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Brown Brothers - Brown Brothers and their varietal wines

Wine Makers

I had lunch recently with Ross Brown the Australian wine-maker. He's recently taken over as CEO of the family-run business, Brown Brothers, which is based in Victoria. Over lunch we talked of wine and the wine business, and what became abundantly clear to me as the meal and our conversation progressed, was that the wine business is more than a little different from others.

I had lunch recently with Ross Brown the Australian wine-maker. He's recently taken over as CEO of the family-run business, Brown Brothers, which is based in Victoria. Over lunch we talked of wine and the wine business, and what became abundantly clear to me as the meal and our conversation progressed, was that the wine business is more than a little different from others.

What started this train of thought is the fact that there are now very few internationally known wine companies in Australia that are family owned and run. The trend has been for larger companies to buy up independents, the last major event being the purchase of Wolf Blass by Fosters the beer makers. This has been the case in Europe as well, with a period in the seventies when the Swiss company WineFood seemed to own almost everything. In Italy Coca Cola had bought Villa Banfi, Seagrams had bought Castello di Brolio Chianti - the marketing men saw no difference between products, whether it was toothpaste or wine. The principles of selling and marketing were immutable.

And yet there's something about a product that's made expressly to please the palate that sets it apart from, say, dental floss. Which is why the two wines I've just mentioned are no longer owned by large multi-nationals. The fact is that good wine is the product of commitment and passion. Somewhere in the cogs and wheels of huge bureaucracies that gets lost - the people whose job it is to sell the wine are not the same people who worked in the vineyards spraying, pruning and picking, and nor are they the people who oversaw that magical transition from grape juice into wine. When there's a continuity in that process, we consumers tend to end up with better wines.

Ross explained to me what Brown Brothers do. The have chosen to make only varietals - wines made from only grape variety - and to match the vineyard as well as possible to that particular grape. As a winery they have vineyards that range from the valley floor right up to 800 metres, where there is often a sprinkling of snow. This range of micro-climates at their disposal means that each grape variety can be matched to the climate and soil type that best bring out it's natural character. Finding this ideal match is a slow process but an ongoing one. They've built a small winery called The Kindergarten specifically to try out new techniques on a small scale.

What all this means in effect, is that they make wines which are the product of care, attention and passion. Their wines are also good examples of what European classic varieties can do in Australia. Recently they've been experimenting with the Italian varieties Nebbiolo and Barbera, both of which are now part of their range. That range in Ireland covers a dozen varietals, from the dessert Orange Muscat to fruity whites to big, powerful reds like the Shiraz and the Cabernet Sauvignon.

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