Bon Voyager, the Margaret River Winery Committed to Sustainability

Once upon a time, the wine industry was all about red and white. Today, its leaders are all about thinking — and acting — green.

Article by Max Veenhuyzen

Planted in 1978 by Peter and Jennifer Gherardi, Voyager Estate has established itself as one of the region’s showpiece cellar doors. Photography courtesy of Voyager Estate.

The 2021 vintage was a challenging one for Margaret River. In addition to labour shortages, the region also contended with atypical weather throughout the growing season including, crucially, rain and rising humidity at harvest time. Some properties, however, fared better than others.

“It was a challenging year from a disease perspective, but being organic we were in a better place and everything was ripe at the right time and we picked beautifully clean fruit,” says Steve James, the head of winemaking at Voyager Estate. “Chatting to a few other organic people down here this year, it was the same story.” James talked with various conventional winemakers and says he “could tell they were preparing for me to tell them it [the vintage] was a disaster, but it was very much the opposite”.

Planted in 1978 by Peter and Jennifer Gherardi, Voyager Estate has established itself as one of the region’s showpiece cellar doors, thanks largely to the vision (and bankroll) of miner Michael Wright, who bought the property in 1991. While opulent Cape Dutch architecture and manicured gardens denote Voyager as an operation with style, the estate’s green credentials tick plenty of boxes for substance.

Voyager Estate has employed regenerative farming practices for the past 20 years. Photography by Adrian Gaut.

According to James, Voyager has employed regenerative farming practices for the past 20 years, with composting, planting cover crops and use of natural-based products for vine and soil health among the initiatives introduced. (When James joined in 1998, the property was farmed conventionally using chemicals.) In 2017, Voyager decided to make its commitment to the planet official and began the process to organically certify its vineyards and winery. To date, 90 hectares of Voyager’s 115 hectares of vineyard are certified, with the remaining vines due to get the green tick by 2023.

While organic viticulture and winemaking require significantly more manpower than conventional operations, James believes it’s time and money well spent, both in terms of job satisfaction of staff (“The crew love working in an environment without toxic chemicals,” he says) and the quality of the end product. “The environment is just one of the key reasons I was trying to go organic,” says James. “My focus as head of winemaking and viticulture is about making wines of place — that’s what fine wine is about. I really believe to achieve that, you need to be farming organically or, if not, pretty damn close.”

Although green might be the flavour of the moment — fellow marquee Margaret River producer Vasse Felix is also in the process of organic conversion, while Cullen has long been celebrated as an organic winemaking pioneer — Voyager’s green credentials date back to 2004. Then-estate manager Alexandra Burt (now the owner of Voyager) established the Environmental Stewardship Team to look at how the business could run greener and cleaner. Today, this process is being driven by Michelle McManus, a farming consultant and, since June, Voyager’s newly appointed head of sustainability.

In time, Landsmith Home Farm will supply produce and meat to Voyager’s restaurant. Photography courtesy of Voyager Estate.

McManus keeps a diverse beat, but looking after Landsmith Home Farm, a property in Margaret River that is being rehabilitated using the same green principles as Voyager’s main estate, is much of her focus. In time, Landsmith Home Farm will supply produce and meat to Voyager’s restaurant. “There are some really big chunky items we’re working on, but there are always things to incrementally make more positive impacts,” McManus says.

As to the sustainability issues of tomorrow, McManus has packaging, climate change and water security in her sights — not necessarily because they are issues for Voyager Estate, but because they’re issues for the industry as a whole. But as complex as these subjects might be, team Voyager very much believes getting back to basics is the key to protecting the planet. “I’ve never understood complicated farming,” says James. “Farming, in many ways, is about keeping things simple.”

Four Australian Natural Winemakers Leading the Charge

These producers work with the motto of less is more to create some of Australia’s most dynamic drops.

Article by Emma Pegrum

Natural winemakers seek to create “honest” (meaning unaltered) expressions of different grape varieties, soil characters and ever-fluctuating growing conditions. Photography by Grape Things.

Natural wine is having a moment. Stocked in savvy bars, restaurants and bottle shops, these light, very drinkable wines are proving an appealing alternative to the often dense, high-alcohol styles we’re accustomed to. But with the category’s rising popularity has come confusion: what does natural actually mean?

The idea is that natural wine is wine made from organically or biodynamically farmed grapes that undergo a natural fermentation, with nothing added to or removed from the juice at any stage. Fermented grapes: that’s it.

