Brown Brothers – red, white and now sparkling!
Wineries, like restaurants, come and go with changing consumer tastes; the uncertainty of Mother Nature; poor management and fluctuating international tariffs playing a role in their demise.
Sometimes wineries fail or merge. Occasionally they are forced to contract or reduce production, whilst others seemingly go from strength to strength.
In Australia, we are blessed with some enduring labels which have withstood all the challenges that have been thrown at them, brands like:
- Wyndham Estate in the Hunter valley dating back to 1828
- Houghton in the Margaret River which started in 1836
- Yering Station in the Yarra Valley which can be traced back to 1838.
Against this enduring backdrop, one wine company stands out – it may not be one of the oldest wineries in the country, yet the Brown Brothers story is as fascinating as it is remarkable. Some might even call it a fairy tale.
The yarn starts with John Francis Brown planting 10 acres of Riesling, Muscat and Shiraz vines in Milawa in Victoria in 1885 resulting in his first vintage of table wine being released in 1889. Unfortunately, in 1916, the dreaded phylloxera aphidlike insect appeared, resulting in the entire vineyard being ripped up and replanted between 1916 and 1920.
In 1933, John Jnr became the second generation of the Brown family working in the winery. By 1958, the third generation (another John!) became the chief winemaker. In 1968, adversity struck the family enterprise again when a severe frost wiped out an entire vintage. However, by 1980, the families’ fortunes had taken a turn for the better when they opened their cellar door and tasting room at Milawa. Clearly, excellent management skills coupled with resilience, know-how and fortitude run through the Brown family.
In 1989, this talented family celebrated a century of wine production. Over the next two decades, the Brown family acquired vineyards in other regions and eventually in the late 1990’s, became the first Australian company to commercially produce a Moscato – using fruit from a vineyard they had acquired in Heathcote, near Bendigo in Victoria.
At this time, the fourth generation of the Brown family joined the business and, in 2009, the enduring and evolving Brown Brothers had released their first vintage of Prosecco – a sparkling wine that was destined to become a remarkable success and a staple of sparkling wines drinkers across the land.
In more recent times, fourth generation winemaker Katherine Brown joined the winemaking team whilst other fourth generation family members, Eliza Brown and Cynthia Brown, steer the ship as Board Directors.
The Brown family are clearly masters of their passion and craft, given that they’ve not only survived 130 years in the industry, they have pioneered and prospered.
To Australian consumers, Brown Brothers is probably best known for their dry and zesty Prosecco that has rightly become a crowd favourite; or perhaps their light and musky Moscato that is an early drinking palate pleaser. However, to my palate, the big guns of the Brown Brothers portfolio are the Patricia range – the premium single varietals which are crafted in honour of the family matriarch, Patricia Brown, who is credited for forging the family values that have been passed down through the generations.
At a recent “Distinguished Sites” tasting, I had a chance to sample the Patricia Shiraz 2016 and the Patricia Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. What an experience!
The Patricia cabernet comes from a range of Victorian vineyards, ranging from Bendigo to King Valley, The Grampians to Wrattonbully. There’s an unmistakable crimson edge to the dark red colour of the fruit in the glass. Despite five years of age, the tannins are still quite firm and grippy up front and cloak the blackberry and blackcurrant characters in a herbaceous and leafy straightjacket as the wine passes across the palate. On the finish, the brooding black fruits seemingly escape the clutches of the tannic handcuffs and expand across a warm and generous finale. I love the feel, texture and earthy undercurrent that perfectly balances the fruit.
The Shiraz named in honour of the family matriarch is deeper in colour to the point of almost being inky black! Yet, oh how ripe is the sweet and luscious fruit! From the first sip, the blackberries, plums and red fruits are nurtured by layers of cinnamon, all spice and pepper as it caresses and nuzzles its way from front to back before the oak exerts its influence on a lingering climax. It’s a full bodied style that doesn’t finish “heavy” and would be ideal if served with aged cheddar and crackers. Easy to see why it rates so well with the judges.
The Brown Brothers story is as much fairy tale as it is a yarn, marked by seemingly unreal beauty, perfection and happiness.
130 years on, this Aussie success story just gets better and better!