By Franz Scheurer
According to the most recent classification of Australian wines published by the Langton’s auction house, there are 7 Australian wines listed in the “Exceptional” category. To qualify for entry the producer must have made 15 vintages and while ultimately the ratings are governed by market demand, a straw poll of writers and winemakers shows that the industry is in broad agreement with Langton’s conclusions.
These wines are:
Henschke Hill of Grace
Mount Mary Quintet
Moss Wood Cabernet
Penfolds Bin 707
Leeuwin Estate ‘Art Series’ Chardonnay
All of these wines are available through retail outlets with the exception of Wendouree, which is available through mailing list purchases only.
For many lovers of big Australian red wines the discussion begins and ends with Wendouree. Truly exceptionally cellar-worthy, these full bodied and gripping red wines are the result of extremely low yields from the very old, unirrigated vines of Shiraz, Malbec, Mataro (Mourvèdre), and Cabernet Sauvignon, many of them growing on untrellised bush-vines.
As remarkable as the wines are, even more remarkable are Tony and Lita Brady, who consider themselves the custodians of a priceless treasure: the 1914 stone winery, its original equipment, the time-honoured method of wine making and the time-forgotten vineyard at Clare.
Tony Brady, holds a degree in law and Lita Brady, a fully qualified winemaker (Charles Sturt University) left high powered city careers to devote their lives to keeping Wendouree what it always has been: a place of honest, old fashioned, careful and artisan wine making where no short cuts are taken, ever.
The soil is shallow red loam over limestone and yields are typically as low as four to five tonnes per hectare. (The 1990 Shiraz, from vines planted in 1919 yielded 2.9 tonnes of very small berries per hectare)
On a recent visit Tony and Lita met us at the winery and ushered us inside. Immediately the smell of freshly brewed coffee tickled our senses and watching the intensity of the coffee-making ritual it became apparent that Tony likes to do thing perfectly or not at all. A thorough tour confirmed the commitment to perfection and honesty in their wine making and I can still see us all gawking at the astonishing wine-vault, which, again, shows off tradition and Tony’s incredible handy-man skills.
Chatting to the Bradys is like a leisurely roller coaster ride through topics as far apart as wine vintages and German art movies. Extremely well read and hiding a very quick and incisive mind behind a deliberately slow, country manner, they are both an absolute joy to be with. Lita made an interesting comment that although she is the trained wine maker it is Tony’s intuition that often makes the difference between a good and a great wine. (This was later confirmed in a discussion with Wendouree consulting wine maker and long time friend Stephen George at Ashton Hills Vineyards)
The winery is not open to the public and there is no cellar door. Wines are sold exclusively though a mailing list. Prices are kept deliberately reasonable and faithful customers are rewarded with reasonable quantities every year. Total quantities are low, demand is high, resulting in small allocations of each of the wines ordered to the mail order customers. The Bradys need to be thanked for their generosity, not just for the way they looked after us but for the way they look after all the passionate wine lovers who are lucky enough to be their customers by spending their lives following their passion and ignoring commercial realities. They are a remarkable pair, indeed.
Wendouree produces red wines from Shiraz, Cabernet, Mataro (Mourvèdre) and Malbec grapes and a dessert wine from Muscat of Alexandria. The wines are all extremely long lived and a 1976 Shiraz Mataro we tried at the winery still had at least 15 more years to go.
These wines, described by James Halliday as “the iron fist in a velvet glove”, must be tried to be believed and if you can’t get a hold of any, you’d better find a friend who can!
P.O. Box 27
Clare SA 5453
Tel.: +61 8 8842 2896