With conventional and minimal-intervention wine (often called “lo-fi” wine), vineyards may be farmed organically (or not), but are usually irrigated and producers use chemical additions throughout all stages of the winemaking process, whether to kill weeds or to fine, filter or stabilise the wine. These practices remove much of the risk from farming and winemaking, helping to create a consistent product — something natural winemakers don’t prioritise. Instead, natural winemakers seek to create “honest” (that is, unaltered) expressions of different grape varieties, soil characters and ever-fluctuating growing conditions.

While there are many Australian winemakers using minimal-intervention techniques and many more transitioning towards fresher styles to accommodate changing tastes and capitalise on the hype, there are very few natural producers. Here are four to look out for.

Sam Vinciullo

This solo grape-grower and winemaker lives and makes wine in Margaret River, Western Australia. His first vintage was in 2015, prior to which he worked in the US and Europe, including on Mount Etna, Italy, a natural winemaking hotspot that informed Vinciullo’s ideas about farming and growing. Vinciullo recently ended his lease on Cowaramup vineyard, looking to purchase his own property and grow a new vineyard from scratch, exactly how he wants it. The vineyard from which his current wines were produced was dry grown, a method that encourages root growth into the most nutrient-rich depths of soil, and was farmed without herbicides or systemic chemicals. His wines are made without any additions, fining or filtration, such as added sulphur, relying instead on Vinciullo’s expertise to achieve clean, stable and delicious wines. samvinciullo.com

Manon

Farmers and winemakers Monique Millton and Tim Webber have created a vibrant ecosystem on their property in Forest Range in the Adelaide Hills. Their biodynamic vineyards surround their family home, which sits about 600 metres above sea level and has an incredible aspect. Here, Millton and Webber are working towards establishing an entirely closed-loop farm where all nutrients and organic matter taken from the earth are returned to it, regenerating soils, supporting biodiversity and minimising carbon outputs. Their wines are lively, complex and feel-good, drawing from their holistic farming for purity and minerality. manonwine.com

Scintilla

While working as a sommelier in Perth and Melbourne, Sydney-born James Madden saw a lack of understanding in the hospitality industry about how wine is made as well as a lack of quality wines without additions in the Australian market. Now, he is making some of the most exciting natural wines in the country under his label, Scintilla. While Madden doesn’t yet have his own vineyard, he works with small, organic growers in South Australia with whom he has close relationships to nurture grapes for his production. Madden makes a variety of very drinkable wines, many of which — such as his savagnin and chardonnay — mimic the moreish, high-acidity, semi-oxidative style of wines from the Jura, a natural wine mecca in the east of France. @scintilla_wines

Limus

Based in Mount Gambier in South Australia’s Limestone Coast region, Kyatt Dixon started his wine label, Limus, in 2017 and has quickly established himself as one to watch. Like Madden, Dixon doesn’t yet own a vineyard, but manages the vineyards of other growers to ensure they’re farmed according to his organic principles. The soils of these vineyards are enriched by ash from the eruption of Mount Schank and Mount Gambier about 5000 years ago — the most recent volcanic activity on mainland Australia. The resulting wines have a distinctive mineral quality, particularly notable in Dixon’s expectation-defying riesling and chardonnay. @limus_wine

The Cool Kids of the South West

Two new wave Western Australian winemakers are making a name for themselves by creating the wine they like, their way.

Article by Lisa Perkovic

Andries Mostert and wife Yoko Luscher-Mostert from Brave New Wine bottled their first vintage in 2013. Photography by Nic Duncan.

“Pi-Ou Pinot Noir”. “Sunshine & Hercules Riesling”. “Riot, Girl!” white blend. The names give up the game early. Brave New Wine are shaking up winemaking from a shed in Western Australia’s Great Southern. Over at LS Merchants, a few hours’ drive to the Margaret River region, winemaker Dylan Arvidson splits his time between the wine making shed, his brand-new cellar door and a deejay booth.

Brave New Wine and LS Merchants are part of a growing trend of winemakers who are serious about wine but don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re here to play with everything from grape varietals and winemaking techniques to bottle shapes, labels and names. Why? At Brave New Wine, winemaker Andries Mostert began small batch winemaking as an antidote to his commercial winemaking career, where wine styles are often dictated by marketing teams and the demand for consistent taste profiles every season.

