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The Story of Tahbilk

September 30, 2015 by Kennards Self Storage

The story of Tahbilk is one of innovation, entrepreneurship, survival and extraordinary continuity; one rarely witnessed in Australia’s wine history.

Looking back at Tahbilk’s colourful history, the winery has certainly achieved a level of success and stature that render many envious; the largest single planting and some of the oldest Marsanne vines in the world, its iconic 1860 shiraz block also amongst the oldest in the world, five generations of family ownership and the oldest family owned winery in the State of Victoria.

Tahbilk is located in the Nagambie Lakes region of central Victoria. The property comprises some 1,214 hectares of rich river flats with frontage on the spectacular Goulburn River. Tahbilk has been identified as one of only six wine growing regions in the world where the mesoclimate is dramatically influenced by the inland water mass resulting in a cooler than expected climate and this, coupled with the unique red sandy loam soil which is high in ferric-oxide, has extremely positive effects on the quality of the grapes produced.

Set amongst beautiful gardens, with a cellar door overlooking the Goulburn River and café overlooking the fully restored Wetlands area, Tahbilk is an aesthetic paradise.

Tahbilk is an Australian icon, or in James Halliday’s words, “a priceless inheritance”, and truly reflects the uniqueness and very best of Australian wine.

We spent some quality time with Tahbilks Winemaker Alister Purbrick to find out what he looks for when making wine, his favourite old bottle in his cellar and he shared some valuable advise on how to pick a good wine for our cellar..

What do you look for when you make wine?

The most important ingredient is the grape and we work really hard to ensure the we pick our grapes at the perfect “fruit” ripeness. If we get that right then everything else will fall into place and an excellent wine should result.

What do you believe are the traits of a great winemaker?

A great winemaker needs two traits
– Incredible attention to detail
– A terrific palate

What is your favorite wine that you’ve made and what makes it your favorite?

The Tahbilk 1927 vines Marsanne because it’s made to be a great wine at 30-50 years of age. This wine is a marketing legacy to future generations of our family who will be able to present them at their best to influencers and wine critics around the world to showcase what Australia can do with white wines.

Who are your wine mentors?

Len Evans and, my grandfather, Eric Purbrick

What wine in your cellar are you most excited about? What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar?

The oldest wine in my cellar is a 1900 Henriques & Henriques Malmsey Madeira. The wine that I’m most excited about, and can’t wait to drink, is a 1943 DRC (Domaine de la Romanee Conti) La Tache- a superb wine and one of my top 5 ever drunk.

Can you offer some tips for selecting the right wines to cellar?

Red wines

Look for middle palate structure and intense different fruit flavours backed up by well integrated and subtle French oak. The wine might be quite feminine and elegant but, notwithstanding, will cellar well. The wine must be perfectly balanced, from day 1 there shouldn’t be any obvious oak or excessive tannin.

White wines

Look for a high acid backbone, minerality and some, but not excessive, flavours. It could have some barrel aging and have undergone malolactic fermentation but, if this is the case, the wine must still be very tight with obvious acidity. I’ve found the best wines to age in bottle over the years are unoaked white wines.

Can you recommend some Tahbilk wines for cellaring and tell us how long they should be cellared?

The 2009 Tahbilk ‘Eric Stevens Purbrick’ Shiraz and Cabernet sauvignon and the 2009 Tahbilk ‘1860 Vines’ Shiraz are all wines that will cellar well and will be drinking very nicely as 15-20 year old wines i.e. around 2025-2030. The ESP Cabernet sauvignon has the longest cellaring potential and will be at its best as a 30-40 year old wine.

Alister John Purbrick

Alister Purbrick is a fourth generation winemaker, has over 35 years’ experience in the tourism, wine and liquor industries and was appointed Chief Executive of Tahbilk in 1980.

He immediately set a new strategic direction for the company which included a dramatic increase in vineyard planting in the Nagambie Lakes region, the construction of a new state of the art white grape processing facility (which revolutionised and dramatically increased the quality of Tahbilk’s white wines) and the installation and commissioning of a modern fully automatic bottling line.

Alister has also been actively involved in Australian Wine Industry affairs since 1984 and has held a number of positions including President of the Winemakers Federation of Australia (Australia’s peak representative body) and inaugural Chairman of the Wine Industry National Environment Committee

He was also the inaugural Chairman of Australia’s First Families of Wine, awarded Melbourne Wine and Food Festival “Legend” status in 2011, received the Len Evans Award for Australian Wine Industry Leadership in 2012 and is currently serving as a Shire of Strathbogie Councillor.

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