Farewell to an industry great

Raise a glass to a wine leader who started in white but became a champion of red.

The wine world has lost a hero: Trevor Mast, the creator of the iconic shiraz Mount Langi Ghiran, died 11 days ago, aged 63.

He had been fighting early-onset Alzheimer's disease for the past five years but it was pneumonia that carried him away in the end.

Mast was a mentor to many, myself included. I worked my first vintage with him at Best's of Great Western in 1981 while I was a wine student at Roseworthy Agricultural College and Mast was in the middle of a 12-year stint as Best's winemaker, from 1976 to 1987.

He studied in Germany, at the Geisenheim Institute, and began his career in Australia - as a white-wine maker at Seppelt Great Western - in 1975. Ironically, he left his biggest mark with red wines. He left Seppelt because they tried to tell him how to make wine. Anyone who knew Mast would understand how long he'd put up with that.

During the short-lived stint at Seppelt, he tasted shiraz that was to change his life. It was grown in a vineyard on the lower slope of Mount Langi Ghiran.

As Mast later told it: ''Working at Seppelt as a white wine specialist, I found myself banned from the red winemaking area. One day, towards the end of vintage, there was much excitement in the red wine camp as they hovered over one fermenter. Edging my way closer, I smelt a wonderful aroma of liquorice, black pepper and aromatic overtones.

''I asked what variety was in the tank. They said a shiraz some Italians had grown. One more whiff and my curiosity took hold; I arranged to meet the owners, well-known local concreters the Fratin brothers, on their vineyard. Two vintages later [1978] they approached me to make wine for them at the vineyard. Then the love affair started in earnest.''

This was long before the intense interest in cool-climate shiraz began. The wine that ignited this movement more than any other was the 1980 Knight Granite Hills Shiraz, from the Macedon Ranges area in central Victoria - a wine that seduced thousands with its peppery aromatics. Mast had seen wonderful shiraz at Best's and Seppelt, made from Great Western grapes. But Langi Ghiran is well south of Great Western and significantly cooler. Consequently, shiraz produces a more aromatic wine. People loved it.

Mast became the Fratin brothers' consultant and eventually organised to buy the property with the help of a stockbroker, Ian Menzies, in 1987. For many years, Mast had the stress of having to find and keep financial partners as well as making the wine and travelling the world to promote and sell it.


He developed the Mount Langi Ghiran brand with a cabernet merlot, riesling and chardonnay - both buying and planting several other vineyards in the district along the way, although the Langi shiraz was always the flagship.

After joining Langi full-time in 1987, he was named winemaker of the year in 1996 by Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate. In the same year, the '94 Langi shiraz was pictured on the cover of Wine Spectator, with Australia's most established icons, Penfolds Grange and Henschke Hill of Grace. This gave Langi a huge boost.

Mast was a highly trained winemaker at a time when the boutique winery boom saw a multitude of people without training in winemaking or viticulture establishing vineyards and wineries in Victoria. Being asked constantly for advice by the newbies frustrated and irritated him, as he believed winemaking was a science that required proper training, and he had gone to great lengths over his own education. But he never hesitated to help others, such was the passion of the man.

During the early 1970s, Mast travelled extensively in Europe and worked in wineries in Germany's Mosel Valley and Rheingau, as well as Portugal, Hungary and France. After graduation, he worked for Stellenbosch Farmers winery in South Africa's Cape Winelands. This depth of overseas experience is common now but was rare then.

My enduring memory will be of Trevor Mast, sunburnt despite being caked with zinc cream, a blue towelling hat jammed over the unruly orange curls, hauling hoses, scrubbing tanks and doing the grunt work at Best's in 1981. For Mast was a ''worker'' who considered himself a labourer and had little stomach for the glamour side. Humble but not one to suffer fools, single-minded and driven but also generous, Mast was a unique personality who created a unique wine.

He is survived by his wife, Sandy, and four daughters, Daliah, Inika, Anya and Sophie.