Dads copped a right hiding at Australia's First Families of Wine (AFFW) ''Unlocked'' event in Sydney. The next generation hosted a tasting of supposedly modern wine styles immediately after a tasting hosted by the older generation with its more traditional wines. The message was clear: one generation - all men - were gradually handing over responsibility to their offspring - mostly daughters. And the daughters, plus a few sons, bagged their dads mercilessly as being control freaks who were only grudgingly letting the next generation inside the cellar.
There was a touch of humour in it, but, as they say, behind every joke lies a shadow of truth. Hayley Purbrick, the daughter of the boss at Tahbilk, Alister Purbrick, pondered the prevalence of females, remarking that girls have good relationships with their dads, while father-and-son relationships tend to have more tensions. ''Less testosterone; less conflict,'' she mused.
Older-generation winemaker Colin Campbell was hooted when his daughter Susie's name was announced but he stood up instead. It looked like a spontaneous reaction by a dad unused to delegating the speech-making but, in fact, he was suggesting she stand where she could be better heard.
Susie later spoke about the Campbells wine being served: a sparkling shiraz. Apparently, when this new addition was mooted, Colin complained: ''We don't need a new wine, we already have too many. We do red, white and fortified, not sparkling wine!''
Also, he didn't want to celebrate the family's 140th anniversary last year. He wanted to wait for the 150th to throw a big party.
Such glimpses into the dynamics of family wineries were the lighter sides of an event with a deeper message: that family-owned wineries hold an important place in the Australian wine industry, with a priceless heritage of vineyards, brands and history.
The AFFW consists of 12 family-owned wineries, most (but not all) with several generations behind them. They are said to span 16 regions (obviously not their home bases, but the regions where they source grapes), 48 generations, 5000 hectares of vines and 1200 years of winemaking experience. Oddly, the 12 families aren't distributed evenly over the country's 40-odd regions and six states. There are five South Australian, three Victorian, three NSW and one West Australian winery. Of the five South Australians, two are from Clare Valley, one from McLaren Vale and two from Barossa/Eden valleys.
Apparently, history has something to do with the selection of members but it's not the only factor. Some wineries have multiple generations (Henschke has six) but Howard Park is only just entering the second generation in the person of Richard, son of founders Jeff and Amy Burch. Richard described his dad as a grumpy old bastard - albeit big-hearted and loveable. ''It's his way or the highway,'' he says.
Also spearheading AFFW's next generation are Katherine Brown of Brown Brothers, Chris and Jane Tyrrell of Tyrrell's, Jessica Hill Smith of Yalumba, Justine Henschke of Henschke, Clinton Taylor of Taylor's, Tom and Sam Barry of Jim Barry Wines and Scott McWilliam of McWilliam's Wines. Leanne De Bortoli of De Bortoli Wines and Chester Osborn of d'Arenberg are the newest representatives of their families, although they're probably almost a generation older than the rest.
Several outstanding wines were also tasted. The 2006 Howard Park Riesling is a wondrously fine, pure, youthful yet complex wine from an auspiciously cool season. The 2011 Tyrrell's Johnno's Semillon is a rivetingly focused, minerally, taut wine, made from 1908 vines, hand-picked, basket-pressed and fermented on solids. I enjoyed the 2006 Jim Barry The Armagh Shiraz and 2005 d'Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz because of their tremendous richness, concentration and power. The Armagh declares 15.6 per cent alcohol but I challenge anyone to say it tastes unbalanced, so rich are its flavour and texture. The 2005 Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz was simply beautiful with its lightly minty, red-berry fragrance. And it was wise to serve Campbells Merchant Prince Rare Rutherglen Muscat last, as it blew everything off the table with its fathomless depth and complexity of flavour.
There were a few well-chosen quips, such as Chester Osborn pretending The Dead Arm was so named because if you drank too much you would go to sleep and when you woke up your arm would be numb from lying on it. And Darren De Bortoli saying that when his Noble One Botrytis Semillon was gifted to the Pope by then prime minister Kevin Rudd, Il Papa was impressed not to have been presented with a stuffed koala.
Perhaps inevitably, the new-direction wines presented by the younger generation were less exciting than the classics. But I was impressed by d'Arenberg's The Sticks and Stones '08, a blend of tempranillo, shiraz, tinta cao and souzao. Chester Osborn described how the Iberian grapes that make up most of the wine effectively chose themselves, because they performed so well in the heatwave conditions of the 2008 vintage.
Although AFFW is unashamedly a promotional group, and fairly randomly selected, the message it promulgates is a good one. It's a message of quality, reliability, sustainability and far-sightedness that springs from tradition, history and continuity of ownership. And the dads will just have to learn to cop it from the kids.
FINE FINO FOR THE BUYING
When Birks Chip Dry Fino - a sherry-style wine - won an award at the 2010 Royal Sydney Wine Show, it was one of those David and Goliath stories. This micro-boutique wine was aged in barrels in the cellar of Andrew Birks's suburban home in Wagga Wagga and was strictly for home consumption, not commercial sale. But it won the JCM Fornachon Memorial Trophy for the best fortified wine of the show, beating many of Australia's top wineries. Later that year it won a gold medal at the International Wine Challenge, in London, against Spanish competitors. Birks started the solera in his home 25 years ago when he was head of wine science at Charles Sturt University. Until now, it's been available only to family and friends. But he's now offering 1000 half-bottles for sale at $25 each. It's quite an aged fino style, with a deep-yellow hue and very complex, mature, nutty and spicy aromas with the yeasty-sea breeze tang imparted by the flor yeast, and it's rich, full and, yes, lipsmackingly dry in the mouth. Orders: 6931 9955, bidgeebong.com.au.
A BURNING ISSUE
Smoke-tainted grapes caused by wildfires and controlled burns have cost the wine industry at least $300 million in the past five years, according to the Australian Wine Research Institute. The institute hosts a free seminar in Melbourne tomorrow to inform grape growers and wine producers about smoke-taint issues. Dr Mark Krstic, of the AWRI, says it is ''one of the biggest challenges facing our industry''.
INSPIRED BY OCEAN'S 11
Wine people are fascinated by the question of how wine ages at the bottom of the sea. A recent report on a barrel of 2009 Bordeaux red wine, aged in the oyster beds of the Bay of Arcachon for six months, has been doing the rounds. The wine was retrieved and compared with a barrel of the same wine aged in the winery's cellar and found to be superior. It seems like drawing the longbow, but this experiment is being compared to the bottles of 200-year-old champagne found in a shipwreck at the bottom of the much deeper and colder Baltic Sea two years ago. The 11 bottles were sold at auction this month for £90,000 ($140,000). And in Greece, winemaker and a part-owner of Gaia Wines, Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, has placed a cage of bottles of his Gaia Santorini Assyrtiko white wine in the sea near his winery on the coast of Santorini.
COMES WITH THE TERRITORY
One of the cornerstones of the so-called natural wine movement (Good Living, May 29) is the use of ambient yeasts as opposed to inoculating with cultured yeast. Proponents insist ambient yeasts are a critical part of a wine's terroir. Whether localised yeast species even exist is the source of much argument. But recent New Zealand research adds weight to the theory that yeasts are territorial. The April 15 edition of US magazine Sommelier Journal contains a very interesting report on this research by Dr Jamie Goode. See sommelierjournal.com.