Mostert and his wife Yoko Luscher-Mostert bottled their first vintage in 2013. They began with experimental small batches, to drink themselves and to swap with other producers. From the beginning, the focus has been on fizzy Pétillant Naturel (pét nat) styles and skin-contact wines – styles that are unconventional, experimental and according to the duo, fun. These days their line-up also includes easy drinking wines like Rude Boy, a grenache, shiraz, tempranillo and vermentino blend that’s light and low in tannin, designed to match Australian ways of eating and drinking. But it’s their avant-garde styles that have put them on the map.

Yoko Luscher-Mostert hand draws the latest bottle art; she does all of the brightly coloured, highly detailed illustrations, now sold as prints as well as labels. Photography courtesy of Brave New Wine.

“People are now seeking out wines that ten to fifteen years ago they would have turned up their nose at,” says Luscher-Mostert. “Cloudy wine, wine with sediment in it, just never would have sold.” Pétillant Naturel, French for “naturally sparkling”, is made by bottling wine before finishing its first fermentation for natural fizz, and skin-contact white wines have been fermented with the grape skins, which are usually removed before fermentation.  Both techniques produce big flavours you can drink young.

LS Merchants founder and winemaker Dylan Arvidson believes the pét nat is here to stay. “There’s an insatiable thirst for the pét nat right now,” he says. The style’s recent resurgence began with young wine lovers looking for experimental drops, but its popularity has only grown, “Interest first came from the hipsters,” says Arvidson, “Now it has transcended everything. We get forty, fifty, sixty-year-olds trying it. They’re confused about it, they want to learn more about it, but they love it.”

Arvidson’s 2020 Fools Gold pét nat launched late last year and sold out well before the end of summer. That’s not unusual for his wines, which are ubiquitous in Perth restaurants and bottle shops, but for a pét nat he was surprised. Like Brave New Wine, Arvidson is here to have some fun, starting his own label to make wine the way he wanted . With a pedigree that includes mentorship by prolific Margaret River region winemaker Mark Messenger, he has no shortage of traditional skills, but was inspired by local breweries to start punching out small batch experimental ranges. He’s a Liquid Surprises Merchant (LS Merchants for short). For him it’s all about dropping the pretention in wine making, finding wine you like and enjoying it.

Like Brave New Wines, Arvidson buys grapes from growers across the region and makes the most of the diversity he finds each season. “We don’t want ten wines that taste the same with a small amount of variance, we want you to be able to taste the site and the different varietals in each one. We’re trying to make wine that is well made, yes, but has expression and a sense of place.”

LS Merchants winemaker Dylan Arvidson splits his time between the wine making shed, his brand-new cellar door and a deejay booth. Photography by Rowan Emmett.

Arvidson puts an emphasis on approachability, steering clear of what he terms “show wines” or “trophy wines”. “Gone are the days when customers come in and ask, ‘is this a 95-point wine?’. They’re looking for wines they enjoy, they’re trying to connect with a brand they find relevant to them, that they can believe in, and ultimately it comes down to the glass: is the wine drinkable or is it not?” says Arvidson.

It’s an attitude Brave New Wines shares. In an industry where increasingly the model is pay to play, Mostert and Luscher-Mostert are more often than not refusing to play. Carefully choosing where they enter their wines for judging, they are favouring the likes of Young Gun of Wine over the somewhat incumbent James Halliday Wine Companion. “Young Gun of Wine are the new guard, they have their finger on the pulse and see the shift in what people are interested in,” says Luscher-Mostert. Established in 2007, Young Gun of Wine describe wine scoring as “the dark side of wine”, instead focusing on championing winemakers and educating wine drinkers.

Skipping wine shows hasn’t done either brand harm. With no marketing budgets, they’ve built avid followings on social media, a platform that allows them to reach their customers and bring them along on the journey from grape to bottle. Following LS Merchants on Instagram, you’ll see everything from Arvidson running the bottling machine to juggling life as a young dad. Over at Brave New Wine, photos show Luscher-Mostert hand drawing the latest bottle art (she does all of the brightly coloured, highly detailed illustrations, now sold as prints as well as labels), and Mostert trying out a clay amphora for wine fermentation. Followers might get to vote on a new wine name or get early access to pop up events. It’s instantaneous connection and it takes these winemakers out from behind the bottle and into customer’s lives. The drinker’s experience doesn’t start or end at the bottle shop. These new wave winemakers are building communities and changing taste buds, one bottle at a time.

Without China, What Now for Australian Wine Exports?

A new tariff in China has local winemakers scrambling to find alternative export markets.

