Three husband and wife wine partnerships

At my recent class on new-wave wines at Wine Square, Camperdown, three husband-and-wife winemaker-and-viticulturalist partnerships were represented, purely by coincidence.

Mike Brown and Melissa Buttery-Brown are winemaker and viticulturalist at Gemtree in McLaren Vale; Dudley Brown and Dr Irina Santiago-Brown are winemaker and viticulturalist at Inkwell, also in McLaren Vale, and Stephen and Prue Henschke are winemaker and viticulturalist at Henschke in Eden Valley.

I wonder how many more there are around the country. No doubt there are many family enterprises where the family is the work-force, but partnerships of this calibre are rarer. In each case, the female partner is a trained and highly-experienced viticulturalist. These partnerships produce top-level wines, and I suspect it’s because of shared philosophies and good communication.

At Wine Square, we were tasting ‘rootstocky’ wines: organic and biodynamic wines, skin-fermented whites, ‘natural’ wines, low-sulfur and no-sulfur wines, wines produced with low-input viticulture and winemaking. It coincided, in the now-regular Saturday format at Wine Square, with a mini exhibition held in the upstairs mezzanine.

Stephen and Prue Henschke (Photo: Henschke Wines)

Stephen and Prue Henschke of Henschke Wines

Henschke (tastings) is one of Australia’s highest-profile followers of biodynamic viticulture and Prue Henschke is a tireless enthusiast for biodynamics and sustainability. Justine Henschke, a seventh generation family member, and daughter of Stephen and Prue, is involved in sales and marketing, based in Sydney. She was at Wine Square to talk about the Henschke approach to viticulture. Henschke wines are also low-sulfur as a result of Prue’s asthma. We tasted Henschke’s 2012 Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon, an outstanding cabernet, elegant and perfectly ripe, obviously varietal but without obvious leafy nuances. It has a beautifully seamless texture.

Mike Brown and Melissa Buttery-Brown (Photo: Gemtree Wines)

Mike Brown and Melissa Buttery-Brown of Gemtree Wines

Mike Brown was there to talk about Gemtree (tastings), which is one of several biodynamic viticulture practitioners in McLaren Vale. We tasted Gemtree’s 2014 Luna Roja Tempranillo. The name means ’red moon’ and refers to way biodynamics is based on phases of the moon.

Mike and Melissa Brown are also ‘old hands’, having been involved in Gemtree for the last 23 years. They have gradually shifted Gemtree’s focus to higher quality and less extractive, less-heavy red wines. Melissa’s father Paul Buttery was a prominent McLaren Vale viticulturalist before her, and Melissa has tertiary qualifications in both business and viticulture.

Irina Santiago-Brown & Dudley Brown (Photo: Inkwell Wines)

Dudley Brown and Irina Santiago-Brown of Inkwell Wines

The ‘other’ Browns, Dudley and Irina, are more recent entrants in the field, starting Inkwell (tastings) in 2003. Irina is Brazilian and is involved in viticultural research (her doctorate is in sustainability) as well as managing their own vines biodynamically. She has masters degrees in both international relations and viticulture. In her former life in Brazil, she was special adviser in international relations and foreign investment to the Governor of the Brazilian State of Bahia.

At my masterclass, we tasted Inkwell’s 2016 Dub Style Preservative Free Shiraz, an astonishingly good, richly flavoured but soft wine, lovely to drink young, in no way handicapped by the fact that no SO2 had been added.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about these partnerships is that in each case, there is an expert female viticulturalist, committed to organic/biodynamic agriculture and passionate about sustainability. There’s a message there somewhere.

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