Australia’s First Families of Wine

I love reading about wine family history for several reasons: the first is the inspiration I get from understanding how families sacrificed to survive and in spite of their financial troubles, they never gave up on the pursuit of making better and better wine, regardless of the cost or the hardships; the second is the intrigue and suspense on seeing if the next generation will embrace and participate in the family business.  My first entree into reading about first families of wine was Mondovino by Jonathan Nossiter, who wrote about the European first families of wine and some of the difficulties they had passing the legacy from generation to generation.  This was followed by reading The Rewards of Patience by Andrew Caillard which retells the history of Penfolds, and then by reading the great biography of Maurice O’Shea in Wine Hunter by Campbell Mattinson.  And now I am reading heart & soul: Australian’s First Families of Wine by Graeme Lofts.  All of these books are thrilling and inspirational as they talk about wine and the business of wine.

hear & soul coverI have used the terms ‘first families of wine’ a bit loosely so far in that Penfolds can no longer be considered a family-run business as they sold out to the large corporate and are now part of TWE (Treasury Wine Estates).  In Loft’s book, heart & soul, he describes 12 Australian family-owned wineries, which have had at least 20 vintages, ownership of vineyards for more than 50 years of the highest quality, and at least two and preferably three generations of family owning the business. These 12 wineries are truly Australia’s First Families of Wine (AFFW).  This was an initiative launched in 2009 and represent a great glimpse into the best in wine and wine history that Australia has to offer.

While these stories and each family is unique, they have similarities in the most important areas to regarding making the very best wines possible.  By reading heart & soul and the other books mentioned above, I have come to believe, in general, that family-owned wineries make better wines than corporate-owned wineries.  Of course you will be able identify some great wines made in corporate-owned wineries, but I am more and more inclined to drink wine from Australia’s first families of wine if given the choice.  Loft’s book makes this abundantly clear, and here are the reasons why:

  • Australia’s first families of wine care more about making the very best wine possible than about being a commercial success; they never cut corners to get a better-valued commercial outcome – it is all about making the finest wine possible
  • Each new generation is given the opportunity to work elsewhere, learn from the best other first families of wine around the world and bring that back home
  • Each new generation starts early in learning winemaking and this cumulatively increases the knowledge and capabilities of the family-owned winemaking and wine marketing teams to do a better job than the large corporate-owned wineries are able to do
  • They have all faced crisis and hardships often across generations, yet have survived and done what was required to survive
  • They continue to experiment, exchange ideas with others, and help the wine industry as a whole, contributing and benefiting more than corporate-owned wineries

Australia’s first families of wine have achieved commercial success as a by-product of producing the best wines available, no matter what the cost.  They do not try to optimize short-term profit if it will get in the way of producing the best wine possible.  If you want to be inspired about how to run a business, any business, there are a lot of lessons to be learned from heart & soul and the other books mentioned.  If you want insights into the passion, the pursuit of quality, literally the ‘heart & soul’ of what goes into making and appreciating a good wine, then you should pick up a copy of heart & soul and get reading!


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, available now!
© 2015.  Steve Shipley. All rights reserved.
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Presenting Wine Sense Table of Contents

I have basically finished Wine Sense and in the next few weeks Wine Sense will be in the hands of approximately ten reviewers to critique it and provide ways to make it better.  I finished the content of the book two months ago, but (1) wanted to let it rest for a while to be able to read it as a typical reader (to the best of the ability of any author to read the material they wrote!), and (2) there is a lot of work in terms of providing proper citation to other references, adding 40 images and inclusion of Top Tips and Fun Facts insets for most chapters.  Then it is onto final layout and publication.

Steve sniffing 2But the content of Wine Sense is close to complete, so I wanted to provide a deeper sense of what the book is about and why Wine Sense may be of interest to you.  Over the next few months, I will be presenting excerpts and helpful tips from the book.  First I wanted to share the Table of Contents (TOC) with you.  Just reading the TOC should provide a good overview and sense of what is in the book.