Article by Jane Rocca

(Photography by Maksym Kaharlytskyi)

The Barossa region, about an hour’s drive north of Adelaide, is home to some of Australia’s best-known wineries, including Penfolds, Henschke, Seppeltsfield and Schild Estate. The latter is prized for its shiraz, which wooed palettes across China until a new tariff stopped trade in its tracks.

In November, China’s commerce ministry announced that Australian wines entering its ports would be subject to a temporary tariff ranging from 107 per cent to 212 per cent. The announcement followed allegations that Australia has been “dumping” subsidised wine in China, destroying the local industry.

Since the tariff came into play, exports have dropped 98 per cent, halting a trade worth $1.2 billion annually to Australian winemakers.

Sue Henderson, the CEO of Schild Estate, says the wine industry is caught in the middle of an international trade dispute that has little to do with importers. While Schild Estate primarily relies on Australian sales, China’s appetite for Barossa wine was a welcome boost.

“Sadly, governments are using political pressure through trade to be heavy-handed with each other and we’re in the way,” Henderson says. “The Chinese market was very profitable for us. We spent a significant amount of time over the years visiting China and nurturing good relationships. They’re very fond of our wines but now [have] no incentive to buy it. They’re flabbergasted by the situation but not allowed to say anything.”

James March, the CEO of the Barossa Grape & Wine Association, says China is Australia’s largest export market, with the Barossa exporting 60 per cent of its annual vintage to China (the remainder stays in Australia). Now the region known for its deep red wines is hoping to expand its presence in New Zealand, the UK, the US and Canada.

The association is known for its biennial wine auction, held in conjunction with the fine wine seller Langton’s (this year’s event will be held from April to May, in the Barossa, Sydney and online). In the past, the auction has been the domain of Chinese investors, who help to push up prices for the prestigious Penfolds “Bin” lots. In 2019, a Chinese businessman purchased a six-litre bottle of 2013 Penfolds Grange Imperial Shiraz for $58,250. Who auctioneers will sell to now remains to be seen.

The collectability of its wines and guaranteed provenance puts the Barossa in good stead. “We have buyers interested from Hong Kong, Taiwan, London and the West Coast of America,” March says, “and many who bid online, too, so the market is open to everyone. While in the past few years we’ve seen an increase of interest from China, there’s others keen to purchase, too.”

(Photography by Jozse Hocza)

March’s association is working hard to help winemakers land lucrative accounts overseas and has a renewed interest in the US markets in California, Texas, Florida, Illinois and New York. The association is also working with the international non-profit organisation GuildSomm to lure American importers.

The winemaker Cath Oates, from Oates Ends in Margaret River, was in the final stages of arranging a Chinese export deal when the tariff politics played out. She has her eye on the US market but says Australia needs to convince America that there’s more to our industry than Yellow Tail.

“Australian wine has some work to do there in terms of lifting our image,” Oates says. “Wine intelligence data suggests we make fun, cheerful wines, but we are so much more than that.” Oates says her strategy is to take her chardonnay and reds to an educated, premium-wine market in a few key US states, targeting those who desire top-end wine.

The CEO of Seppeltsfield, Steven Trigg, is also looking to pivot to other markets. The company’s owner, Warren Randall, travelled to China 39 times in eight years to secure export deals for Seppeltsfield. Now they’ve all but vanished. And while tariffs have not been imposed on 24,000-litre premium bulk wine imports (which made up part of Seppeltsfield’s sales) the message is clear: don’t risk it.

“The importers in China aren’t taking the wine from us because they are told it won’t clear customs,” Trigg says. The Chinese market accounted for 15 per cent of the company’s business but all is not lost, he says, thanks to the Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement. “There’s tremendous optimism about the UK,” says Trigg, who is also exporting smaller volumes to Japan, Vietnam and Singapore.

In October, Seppeltsfield signed with US distributor Legend Imports, run by the American husband-and-wife team Jonathan Ross and Jane Lopes. The company believes that success in the American market depends on having a distributor that has visited the winery, knows the product and has connections in the US.

Darren Rathbone, the CEO of Rathbone Wine Group, which includes Yering Station in the Yarra Valley, Mount Langi Ghiran in the Grampians and Xanadu in Margaret River, says there is no hard and fast solution. Rathbone has been selling to China since 2007, with 20 per cent of his business coming from Chinese sales. Now there are no transactions happening. “When the tariffs came in, we saw a short-term increase of sales in China of stock already in their market,” Rathbone says. “We enjoyed it while it lasted but now we’re kind of trapped, trying to figure our best way forward.”

