Wine: Welcome to Brown town

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A selection of Brown Brothers wines. Photos / Babiche Martens
A selection of Brown Brothers wines. Photos / Babiche Martens

"Sixty per cent of the Australian wine market has been neglected," states Brown Brothers' executive director, Ross Brown. "These are the infrequent wine drinkers who simply don't like the taste of most wines." But rather than writing off these oenologically uninitiated folk, Brown Brothers is endeavouring to create wines that appeal to them, just one of a number of forward thinking approaches embraced by this historic wine company.

Ross is telling me about the various prongs of the company's philosophy over dinner with his daughter, Katherine Brown, the company's public relations manager, in their old family homestead in Milawa. Here, in the lower reaches of the King Valley in northeast Victoria, the Browns have been making wines since the company's first vintage in 1889.

These now span easy-drinking everyday drops to its super-premium Patricia range. Ross describes the latter as striving to be the "best in the country", with a reputation that builds trust in the brand and helps open doors to the winery's more unconventional offerings.

Unlike many of Australia's older labels, the company is still family run, with Katherine one of the latest generation feeding in fresh ideas. Instead of being mired in tradition, Brown Brothers has not been afraid to voyage into uncharted territory. In fact, it has positively embraced it, from developing styles to tempt non-wine drinkers to being at the forefront of establishing new grape varies in the country.

Just a stone's throw from the homestead is Brown Brothers' expansive cellar door, which attracts 80,000 visitors a year. As well as a place to showcase their wines and a test bed for new lines, it's used as an important source of information with regards to consumer tastes.

"We discovered there that why those who weren't drinking wine was often because they didn't like drier styles," explains the company's wine educator, Steve Kline. This insight fuelled the company's forays into sweeter reds, such as its popular Dolcetto syrah.

"This was developed through feedback from the cellar door from those who said they wanted a sweet red," Kline says. "In 1992 we experimented with a first release and this sold out within three months. It was all led by the consumers."

It's a refreshingly unsnobbish line providing a tier of products that act as an accessible a stepping stone into wine for novice drinkers. As all its wines are well made and credible in their own right, Brown Brothers also avoids straying into the dubious territory of dumbing down wine.

Another sweet success was Brown Brothers' Cienna, a totally new variety created from a cross of cabernet sauvignon and Spain's sumoll grape. This was just one initiative in a long history of varietal innovation within the company, which Ross traces back to his great grandfather, the company's founder, John Francis Brown.

John Francis grew table wine varieties when everyone else was still stuck on fortifieds, while Ross' father detected the growing desire for fruitier wines in the market early on, and made the country's first botrytised sticky. Ross' eldest brother then went on to pioneer the company's successful combination of orange muscat and flora as well as establishing newcomer tarrango, a cross of the Portuguese red grape variety touriga, and white grape variety sultana.

Trialling new varieties remains central to the winery's research and development programme. I spotted several varieties in their vineyards I'd never seen before, such as comptessa and petit heslier. Many of these will never make it into a bottle, but it's through these experiments that many Brown Brothers' successes have emanated.

Its new wines are made in its separate kindergarten winery, a mini-winery "designed to nurture small things with great potential". "It's all about experimentation and taking things to the limit - the winemakers are told to go crazy!" enthuses Kline as he shows me the facility. "It's enabled us to experiment with lots of new techniques and for the past 22 years lots of things have been born in here." And who knows what will be next?

Brotherly love

Brown Brothers Patricia Victoria Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 $55

Dedicated to winery matriarch Patricia Brown, Brown Brothers' flagship cabernet is velvety textured and full of concentrated blackcurrant fruit, with savoury undertones and hints of mint and licorice.

Brown Brothers Victoria Tempranillo 2009 $18.95

Brown Brothers' expression of this Spanish variety fuses bright and juicy dark berry and strawberry-tinged fruit with hints of freshly ground coffee.

Brown Brothers Special Late Harvested Victoria Orange Muscat & Flora 2009 $15.99

The winery's unique combination of varieties have resulted in a wine that's sweet but fresh, with a low 9.5 per cent alcohol content and an attractive grapey palate infused with notes of lemon balm and mandarin.

All wines stocked by Liquorland.

- NZ Herald

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