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Wolf Blass - The man and his wines

Wine Makers

It must be true to say that the best-known wine-maker in this country is Wolf Blass. It's possible that, like me, you didn't know that that's his name on the bottle - Wolf being a diminutive of Wolfgang. I met him recently in London, where he was hosting a dinner to celebrate his fourth win of the 'Jimmy Watson' trophy, one of Australia's most prestigious for a year-old red. I say 'his', but we have to be exact here.

It must be true to say that the best-known wine-maker in this country is Wolf Blass. It's possible that, like me, you didn't know that that's his name on the bottle - Wolf being a diminutive of Wolfgang. I met him recently in London, where he was hosting a dinner to celebrate his fourth win of the 'Jimmy Watson' trophy, one of Australia's most prestigious for a year-old red. I say 'his', but we have to be exact here. He won it in 74, 75 and 76, but this time it's a little different. Wolf built up his wine business during the seventies, eighties and nineties, but sold it in 1996 to CUB Fosters Corporation, the people who brought you the tinnies. He has remained as a sort of roving ambassador, using his immense charm and wit to constantly promote the brand that bears his name.

Before leaving his native Germany for Australia he had already acquired a diploma in oenology from Wurztburg Wine University, as well as working extensively in all sectors of the business. In 1961 he took the plunge and emigrated. By 1966 he had produced his first 250 dozen wines named 'Bilyara' after his first vineyard, which means 'Eaglehawk' in native Australian - hence the bird on the label. The name 'Eaglehawk is used still on the entry-level wines. By 1973 he had developed his uniquely individual style of red wine, with his keyword being 'drinkability'. It's a style of red that's been widely copied all over the wine-making world - instantly palatable, full of fruit and intensely aromatic. I asked him what was the secret to this change of style and he told me 'It's all down to cleanliness.' Every part of the vinification process needs to happen in a sterile environment - any deviation from a strictly sterile regime and contamination by off-flavours can spoil the fresh fruit taste.

The immediacy of the appeal of this new style of wine meant that by the mid-seventies Wolf was winning a lot of awards and gaining both recognition and respect, culminating today in a total 2,575 awards, both national and international. It was an upward curve that didn't stop; by 1985 he was selling 3.5 million bottles of wine world-wide, one of his first international outlets being Ireland. It was at this time that his concept of labelling his varietals by colour made an appearance, many of which can be bought here: White, Red, Yellow, Green, Blue and the very prestigious Black, which won the 'Jimmy Watson' award. Each colour relates to a particular variety or blend of varieties, making it easy for a consumer to find the bottle of choice on crowded shelves.

Recommended wine

South Australia Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc 2001, White Label.

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