity, we would not be able to innovate and share our love for wine with so many.

Carolyn Martin