Brown Magpie wins trophy at Boutique Wine Awards

Brown Magpie was the star at this year’s Boutique Wine Awards, winning the trophy for top wine of show with its 2013 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir (tastings). It’s a name most wine lovers would not have heard, but the vineyard is in the Geelong region of southern Victoria – a region whose fame with pinot noir is well established. It’s the region of Bannockburn winery (tastings), the Farr family (tastings), Lethbridge (tastings), Oakdene (tastings), Provenance (tastings), Bellarine Estate (tastings), Austin’s (tastings), Curlewis (tastings) and numerous other small wineries which have all had major success with pinot noir.

Brown Magpie is near Moriac in the hinterland of the evocatively named Surf Coast – that part of the Geelong region which extends down to the coast between Torquay and Anglesea. It is a genuinely cool viticultural climate. And yes: there are brown-and-white magpies living on the property!

Others in the Geelong region to do well with pinot noir this year were Clyde Park (tastings) and De Sciascio (tastings). Clyde Park, which is in the Moorabool Valley, Geelong’s first sub-region to come to prominence, won a gold medal with its College Block F pinot noir (tastings), while the College Block B2 (tastings) also fared well, at least on my score-sheet. As well, De Sciascio, from the Surf Coast, scored a strong bronze medal. All are 2013 vintage wines.

The Boutique Wine Awards is a ‘discovery’ wine competition. This is its 19th year. I have chaired the judging panel every year, and every year the trophy-list turns up a number of names we judges have never heard of before. This makes judges slightly nervous: is it a flash-in-the-pan? An isolated fluke among a sea of otherwise mediocre offerings? Sometimes yes, but fortunately, rarely. Fox Creek (tastings), Chain of Ponds (tastings) and many others were unknown to us when they first bobbed up in this competition and won trophies in the early years.

Brown Magpie has been ‘knocking on the door’ for several years, and this is the best wine I’ve seen from them to date*. The 20-hectare property was bought by Loretta and Shane Breheny in 1998 and 9 hectares planted to predominantly pinot noir, but also pinot gris, shiraz, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Viticulture is Loretta’s field, the winery Shane’s, although they also employ a highly experienced winemaker in Daniel Greene.

Most importantly, this wine also won the trophy for the ‘best estate grown and produced’ wine. This award is the essence of the competition, which aims to encourage and celebrate small wineries which process no more than 250 tonnes of grapes a year. It goes to the best wine in the show which has been produced in the true ‘vigneron’ manner: the grapes must be grown on the estate vineyard and the wine made in the estate’s winery – not by a contract winemaker in another location; not from bought-in grapes; and certainly not a ‘negociant-style’ wine, where the owner of the label does nothing more than buy grapes and pay a contract winemaker to do the work. This scenario is increasingly common in the wine industry, and does nothing for the industry as it involves no investment in infrastructure and no real commitment. We consider this award almost as important as ‘top wine of show’, and when the same winery wins both accolades, as Brown Magpie did, it’s a special moment indeed.

Tasmania and Central Otago were the other two regions to stand out in the pinot noir class. Tasmania’s Stefano Lubiana had two pinots in the class (Estate – tastings and Primavera, both 2012), both scored gold medals and in the taste-off for top pinot, they ran second and third to the Brown Magpie. Home Hill also scored golds with both its 2013s: Estate (tastings) and Kelly’s Reserve (tastings). Kelvedon 2012 (tastings) was the final Tassie gold medal pinot.

A quick mention to a personal favourite: Grove Estate Sommita Nebbiolo 2013 (tastings) won the trophy for best ‘other’ red variety. This is a very worthy result to a hard-working estate in the NSW Hilltops region owned and run by Brian Mullany. He is listed as winemaker, but the wine was actually made in the Long Rail Gully winery (tastings) in the Canberra region. This is delicious, effortless-tasting wine in a modern fruit-accented style with gentle tannins. Another feather in the Grove Estate cap: Ravensworth’s 2013 Nebbiolo (tastings), from the same vineyard, although not entered in this show, is also an outstanding wine.

Other results:

*Although the 2012 vintage of the same wine won gold medals in Melbourne and Canberra, and the trophy for best wine at the Geelong Wine Show 2013.

Full results:

First published in Sydney Morning Herald, Good Food – 12 Aug 2014.

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