Table of Contents


Part One: Wine and the Senses

Chapter 1: Wine Enjoyment
Chapter 2: Role of Our Senses for Wine Enjoyment
Chapter 3: Philosophy of Primary and Secondary Senses
Chapter 4: Wine as an Aesthetic Experience
Chapter 5: Role of Language in Wine Appreciation

Part Two: How Wine Interacts with the Senses

Chapter 6: Overview of Wine and Sense Interaction
Chapter 7: Wine and Sight
Chapter 8: Wine and Smell
Chapter 9: Wine and Taste
Chapter 10: Wine and Feel
Chapter 11: Wine and Sound

Part Three: Enhancing Your Wine Drinking Experiences

Chapter 12: Improving Smell and Taste Sensations
Chapter 13: Improving Sight Sensations
Chapter 14: Improving Feel Sensations
Chapter 15: Improving Sound Sensations
Chapter 16: Other Ideas for Improving Your Wine Drinking Experience
Chapter 17: Buying and Storing Wine
Chapter 18: Wine Drinking Practice and Experience

Part Four: Where to Next?

Chapter 19: Tools and Systems for Managing Your Wine Inventory
Chapter 20: Further Wine Education
Chapter 21: Other References
Chapter 22: Final Thoughts


Appendix A: Castro’s Ten Descriptors of Odors
Appendix B: Robinson’s Wine Color Chart
Appendix C: Wine Database Format and Field Listing


I originally was going to write a blog post last year on why our senses were so important in appreciating wine, how they work, and how to improve using our senses to enjoy wine more.  Once the post got to 2,500 words, I decided I was going to make it a multi-part post, but by the time I got to 12,000 words, I knew it had to be a book!  The book is currently 112,000 words so it was probably a good idea to go the book route!  I am very excited to tell you more over the next few months and to get the book into your hands as soon as possible.  More posts to follow.

Please let me know what you think about the content and structure.  Any feedback is appreciated.


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2014.  Steve Shipley.  All rights reserved.
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2014 grape picking underway in Hunter Valley

This should be a spectacular vintage in The Hunter Valley.  Weather has been perfect and hopefully will hold for a while longer.  The 2013 vintage was hit by torrential late-season rains that made grape picking at the optimal time difficult and yields of great grapes low.  Based on the region and grape varietal, grape picking in Australia occurs from January to April each year.  Growing seasons are obviously dictated by the annual weather patterns and type of grape involved.  We were one of the first to start picking Chardonnay at Kelman Vineyards last week.  Tyrrell’s was also picking their Chardonnay grapes for their iconic Vat 47.

My wife, DAZ in the Kitchen,  and I have noticed since we started cooking, how much more we have have enjoyed our food, regardless if we make it ourselves or are eating out.  We are more attuned to the entire process of food preparation and better understand what seasonings, flavors and processes (steaming versus boiling,  or if the meat is seared first or not for example) are involved and how to get the most enjoyment while eating.  It is similar with wine.

2014-01-09 06.13.36

In my upcoming book, Wine Sense, I discuss a number of ways to learn more about wine and have fun doing so.  Grape picking and other volunteer work around the vineyards and winery is a great way of learning while having fun!  I have always enjoyed drinking wine, but I now enjoy it more by appreciating how each step from growing and processing the grapes to bottling has influenced the quality of the final product.  Grape picking and having the grape juice on your hands and smelling the juice in its rawest form builds anticipation for what the wine will taste like.  In one sense, my bodily senses are experiencing the wine well in advance of actually drinking it.  Talk about prolonging the experience and getting maximum value from a bottle of wine!

2014-01-09 06.16.46You also learn a great deal in a very short period of time.  You learn to identify ‘ready-to-pick’ grapes versus ‘still-growing’ grapes.  You learn to identify if a bunch or a few grapes in the bunch have become ruinous and should be discarded.  You learned how stems and leaves are introduced when grape picking and some can be all right in terms of flavor and improving tannins, but you also learn not to be too picky or your grape picking productivity slows significantly!  There are processes later on to remove the stems anyway.  And you learn to start very early, 6 am in our case, before the heat overwhelms you!

Getting involved in any aspect of vineyard management or wine making is a great way to learn and appreciate wine more!  Other ideas on getting involved are presented in Wine Sense.

Kelman Vineyards is a beautiful spot in The Hunter Valley which has about 85 home owners.  It is a cooperative vineyard with grapes, olives and lemons grown under the management of a body corporate.  There are plenty of opportunities for the owners to volunteer their time from serving at the cellar door (requires an RSA), netting the vines, picking grapes, bottling olive oil and so forth and includes picking snails off the vines if you are so inclined!  I was one of many volunteer owners who helped out with the season’s first grape picking last week.  You realize what a manual process it can be, and you learn very quickly how to cut and collect bunches of grapes without snipping yourself or wasting grapes in the process.  Grape picking is also great exercise and community involvement.

