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Producer Profile Birks Wendouree

by Dave Shoobert | May 23, 2020

Birks Wendouree

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Wendouree are wine-lovers wines. Their distinctive beauty confronts & challenges the drinker year on year, making them some of Australia's most recognised & sought-after wines. Tony & Lita Brady, custodians of Wendouree since 1974, have built the estate into the opposite of Australia’s modern, market-driven, high-tech industry, still only selling directly to their trusted mailing list year to year. Hidden in a clearing of red gums not far from the township of Clare, the old stone cellars, built-in 1914, are still in use and almost unaltered today. The wines made here are individual and age-worthy in the style of winemakers past.
History
  • The brand first started with Alfred Percy Birks. He and his brother planted the first vines in 1892, thus establishing A.P. Birks’ Wendouree Cellars.The word Wendouree was, at the time,thought to be an Aboriginal word meaning place of water.
  • Wendouree was one of four wineries in the region in 1890's along with Quelltaler, Seven Hill, and the Stanley Wine company which was established in the same year as Wendouree. Thecellars, which still stand today,were built a few years later in 1914.
  • In 1917, failing health caused Alfred Birks to hand over responsibilities to his son Roly who remained involved for the next 65 vintages. Taking on roles of winemaker and salesman through a long, difficult period from 1917 to 1970,he established the eastern block vineyard and developed sales of dry red and fortified wines in cask to the local trade and hotels.
  • Aged 77, Roly Birks sold Wendouree, but unfortunately, it was purchased by someone with neither the capital nor the ability to run the business thus its was offered for sale by the mortgagee.
  • Following this, the vineyards fell into disarray with broken trellis failing to be maintained and overgrown vines being left untrained.
  • In 1974, Max Liberman purchased the estate through a mortgagee sale. Son-in-Law Tony Brady was asked to run the property with his wife Lita. Roly was retained as a consultant and stayed on for 7 years, turning the vineyard around.
  • Any unwanted vines were removed in 1981 which accounted for nearly half the vineyard. Varieties including Chenin Blanc, False Pedro and Crouchon were all removed reducing the size of the vineyard from 24Hato 12Ha.
  • In the last few decades, with the assistance of Stephen George of Ashton Hills, the old vines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Malbec, Mataro and Muscat have been revitalised to produce the incredible fruit yielded from them today.
In the vineyard

The vineyard itself is the dominating factor in the quality of the wines. Established in 1892, some of the vines are now well over 100 years old. In one block, a plot of bush-trained Shiraz dates from 1892 and another from 1893, while a parcel of trellised Mataro (Mourvèdre) has been grafted onto vines dating from 1898. Further from the winery, in what is known as the eastern block, there’s more Shiraz planted in 1919 and 1920 and some Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec grafted over onto 1920s rootstock. The most recent plantings date from 1975 and the early 1980s. In all, there are 12 Ha of vines, a historical look into the Clare Valley viticultural past.

The vineyards are unirrigated and planted on mainly red loam over limestone. There’s also a block on shale and a parcel that has sandier loam. The elevation is at 450–530m at the eastern block but despite this, the harvest for reds is typically two weeks earlier at Wendouree than elsewhere in the Clare Valley. Yields turn around just less than 30hl/ha with an average alcohol of 13.5°.
In the cellar

The grapes are hand-harvested, basket pressed and fermentation takes place in open-top fermenters with hand plunging of the grape cap. The malolactic fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks. The wines are then aged in 300-litre fine-grain French oak barrels, 25% new, for a year. Tony's knowledge of wine science is such that new technology needs a purpose to be introduced, meaning that the only concessions to the modern age area small laboratory for analysis, stainless steel to line the fermentersand in tanks for blending, and a tiny bottling line.

Blending is carried out after the barrel aging and the wines are bottled with just a light filter. Six months later they are sold through the winery's exclusive mailing list.

Old vines of Birks Wendouree Vineyard
The Front block of old Wendouree vines. Shiraz planted in 1911, Malbec in 1989 and Cabernet in 1971 : Photo © Milton Wordley.
The wines of Birks Wendouree

