Canberra’s wine industry is technically well over a hundred years old, there are records of hobby farmers in the Canberra area making wine from their own grapes since the 1800s, but it was the planting of commercial vines in 1971 that marked the beginning of Canberra’s journey to becoming an established winemaking region.
Canberra’s wine industry turns 50 this year, which is considered very young in the global wine world, and we can thank Helm and Clonkilla wineries for taking those first giant steps.
But despite our relative youth, the region already has a wealth of knowledge and is producing world-class wines. Local wine expert Emma Shaw set out to discover what makes this region so special, and has produced a mini-documentary – Ancient Country, Inspired Wines – to celebrate the anniversary.
Emma Shaw is a big fan of Canberra wines. Her day job is at Collector Wines, and she also runs a business called Pique-Nique which runs wine tastings and classes. When talking to people at those events, Emma found that while many had some knowledge about Canberra wines, they often didn’t understand what made them so special.
“I realised that when people start to know a bit more about the wine that it’s the glass in front of them and the wine region, that’s when they can appreciate it much more,” she tells Region Media.
Her day job at Collector Wines also gives Emma a unique insight into the unseen side of the winemaking industry:
“Because I work in the local industry and have contact with different winemakers in this region, I can see there’s so much experience and expertise among the winemakers and community here,” she says.
A grant from Visit Canberra allowed Emma to team up with local visual artist and videographer Sammy Hawker to craft a documentary that would tell those stories and teach people a little more about the region’s wines.
The documentary features six Canberra region winemakers and focuses on Riesling and Shiraz. Emma explained that she chose these two wines because they are the most well known, both in terms of being recognisable for consumers and also for the winemakers, who have an intimate knowledge of how these two varieties express themselves in this region and how they respond to Canberras’s terroir, a french winemaking term that encompasses the environmental conditions – especially soil and climate – that give different wines their unique flavours.
The mini-documentary, which runs for around 12 minutes, is beautifully shot and thoughtfully produced. Emma and Sammy visited wineries throughout the year to capture the seasonal differences.
Several of the winemakers in the documentary discuss the role of the winemaker and the importance of understanding your place in the landscape.
As Tim Kirk from Clonakilla explains in the documentary: “As winemakers, we want to be those who capture the essence of the landscape, rather than impose upon the landscape what we think it should be saying.”
A ticketed online launch event will be held this Friday (5 November), with various tasting packs available to purchase for those who want to ‘sip-along’. The viewing will be followed by a Q&A with the six winemakers featured in the documentary for those who want to delve a little deeper into what they’ve learnt. Emma is hoping people will gain a new appreciation for the wines as they watch the documentary,
“I think it will be really valuable for people to watch the documentary, hear someone talk about the expression of riesling in Canberra and then be tasting along – tasting that Nick O’Leary Riesling at the same time as they’re hearing Nick talk about the riesling,” she says.
Emma has also teamed up with Tukka By The Bush, an Indigenous-owned, Canberra-based business that has developed a spice mix, especially for the event. The spice mix is included in the tasting packs with a recipe suggestion so people can cook a dinner to accompany the wines.
“It’s a mix of spices that’s really fruit-based, which is hopefully going to bring out the fruit sweetness and red fruit notes of the Canberra shiraz,” Emma says,
“There’s mountain pepper berry in there which will give you a peppery kick on your back palate, just like a good Canberra district shiraz should do.”
Emma is planning to expand on what she’s learnt through the documentary process to write a series of articles about Canberra region wines and winemakers. The documentary will eventually be made available online.
Watching Ancient Country, Inspired Wines will have you thinking a little differently about our 50-year-old wine region, and perhaps it might inspire you to choose a bottle of local Riesling or Shiraz next time you’re buying wine.
The online screening will be held at 5:30 pm, Friday 5 November, followed by a Q&A session. Tickets for this event and more information about the documentary can be found here.