Wine: Tourists flock to this century old winery

By Yvonne Lorkin

"Harold from Neighbours" announces Katherine Brown, PR manager for Victoria-based family firm Brown Brothers Wines when I ask whether they have had any celebrities visit their winery recently.

"His real name is Ian Smith and he's probably the most famous. And he's the half-brother of our wine education manager Steve Kline!"

"No way," I say. "Way," she insists..

It turns out Steve's mother had offered this nugget of family history on her deathbed; that she had adopted Ian out when she was very young. Since discovering this news the three brothers are now best of cobbers and Harold, sorry, Ian is a regular visitor to their cellar door and Epicurean Centre restaurant, which attracts more than 80,000 visitors annually.

I met Steve some months back when he and Katherine took me on a tour around the King Valley wine region. While keeping watch for wombat holes, we wandered around one of their vineyards used for trialling weird and wonderful grapes such as Rotgipfler and Comptessa.

Some of these varieties may eventually end up in the Kindergarten winery; a small, experimental area kept separate from the main complex, where the winemaking team is let loose to conjure up the next big thing.

I ask how things are going in the Kindergarten. "Good," says Katherine, eyes lighting up. "We had a new variety come into the winery this year, it's called M161."

I tell her it sounds like bird flu. "The marketing team might have to do a bit of work on that one," she laughs. "I haven't tried it yet, but it's a purpose-bred red grape and the winemaking team are keeping it very hush-hush, so it'll be exciting to see what the results are like."

They're also thinking about making a sparkling chenin blanc, which I'm sure will be hugely popular. In addition to making the classic varieties, the Brown Brothers team are dedicated to giving the people what they want, and that means that sweeter styles such as moscato, prosecco, lexia, Crouchen and the sweet, slightly spritzy, berry-laden Cienna (a cabernet sauvignon/ sumoll-cross) are going gangbusters.

I tell Katherine that Trevor, my shoe and handbag repairman, is the biggest cienna fan ever and that I bring him a bottle every time I need a discount on getting my soles reglued.

"I'm hardly drinking any bourbon and coke now," he says. Katherine is well chuffed.

When she and I spoke, her dad Ross (who joined the company in 1970 and was appointed chief executive in 2001) is off on a rare fishing trip with his wife.

"Mum's trying to get him to slow down and relax a bit more. He's still working as hard as ever but he's comfortable taking the time off and handing over a bit of responsibility," says Katherine.

"He enjoys hearing that I'm out and about doing the things he spent his life working on."

The land at Milawa came into the Brown family in 1857 when Scotsman John Graham Brown bought it at an auction.

In 1885, his 18-year-old grandson John Francis Brown planted 4ha of mostly riesling, muscat and shiraz on the property and the first wine flowed in 1889 from a winery built inside an old Canadian barn, which still stands today.

Brown Brothers are part of a group known as the First Families of Wine, which includes the Taylors, Yalumba, Tahbilk, Campbells, Henschke, d'Arenberg, Jim Barry, Tyrells, McWilliams and De Bortoli.

"We did a huge open-the-cellar tasting in Sydney recently and it was amazing, emotionally mind-blowing in fact.

"We had a panel of 'the dads' who told the story of the wines they were presenting and the stories that some of them told were just incredible, some quite heart-wrenching, but it was great to hear how these families operate and the history behind their brands."

Katherine was recently awarded a place on the prestigious Australian Wine Industry's Future Leaders "Succession for the Australian Wine Sector" development programme.

"At the moment I'm really loving the work, being so busy, but I know that I won't be able to do this forever."

Eventually she would like to have a family and spend time with them. Right now, her boyfriend is not that keen on how often she travels, but coming from a family winery himself, he understands why she works so hard.

"He gets it. You have to understand the wine industry to understand my job," she admits. "Otherwise it just looks like I spend a lot of time on planes and at dinners."

- Hamilton News

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