china daily wine column #45

Barwon Mansion is one of the most beautiful historic houses in the Geelong wine region of Victoria, Australia. It is also famous as the place from which Australia’s rabbit population started.

In 1871 the mansion’s owner, Thomas Austin, imported 12 pairs of rabbits so he could hunt them. We are all familiar with the phrase “breeds like rabbits”. Some of the rabbits escaped and the rest is agricultural history.

The Australian Conservation Foundation has described Australia’s millions of rabbits as an “environmental catastrophe” for native plants and animals.

Barwon Plains vineyard sits next to the mansion and displays a pair of bunny ears on its label to mark the area’s link with rabbits.

The label is unique and so is the wine. Both are excellent in terms of quality and value for money.

Winemaker Phil Kelly was a research scientist before planting five acres prior to his first vintage in 2000. Kelly’s approach to winemaking is a combination of science and art. He started with pinot noir, shiraz and chardonnay, and in recent years grafted some of the vines over to semillon, sauvignon blanc and cabernet franc.

Much of Kelly’s grape production is sold to Shadowfax vineyard for their award-winning chardonnay. Kelly makes about 300 cases of wine a year and these are treasures to seek out.

I have tasted his wines every year since encountering the 2005 vintage. The terroir shows superbly in each year’s wines. The 2005 pinot noir was huge and brooding, with a dark cherry flavors and dusty tannins that mean this is a wine that should be appreciated from about 2015. A powerful wine that remains a favorite.

The 2006 pinot came from a lighter year and is drinking beautifully now, with hints of strawberry and mushrooms on the nose. I also detected a touch of violet amid the range of berry flavors. Frost damage meant Kelly did not make any pinot in 2007.

The most recent release is the 2008. It is midway between the massiveness of the 2005 and the lightness of the 2006. Shy at first, with aeration the wine opened up like a peacock’s tail to display a range of majestic flavors. Another lovely wine.

The 2008 shiraz is even better. It is almost black in the glass but has a luscious sweetness in the mouth, like a vinous vanilla slice – a famous Australian dessert. Combined with the sweetness is a great length and layers of blackberry, raspberry and plum flavors, with hints of liquorice.

A lovely new addition is the 2010 cabernet franc, Kelly’s first vintage of this grape variety. It is a friendly and juicy wine bursting with flavors and a lingering taste of a range of berry fruits. A wine to be enjoyed young.

All wines sell for $15 each and are a bargain. Supplies of all Barwon Plains wines are limited but worth pursuing. Contact winemaker Phil Kelly at

# Chinese purchases of French vineyards are well known. Chinese companies have also been buying Australian properties in recent months. In mid July Winston Wines purchased the Golden Grape in Pokolbin in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, for $2.94 million. In early August Windsor’s Edge, also in the Hunter Valley at Lovedale, was sold for at least $2.73 million to an unnamed Chinese group.

* “Barwon Plains vineyard makes the most of superb terroir” in China Daily, 27 August 2011, page 12. Find a link here.

Categories: Not home, wine

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