Give more than a passing thought to Australian wine and you will realise how misleading the old habit of dividing the wine world into baskets old and new in fact is.
Australia, the planet’s oldest landmass and home to the longest continuous cultural settlements on earth, erroneously wears the ‘New World’ epithet.
Its winemaking culture goes back to the very earliest days of European settlement and is still richly populated by families whose involvement goes almost two centuries back and now have their fifth and sixth generations at the helm.
Australia’s First Families of Wine (AFFW) is a collaboration formed in 2009 to bring together ten of the country’s finest multi-generational wine businesses, representing more than 1200 years of collective custodianship of vineyards whose roots tap into the country’s history.
Jeff Burch, current Chairperson of AFFW, defines the mission and ethos shared by all its members:
“Apart from crafting some of Australia’s finest wines from our iconic vineyards, Australia’s First Families of Wine is so much more. Bound by history, heritage, commitment and innovation, we are a truly supportive collaboration that shares a purpose – to tell our stories and share our wines the world over – now and for generations to come,”
It is therefore not surprising that each member of this group takes pride in their commitment to produce wines with an inherent ability to age.
Chris Tyrrell farms the same land at the base of the Hunter Valley’s Broken Back Range that his forbears have since 1858. A fifth-generation winemaker, Tyrrell is reaping the rewards from outstanding old Sémillon and Shiraz vineyards that produce some of the world’s most cellar-worthy wines.
Across the continent, Howard Park’s Burch family are shaping Margaret River history with refined and elegant Cabernet Sauvignon of impeccable pedigree.
At a tasting in 2010 to celebrate 150 years of winemaking, the Purbricks of Tahbilk poured the last bottles of the Marsanne the family had provided for the Queen’s coronation and followed it with Shiraz from a vineyard planted in 1860.
At the northern end of the Clare Valley, Tom and Sam Barry are working with the Armagh vineyard planted by their grandfather Jim to produce long-lived Shiraz that will enrich the cellars of their own grandchildren. And at the valley’s southern end, the Taylors, the family behind Wakefield Wines, produce Cabernet with the age-worthy structure inherent in the Bordeaux wines that first inspired them.
Chester Osborn may look like he comes from some hallucinatory future, but his dedication to old McLaren Vale vineyards has helped him change the conversation around the cellaring of Grenache, and in north-eastern Victoria, Brown Brothers consistently produce age-worthy classics at the same time as exploring exciting new possibilities in Tasmania.
In the Barossa’s high country, up in the Eden Valley, two of Australia’s oldest and best-known winemaking families forge new futures built on great traditions. Yalumba’s Hill-Smith family continue a long-held commitment to the great Australian Cabernet-Shiraz blend with their newest addition, The Caley, proving to be one of the most exciting wines to emerge from Australia in years. Not far from the historical grandeur of Yalumba, Stephen and Prue Henschke go about caring for some of Australia’s greatest viticultural treasures, vineyards like Hill of Grace and Mt Edelstone, with due deference to the past and an unshakeable commitment to ensuring these priceless gems have great futures.
And in Rutherglen, the great Colin Campbell‘s legacy endures as his daughters sit upon one of the wine world’s greatest testaments to the virtues of patience. Their glorious soleras of unique fortified wines, which have been nurtured for decades, prove to us all that the finest Australian wine is weaved into the history of great Australian families.