As we celebrate all that's good about this great, wide, sunburnt land, let's honour some who have done special service to Australian wine. Que syrah, syrah.
We may not have a long winemaking history in this country, not compared with the Europeans, but we have something they can never have, that true-blue, dinky-di never-say-die – or syrah – spirit that is distinctly, utterly ours alone.
It's downing a glass of hot red on a 40-degree day, inflating an empty wine cask bladder for a game of pool volleyball, sipping a rizza (riesling) in the Eden Valley or ordering a "pig" when you simply can't be bothered sounding out a few extra syllables for a p-i-n-o-t g-r-i-g-i-o. Time is short in this country when there's wine to consume.
So let's celebrate all that's good about this great, wide, sunburnt – occasionally flooded – land of wine. Enjoy.
Companions of the Order of Australian Wine (AWC)
Our greatest honour awarded for eminent achievement and merit of the highest degree
Graeme Leith of Passing Clouds: For Services to Wine
Graeme Leith is as enduring as the seasons, defying time and anything else that might keep him away from his vines. He has overcome deep tragedy, the hostile intentions of a changing climate and been forced to reinvent himself, his wines and his family's business in a new wine region. Daunting as his task has been, he has survived and thrived, making some of the most delicious chardonnays and pinot noirs in the Macedon Ranges with his winemaker son, Cameron, and marketing son, Jesse. It's one heck of a story, shared with great literary aplomb in his book, A Winemaker's Journey (Allen & Unwin)) released last year.
ACT winemakers: For Services to Humanity
Sometimes wine can be employed for the greater social good. There should be more of it.
In 2015, three ACT wine companies – Four Winds, Collector Wines, Eden Road – got together to make a special-release wine to help their community. The idea was born after Four Winds found itself with excess shiraz grapes following harvest. Neighbours Collector and Eden Road took the fruit and produced a shiraz, selling for $200 a case, with proceeds going to Companion House in Canberra to assist people in need, the vulnerable in our society who have survived trauma or torture, including newly arrived refugees seeking asylum.
Champagne Jayne (aka Jayne Powell): For Services to Wine Law
It remains an interesting dichotomy that the word Champagne can be attached to all manner of things – diamonds, ice-cream, watermelon, ham – but when a Sydney wine educator adds Champagne to her name, she is sued. Champagne Jayne – aka Jayne Powell – was taken to court by one of the most powerful wine producer bodies in the world, Comite Champagne, who accused her of trademark infringement, alleging she tarnished Champagne's brand image by referring to non-Champagne sparkling wines in some of her social media. The battle in Melbourne's Federal Court was long and expensive but sanity prevailed. Champagne Jayne gets to keep her name. The law is not an ass.
Officer of the Order of Australian Wine (AWO)
For outstanding achievement and service
Allen Jenkins, vineyard manager, Wynns Coonawarra Estate: For Services to the Land
Every wine producer, every wine region, needs someone like Allen Jenkins, a keeper of soil secrets, a deep repository of information on vines, their lifestyle, their needs, who understands how all of that translates into a great glass of wine, all the while fighting for and protecting the land. It's no small thing. Allen Jenkins is such a person, helping maintain the unflaggingly high wine quality of Wynns Coonawarra with one eye to the environment around him. His work is often ground-breaking, such as the state-of-the-art operation to regenerate old Wynns cabernet sauvignon and shiraz vines involving three-dimensional vine-by-vine aerial digital and infrared mapping. And then there's his four-year-long research project into drought effects on vines.
Seppelt Great Western: For Services to Australian Wine History
As Treasury Wine Estates gets the lock and chain ready for a June 30 closure of Seppelt Great Western, we acknowledge a grand Australian wine name confronted with an uncertain future. Seppelt Great Western was founded on hope by Englishman Joseph Best, who planted the first vines in 1866 and dug the now famous underground drives, a three-kilometre network of tunnels. His dreams were built upon by successive owners including Hans Irvine and Benno Seppelt, the name coming to be recognised around the country for sparkling wines of quality and reds of unsurpassed style. This was the home of Colin Preece (1923-1964), one of our greatest winemakers. History such as this is not to be taken for granted, ignored or dismantled. Australia is a young winegrowing country and names like Seppelt Great Western are to be celebrated, not shut down.
The winery dog: For Services to Australian Wine Tourism
Human resources manager, front of house, security consultant, cellar-door host, food compactor, entertainment director ... is there anything a winery dog won't do to make your visit to the cellar door the best day out in a long time? The winery dog, ever faithful, is a fixture at wineries around Australia, meeting and greeting with a ready smile and a wagging tail. Recognition is long overdue. Barossa legend Peter Lehmann was right: "You can't make good wine without a dog." So here's to Bacchus, Ruby, Chewbacca, Red, Mr Bear, Norbet,Whiskey, Pinot, Chardonnay, Scooby, Jaffa, Cooper and the Bob the Dog, et al. Keep up the good wagging work.
Medal of the Order of Australian Wine (AWOM)
For service worthy of particular recognition
The wine cask: For Services to Australian Wine Culture
Yes, the wine cask may have become a pinata for Australian politicians eyeing more wine taxes and the anti-alcohol lobby objecting to its pervasiveness, not to mention Gen Y turning it into a Goon of Fortune plaything, but let us take a moment to celebrate 51 years of a grand Australian invention. The cask is pure genius, a plastic bag, a box, a tap and a system, which courtesy of the "airless flow" invention, prevents wine from becoming oxidised. The cask broadened our wine-drinking minds and performed the not insignificant miracle of turning many a beer drinker into a wine drinker. Above all, it made wine egalitarian. Something to celebrate right there.
Rote grutze: For Services to Barossan Food and Wine
Rote grutze, a singularly Barossan dessert, one that can only be sourced during vintage and made, preferably, from ripe shiraz grapes, may live in the shadow of more celebrated German-infused fare such as lachsschinken (smoked pork fillet), mettwurst, jagerbraten (stuffed pork belly) and bienenstich ("bee sting") yeast cake, but no longer. Time for recognition. Take a couple of bunches of shiraz grapes, cook in water until tender, add sago to the grape juice, lemon peel, cinnamon stick, sugar, red wine, sherry or port, cook 15 minutes, taste, serve. Rote grutze brilliantly ties in the essential wine and food elements at the heart of Barossan life. (p.s. Margaret Lehmann's recipe should be enshrined.)
Vignerons Schmolzer and Brown: For Services to Respectful Land Ownership
Australian winemakers often appropriate Aboriginal words and phrases for their vineyard names or their wine labels. Sometimes they even employ Aboriginal art forms and totems. Yet, so very, very few make acknowledgement of the original inhabitants of their land. Jeremy Schmolzer and Tessa Brown in the Beechworth region are the exception, posting an Australian first on their wine labels with a single, powerful affirmation: "Beechworth is Waywurru country. We acknowledge and pay our respects to the people who belong to the lands on which these wines are now grown." A big statement from a small producer.