From the tasting team

Jane Faulkner on industry movement

By Jane Faulkner

17 Dec, 2023

Tasting Team member Jane Faulkner on the recent comings and goings in the wine industry.

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Well, what a year 2023 turned out to be with some big changes within the Australian wine scene. Let’s start with a shocker.

Just when Cape Mentelle seemed to be turning a corner with the appointment of senior winemaker Eloise Jarvis (in September 2022), inexplicably, she’s been made redundant. Seriously, this is such short-sightedness. Apart from being highly qualified, she had Cape Mentelle’s best interests at heart (read my profile Staying power: Eloise Jarvis). She had just finished Wine Australia’s highly regarded Future Leaders program and helped orchestrate Cape Mentelle’s annual International Cabernet tasting when told. I suspect, she’ll have the last laugh.

Ely JarvisEloise Jarvis.

Still in Margaret River, Matt Buchan, who spent nine years at Cherubino, is now at Deep Woods Estate as its senior winemaker/winery operations manager replacing Andrew Bretheron (who left to run Juniper Estate earlier in the year). Sophie Ward, ex-Naturaliste Vintners, recently started at Xanadu. She replaces Matt Godfrey, who left in September to become Credaro Estate’s senior winemaker. Trent Kelly, who was at Credaro, left after seven years and is helping at Aravina Estate while he works out his next venture.

In Victoria, Simon Steele has been making terrific wines at Medhurst in the Yarra Valley for nine years, but the birth of his third child on top of a 2.5-hour commute each way from Jan Juc (part of Torquay on the Surf Coast shire), meant something had to give. “I’ve enjoyed my nine years there and I still love Medhurst, so I’ll help Rohan settle in for vintage and consult back for six months.” Rohan Smith, ex-Handpicked Wines, is the new winemaker. Aside from consultancy work, Simon hasn’t ruled out making his own wine one day. Family first though.

Rohan SmithRohan Smith.

Up in Beechworth, Simon Grant, of Traviarti fame, has moved to Cygnet in Tasmania. Simon and his partner Helen Murray established Traviarti in 2011 to grow nebbiolo at an altitude of 600 metres. It paid off: the wines have been excellent. But an injury to his foot got Simon thinking about a change. They recently sold the vineyard, but have produced the 2023 wines under the Traviarti name (Simon and Helen retain the brand).

The property and the 1000 nebbiolo vines, which cover 0.6ha, are in good hands. It was bought by a Singapore-based Australian businessman who is collaborating with Justin Purser to set up a new label (name to be decided) for the nebbiolo, with a view to expand.

Justin joined Stonier on the Mornington Peninsula for a year but called it quits after vintage ’23 to pursue his own wine business. He and his partner have purchased 20 hectares of land in Stanley, close to the Traviarti vineyard, to focus on nebbiolo, chardonnay and arneis. 

Justin PurserJustin Purser.

The stars were aligned at Stonier though, as Julian Grounds has come onboard as technical director and a co-owner. An Aussie, Julian has been at the helm of Craggy Range in New Zealand for the last five years, where he will remain a consultant. Aaron Drummond, his friend, managing director and a co-owner of Stonier said: “I worked with Julian in the Yarra and then at Craggy Range. He is one of the most passionate, hardworking and talented people I have ever met. We bought Stonier in December (2022) and it is like a 45-year-old start-up.” He says a new team and new farming philosophy will help reinstall Stonier as “one of Australia’s leading fine wine producers.”

The sale of the year goes to Handpicked Wines – a multi-regional producer based on the Mornington Peninsula – who snaffled Australia’s most prestigious sparkling brand, Arras from Accolade Wines (for an undisclosed amount, sources say $60 million). Arras is the brainchild of Ed Carr, the most lauded, awarded fizz-maker, and in great news he and his team will stay on.

The sale included the Bay of Fires winery/cellar door (but not the Bay of Fires brand, which stays with Accolade but is now made by Handpicked) plus 24 hectares of top vineyards in Tasmania. While Accolade is off-loading assets in a fire-sale of sorts to repay debts, astonishingly, its CEO Robert Foye said Arras “is a luxury brand that does not fit neatly with the rest of our portfolio.” Sheesh, pity those non-luxury producers still with the company.

Arras vineyardHandpicked Wines purchased Arras earlier this year.

While in Canberra, Frank van de Loo, winemaker at Mount Majura has swapped wine for federal politics joining a committee working on getting a Teal independent into the seat of Bean, currently held by Labor. While Frank will remain a co-owner of the business and help this coming vintage, the reins have been passed to Jeremy Nascimben. Jeremy has been at Four Winds for the last few years. James Hopper is the new viticulturist and general manager (ex-Lerida Estate). Still in Canberra, Contentious Character winery and restaurant at Wamboin went into voluntary administration in September, yet are still trading. The sale of the business includes $4 million of unbottled wine and $2.3 million of bottled wine. 

The jewel in the crown though, if anyone has spare cash, well millions, is Denton winery at Tarrawarra. The asking price is between $13.5 to $14.85 million. All up, there are 60.66ha comprising 31ha of vineyards, a micro-winery, and the house celebrated architect John Denton designed and shared with his wife, jewellery designer Susan Cohn. From a distance, the modern glass and steel house resemble two Cuisenaire rods, it’s a stunning property but time to downsize hence the sale. Gee, I’m looking to move. Any backers?