Brand family back in business

The late Jim Brand in the vineyard (Photo: The Brand family)

The Brand family is back in business in Coonawarra.

The Brand name is one of the most distinguished in the region: the founder of Brand’s Laira Vineyards, Eric Brand, a Riverland baker, married Owen Redman’s sister Nancy and decided to take his in-laws’ lead and exchange the bread oven for the fermenter and make wine in Coonawarra. He started Brand’s Laira Vineyards, the first vintage being 1966. The business was eventually sold to McWilliam’s and today is owned by the Casella family of Yellow Tail fame.

After the sale of Laira, Eric’s sons Jim and Bill bought new vineyards and the two families now own about 500 acres, which they describe as one of the biggest holdings in Coonawarra. After Jim’s untimely death in 2005 at the age of 52, the family continued selling grapes to other wineries, and later made a fresh start at winemaking.

In homage to Jim, the label is named Jim Brand Wines. Jim’s son Sam and Sam’s mother Jo are steering the ship. They came to Sydney recently to wave the flag and show off their current range. This includes a very smart Yates Chardonnay (AUD $26), an outstanding Glenroy Shiraz and a very good cabernet sauvignon blend named Domaine Cabernets (both AUD $70). Below these reds sit a lower-priced cabernet sauvignon called Silent Partner – another reference to Jim Brand himself. The 2015 vintage of this wine is a ripper and excellent value for money at AUD $36.

The links with McWilliam’s are several. Bill Brand, now retired, worked for McWilliam’s and his son Trent is currently vineyard manager for Brand’s Laira.

Sam Brand was sales manager for McWilliam’s Wines in South Australia and Northern Territory for six years. He’s now devoting himself to the Jim Brand Wines although he lives in Adelaide. His mother Jo still lives in Coonawarra.

Sam seems energised by his new life.

“My father’s legacy was that I was able to grow up in Coonawarra, which was a unique experience. As kids, we were sticking labels on bottles, and now I’m going back to what we did in the past, which is winemaking.”

At present there is no winery: Sam uses the facilities of Jack Estate and Bellwether and gets some help from Brand’s Laira. Until 2009, the wines were made at Majella.

Sam is interested in changing wine style.

“I can’t use the techniques they used in the past: they’re not the thing these days.”

He is referring to the era of routine additions of acid and tannin and the lavish use of new oak.

Sam has already made one positive change: from 2015 the best vineyards are being harvested by hand instead of machine. The 2015 Silent Partner shows the benefit: it’s not minty like most of the earlier wines (and we tasted several old Brand’s Laira wines as well). This is probably because mechanically harvested grapes tend to bring gum leaves and bark into the fermenter, resulting in eucalyptus and mint characters in red wines.

Coonawarra is out-of-the-way and a bit sleepy, and it’s always encouraging to see new energy making an impact.

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