Thailand is his second largest export market, but it’s been severely impacted by the pandemic, with the closure of resorts that stock Australian wines. It’s a similar story for the New York restaurants that usually pour his wine: they’ve been operating at 25 per cent capacity. “We have to remain optimistic,” Rathbone says. “But it’s a tough time for any winemaker, with no real end in sight just yet.”

The Independent Tasmanian Winemakers Creating Sparkling To Rival Champagne

Local growers are producing world-class sparkling with a distinctly Tasmanian edge.

Article by David Matthews

Tasmania’s cooler climate results in grapes that strike a balance between fruit and acidity – something that’s much harder to achieve at a lower latitude. Photography by Adam Gibson.

Deep in lockdown, with restaurants shut, borders closed and tourism non-existent, a group of Tasmanian winemakers were looking for an out. Even if bottle shop and online trade was booming in the big cities, for those specialist vintners whose market comes more through boutiques, restaurants and their own cellar doors, the stream had dried up.

Enter Wines of Tasmania. Launched in September by Katrina Myburgh and a collective of makers (including Delamere, Holm Oak, Moores Hill and Sinapius). The online shop brings some of the most exciting independent Tasmanian labels together in one place, with the goal of supplementing the cellar-door experience and sharing rare and hard-to-find local wines with the rest of the country.

Each month, a Wines of Tasmania panel run a blind tasting of premium local drops, then use the results to fill changing red, white and mixed packs that are available by subscription on a rolling basis. So, one month the red pack might showcase pinot noir from different labels, while the white could bring together biodynamic sauvignon blanc or chardonnay matured on lees (the yeast left behind post-fermentation) and supplemented with something special.

Wines of Tasmania founder, Katrina Myburgh, believes winemaking is deeply personal and an expression of the winemaker and their interpretation of the environment. Photography by Adam Gibson.

For Myburgh, though, it’s the sparkling that’s generating the most interest. Tasmania and sparkling wine have an illustrious, if not long, history, starting with Louis Roederer’s 1985 partnership to plant the common Champagne grapes – chardonnay and pinot noir – with Heemskerk, which acted as something of a catalyst.

Now, we have makers such as Hardy’s Ed Carr, who with Arras consistently produces sparkling that ranks among the world’s best. But it’s the new wave of smaller winemakers, producing wines of poise and character, and often in smaller numbers that Myburgh wanted to showcase. “Basically, Tasmanian owned, grown, made wines is the criteria,” she says. “One sparkling brand here, Henskens Rankin, only do [around 1500] bottles of a particular vintage. All they do is sparkling, so essentially we’re giving that rare, hard-to-find promise.”

Fran Austin and Shane Holloway of Delamere are part of this wave, and with their own estate and vineyards, their sparkling can be more easily likened to grower Champagne, with a focus on terroir – or taste of place – and personality over a particular house style. The result is sparkling where the people growing and pressing the grapes are the ones disgorging the bottles, and pouring it at the cellar door, too.

“Sparkling used to be pretty much exclusively the domain of the big companies in Tasmania, but this is starting to change,” says Austin. “There’s been a real influx of new young players over the last 10 or so years and a huge increase in the number of independent brands, as well as the quality and professionalism of these brands.”

Moores Hill Estate is Tasmania's first 100% off grid winery. Photography by Adam Gibson.

Like the larger players, these growers benefit from conditions suited for sparkling wine; Tasmania’s cooler climate results in grapes that strike a balance between fruit and acidity – something that’s much harder to achieve at a lower latitude. The result is sparkling with a Tasmanian edge. “We adore Champagne and draw great inspiration from that region. Our wines, however, focus strongly on the characteristics of our site,” says Austin. “Our goal is to make sparkling wines that are comparable to Champagne in quality, while being distinctly Tasmanian.”

The Wines of Tasmania packs, then, are built around these principles, with a range of styles in each category. A sparkling pack might feature pure, zesty Moores Hill Blancs de Blanc, floral Stefano Lubiana Brut Rosé and sweet, briochey Freycinet Radenti, if not a Delamere sparkling.

“Finding a collection of sparkling wine of this nature is rare because of the dominance of corporate winemaking in the sector,” says Austin. “Tasmania is still a region of intrigue. There’s so much untapped potential here. It’s a really exciting time to be part of building the Tasmanian wine-industry story.”