Written By: Mark Crisler
In March 2009, Old Bridge Cellars invited a group of 15 employees, partners and guests to spend 11 days immersing ourselves in the wine culture of Australia. This was not a trip for amateurs or lightweights, as we traversed the whole country by airplane, bus and minivan, tasting wines and learning about the unique wine regions and wineries.
Over the past two decades, the wine industry as a whole has seen an increased consolidation of wineries and ‘big company’ buyouts, which has made it more and more difficult for the family-owned wineries to get noticed, and Australia is no exception.
Old Bridge Cellars is an importer of artisan Australian winemakers whose mission is to promote the country’s ‘real wines’, and to preserve their independence and regional heritage. Many of them are 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th generation winemakers whose philosophy is minimal intervention in the winery and respecting the land to create wines that remain true to the soil from which they come. This is our adventure…
I arrived in Sydney early in the morning, excited to see a new country, and start what was sure to be an amazing trip. This was our only free day, giving us time to get acclimated to the time zone and see the city. Since coffee is so highly regarded in Australia, my first stop was an Illy cafe for some “real” coffee. Ok, I happen to be a coffee fanatic too…the espresso or short black as it’s called here, was awesome! Energized, I took a walk around the harbor to see the Opera House, the “Rocks” District and the Old Bridge. Soon after, I met up with the rest of my travel companions for a ferry ride across the harbor to Watson’s Bay for dinner at a fun seafood restaurant. It was the first of many meals and fine wines of the trip…as well as a few good Refresha’s (local beers).
The first of many early morning wake-up calls, we headed north of Sydney to the Hunter Valley and Brokenwood Winery. The Hunter Valley has an impressive grape-growing history, with the first vineyards being planted in 1825. Now it’s a very popular wine region for serious aficionados and casual tourists alike. It’s also the new playground for the wealthy who want to start their own wineries.
Brokenwood is one of the original wineries of the Hunta (Hunter Valley). Iain Riggs, the Chief Winemaker and part owner, has helped transition this estate from a small, hobby winery into an international icon.
We were met by the winemaker, PJ, to get an overview of the winery (and thankfully we were greeted with a coffee). Above the tasting room, where we did our tastings, they have a full-time chef, who feeds all the employees gourmet meals, especially
We went to see the Graveyard vineyard. It was named that because that plot of land was slated to be the local graveyard in the 1800’s, but that never happened and it found a more noble purpose by producing Shiraz grapes for one of Australia’s most iconic wines, the Graveyard Shiraz. We tasted through more than 15 wines. From their renowned older vintage Semillons, to Cabernet, Pinot Noir and finally a few vintages of the “Graveyard” Shiraz. Such amazing wines, so much tradition and heritage. After a brief break at our hotel, we came back for a seasonal dinner on the balcony and a game of risk, they call “Moriarty”. It’s a game where two players blind fold themselves, lay face down on a table toward each other and take swats at each other with a rolled up newspaper to score points. As it turns out this was a ruse to get the president of Old Bridge Cellars to participate, where he was duct taped to the table and bobbled by the crew. Ah…those Aussies.