Cabernet Malbec
Variety:Varies due to vintage - 80-60% Cabernet Sauvignon & 20-40% Malbec
Soil Type:Red Loam over Limestone
From Vines Planted in*:1975, 1920 &1898
Vintages to Look out for:
1996 - 95 Points - Wine Companion
1998 - 94 Points -Wine Companion
1999 - 18/20 - Jancis Robinson
2002 - 18/20 - Jancis Robinson
2005 - 18.5+/20 - Jancis Robinson
2006 - 95 Points - Jeremy Oliver
2008 - 97 Points - Wine Companion
2009 - 95 Points - Wine Companion
2010 - 96 Points - The Wine Front
2011 - 93 Points -The Wine Front
2012 - 97 Points - The Wine Front
2013-97+ Points - The Wine Front
2014 - 96 Points - Wine Companion
2015 - 95 Points - The Wine Front
2016 -97 Points - The Wine Front
2017 -95+ Points - The Wine Front


Cabernet Sauvignon
Variety:Cabernet Sauvignon
Soil Type:Red Loam over Limestone
From Vines Planted in*:1971 & 2002
Vintages to Look out for:
1997 - 18/20 - Jancis Robinson
2001 -18/20 - Jancis Robinson
2002 -18.5/20 - Jancis Robinson
2006 - 93+ Points - The Wine Front
2009 - 96 Points - Wine Companion
2010 - 96 Points - Wine Companion
2012 - 98 Points-Wine Companion
2013 - 98 Points - Jeremy Oliver
2014 - 97 Points - Wine Companion
2015 - 96 Points - The Wine Front
2016 - 96+ Points - The Wine Front
2017 - 94 Points - Robert Parker

Malbec
Variety:Malbec
Soil Type:Red Loam over Limestone
From Vines Planted in*:1898
Vintages to Look out for:
2006 - 93 Points - Wine Companion
2010 - 95+ Points - The Wine Front
2012 - 95 Points -Wine Companion
2013 - 96 Points - The Wine Front
2014 - 95 Points - Wine Companion
2015 - 94 Points - The Wine Front
2016 - 96 Points - The Wine Front

Shiraz
Variety:Shiraz
Soil Type:Red Loam over Limestone
From Vines Planted in*:1893 & 1919
Vintages to Look out for:
1991 - 18.5/20 - Jancis Robinson
1994 - 96 Points - Wine Companion
1995 - 95 Points - Jeremy Oliver
1997 - 18/20 Jancis Robinson
1998 - 96 Points -Jeremy Oliver
1999 - 18/20 Jancis Robinson
2002 - 97 Points - Jeremy Oliver
2003 - 95 Points - Jeremy Oliver
2004 - 97 Points - Jeremy Oliver
2005 - 95 Points - Jeremy Oliver
2006 - 97 Points - Wine Companion
2008 - 96 Points - Jeremy Oliver
2009 - 95 Points -Wine Companion
2010 - 96 Points - Jeremy Oliver
2011 - 92+ Points - The Wine Front
2012 - 98 Points -Wine Companion
2013 - 98 Points - Wine Companion
2014 - 97 Points -Wine Companion
2015 - 98 Points - Wine Companion
2016 - 96 Points - The Wine Front
2017 - 96 Points - Robert Parker

Shiraz Malbec
Variety:Varies due to vintage - 80-50% Shiraz & 20-50% Malbec
Soil Type:Red Loam over Limestone
From Vines Planted in*:1893, 1898, 1919 & 1920
Vintages to Look out for:
1996 - 95 Points -Wine Companion
1998 - 95 Points -Wine Companion
2005 - 18.5/20 - Jancis Robinson
2006 - 96 Points -Wine Companion
2008 - 95 Points -Wine Companion
2010 - 93+ Points - The Wine Front
2012 - 97 Points -Wine Companion
2013 - 96 Points - Wine Companion
2014 - 95 Points -Wine Companion
2015 - 95 Points - The Wine Front
2016 - 96 Points - Wine Companion
2017 - 95 Points - Robert Parker

Shiraz Mataro
Variety:Varies due to vintage - 80-60% Shiraz & 20-40% Mataro
Soil Type:Red Loam over Limestone
From Vines Planted in*:1893, 1919 & 1920
Vintages to Look out for:
1995 - 94 Points - Robert Parker
1996 - 93 Points - Wine Companion
1998 - 97 Points - Robert Parker
1999 - 93 Points - Robert Parker
2002 - 95 Points - The Wine Front
2004 - 95 Points - Jeremy Oliver
2005 - 95 Points - Jeremy Oliver
2006- 94 Points - Wine Companion
2009 - 94+ Points - The Wine Front
2010 - 93+ Points - The Wine Front
2012 - 96 Points- The Wine Front
2013 - 96 Points - Wine Companion
2014 - 97 Points - Wine Companion
2015 -97 Points - Wine Companion
2016- 96 Points - Wine Companion
2017 - 95+ Points - The Wine Front
Click Here To Shop Birks Wendouree

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