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Australian wine’s best kept secret to be revealed at London Wine Fair

This year’s London Wine Fair (7-9 June) will showcase wines and winemakers from Victoria – Australia’s most compelling wine region.

Despite being Australia’s smallest mainland state, the wide range of soils and micro-climates in Victoria means that it produces an unprecedented diversity of wine styles. John C. Brown of Brown Family Wine Group notes that “some areas are as warm as Spain and others are as cool as Alsace.” Differing microclimates, from maritime Mornington to the Alpine areas of the north-east, enable numerous varieties with different needs to thrive. 20 of Australia’s 62 recognised wine regions are in Victoria.

Left to right: Emma, Ross and Katherine Brown.

Victorian wine is gaining more and more attention, with a year-on-year value increase of 13.5% across the region. The GI of King Valley has exploded in value, with a 381% year-on-year increase. Natalie Pizzini of Pizzini Wines confesses that though King Valley may be “unknown” to many, “there is always a look of subdued satisfaction when we take our wines out for tasting to people who have never heard of us before or even heard of the variety.” 2021 is already being hailed as one of the King Valley’s best vintages in recent years.

Many British consumers may believe that all Australian wines are “sunshine in a bottle”, but there is a growing appreciation for the diversity and quality of wine emerging, especially from family-owned wineries in Victoria. Small land holdings for vines deter mass-producers and encourage a flourishing culture of artisanal winemakers.

Michael Murtagh, general manager of Buller Wines, suggests that Victoria offers “something for everyone to discover”: “From cool climate, high altitude whites to rich, bold reds and, of course, world renowned fortifieds”. Buller Wines, who will be present at London Wine Fair, sources from vineyards across the state in order to get the best out of each variety. As Murtaugh puts it, “let the fruit do the work”. 

Michael Murtagh

Despite the Yarra Valley’s 450million year old soils, the winemaking scene there is constantly rejuvenating. Rob Dolan worked as a winemaker for 25 years before launching his own label. Much of the regard the Yarra Valley is held in as a wine region is down to his efforts. “It’s filled with heritage and experience,” Dolan explains, “but also so much young talent, new ideas and innovation.” The Ordovician-age soils produce exceptional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Rob Dolan

Though Europeans may perceive Australia as “New World”, the winemaking pedigree of Victoria stretches back more than a century. The Brown family’s first vintage was in 1889, and one thing which has remained constant in the intervening decades is the spirit of innovation. Its micro-winery, the Kindergarten in Milawa, is where much of this innovation takes place today. “We pride ourselves on understanding contemporary consumer tastes,” Brown explains, “…70 percent of our production today is from varieties that we didn’t grow 30 years ago.” 

However, this isn’t to say that Victoria doesn’t have notable connections to European winemaking. The Italian influence is evident with several of the producers attending this year’s London Wine Fair. Both Vinea Marson and Pizzini cultivate Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and make their own Prosecco-style sparkling wine, but the end results are startlingly different. Madeleine Marson’s grandparents emigrated from Northern Italy, and she is eager to speak with winemakers from the old country on Vinea Marson’s first ever visit to the London Wine Fair. 

Natalie Pizzini

Marson says that Italian grape varieties produce great wines in Victoria due to their “savouriness and structure”. Nikki Palun, the owner and winemaker at Susuro, argues that “once you start making the wines, it’s only natural to start exploring Italian winemaking styles, especially to tame some of the more unruly tannin structures and enhance the unique flavours.” 

However, the winemaking is not a mere imitation of that in Italy. “It’s important to remain open and respect the grapes and what they are trying to tell you”, Palun suggests. “I prefer to be fully attentive and gently coax the grapes towards their most alluring expression of the season and vineyard, rather than be too prescriptive.” Pizzini summarises it as using Italian varieties to make “distinctively Victorian” wines.

Italian heritage is also honoured by what’s on the table, as well as in the glass. Pizzini mentions that certain dishes are always taken into consideration when making wine: “Joel Pizzini looks for bay leaf, rosemary and thyme influences – just like Nonna would add to her delicious ragù.”

Victoria is rapidly gaining a glowing reputation for its food scene, with Melbourne’s multiculturalism meaning that a range of cuisines are present. Though Vinea Marson has Italian roots, the winery has extensively collaborated with Austro-Malaysian chef Tony Tan. 

Madeleine and Mario Marson

The relationship began when Madeleine’s father, Mario, used to deliver wines to Tan’s restaurant in the 1990s. Rekindling it by matching Marson’s Italian-inspired wines to a plethora of Asian cuisines has been a creative challenge. Madeleine particularly celebrates the pairing of Nebbiolo with Cantonese roast duck and lobster bao with the Grazia blend of Pinot Bianco, Malvasia d’Istria, Friulano and Picolit.

Excitement for this year’s London Wine Fair is shared among the winemakers. Garrick Henderson of Rob Dolan Wines is relieved by the prospect of seeing people face-to-face : “After two and a half years of not being able to travel, we crave that human interaction and the ability to share our world class wines”.

The sense of the Unlock Victoria campaign is one of eagerness to show attendees something which may not have been off their radar. Brown says that “the theme of adventure and discovery runs throughout our business so it is apt that we will be within the Wines Unearthed aspect of London Wine Fair”.

Nikki Palun

Palun points to the importance of the Fair as a platform for discussion: “This is a powerful place to connect with people, especially when it comes to creating strategies on climate change and what more the global wine industry can do.” Eagerness to view it as an opportunity to network and share ideas was also expressed by Marson, who wishes to learn from “female winemakers from here in Australia and around the world”. 

Murtagh neatly sums up what the #unlockvictoria campaign stands for: “The quality and diversity of Victoria speaks for itself. We’ve got great stories to tell, from our history, unique vineyard sites, world-renowned wine styles and an array of emerging and on trend varieties, it’s just a matter of taking the UK wine trade on the journey.”

To hear more about Unlock Victoria visit stands 113-117 and 144, where twelve producers from the region will be telling their stories and showcasing their wines. 

Attendees will also have the chance to unlock a special prize from the safe on the stand. Just pick up a key from one of the Wine Victoria team.

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