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The annual grape picking and harvesting for a vintage is an annual festivity in many regions of the world with the whole community involved.  Willian Younger in his great book, Gods Men and Wine, starts out by describing the Vintage on the Douro and how year after year, the community comes together for grape picking and harvesting.  It is a festival of celebration shared by the entire community.  Kelman has recreated a localized version of that for us as owners which I find exhilarating and an educational experience.  If you want to learn more on how to appreciate wine, get involved in grape picking and other activities in the vineyard and winery.  And may sure to look for my upcoming book, Wine Sense to learn even more!


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2014.  Steve Shipley.  All rights reserved.
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Is a blend better than a straight varietal?

Yes, in general and in my opinion!  Let’s find out why I believe that.

I dislike the idea of fusion concepts, especially when it comes to food.  Call me a traditionalist, but I find food that has stood the test of centuries, yet alone millenniums, to be among the very best food one can eat.  I love Italian food and I love Indian food, but I do not favor blending the two into a single meal.  Curry pastas just don’t work for me.  I love Japanese and I love Tex-Mex, but I could not bring myself to even try this fusion concept in one of the hotel restaurants in Sacramento, CA when visiting a while back.  The raw tuna quesadillas just did not work for me.  Globalization has done a lot to change the world, but when it comes to fusion food, it has only made it worse!

wine blend

But when it comes to wine blends, I am really starting to favor blends over 100% varietals.  Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE my 100% varietals when it comes to my favorite grapes such as Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Riesling.  But year-in, year-out, it is impossible to get consistent sugar and alcohol levels,  with each vintage being affected by that year’s heat index and rainfall causing some vintages to be different in taste than others vintages.  That is when a good winemaker can use some of the characteristics of other grapes to provide a better overall taste, by adding a touch of sweetness, or subduing too much sweetness by adding a grape with more acidity or sourness.  Good winemakers know how to blend a little bit of another grape or several grapes together to make good to great wines.  Even Penfolds Grange over the years has had various amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon blended in to achieve its maximum potential for a particular vintage.  Based on what country the wine is from and the local laws, you may still label a bottle of wine by its main varietal as long as the amount of the other grape added is still small, usually less than 15%.

But other wines, especially old world wines have been crafted to be great wines by using various blending combinations.  Wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape are predominantly Grenache, but also are allowed to blend in wine from twelve other varietals.  Bordeaux blends are primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, but contain a variety of other grapes such as Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and possibly small amounts of Petit Verdot or Malbec.  A classic high-quality Bordeaux blend is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, and 15% Cabernet Franc.  Australia is well-known and respected for its Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon blends such as you would find in a Penfolds Bin 389 or a Lindemans Limestone Ridge.  And more and more, I am loving a wine blend called GSM of Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvedre.  And for white wine, I find the blend of Gewürztraminer and Riesling to be a very nice drink.

More and more, I am enjoying my blends and the craftmanship of the winemaker to get the blends to get the most of of the grapes.  The nuances that can develop and the integration of various characteristics provide for a most enjoyable drinking experience.  Maybe I am just become more old-world myself, but I find blends age better, are more complex and more balanced, and generally are a bit softer with a smoother mouth feel.

If you have not tried many blends, then I think it is about time you do!  And I would appreciate your views and feedback on if you are a single-grape purist or prefer the multidimensional characteristics of a blend.


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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Gustatory Travel Experiences!

I am about 90% complete in writing the initial draft of my wine book entitled Wine Sense(s), and am excited to start sharing some extracts with you.  Today I am featuring how to indulge in culinary excursions to further your wine education.  One reason for featuring this topic is that it provides a fun way to learn more about food and wine.  Another is that the proprietor, On the Road Culinary Adventures, is offering an upcoming 10-day Mediterranean culinary cruise which looks fantastic, so if you are looking to get away for a few weeks this September, you should check this out.

This section is extracted from Chapter 20:  Further Wine Education, under the section Guided Gustatory Tours.  (Please note that this is draft material and may contain grammatical and other errors.)

Guided Gustatory Tours

Continued reading and research using the resources described above provides an ongoing improvement in our cognitive wine knowledge which is critical to improving wine drinking enjoyment and appreciation.  But that on its own is not pleasurable unless you actually do some wine drinking along the way!

Earlier in the book, we discussed a number of different methods to gain wine drinking experience as part of our everyday existence.  But there exist some other avenues for concentrated and intensive wine education which comprises eating and drinking great wines in great locations.  More and more food and wine tours are being organized to provide ‘extreme’ gustatory experiences embodied as vacations.  These can be in duration from several days to several weeks or longer.  They usually involve traveling to a place relevant to the food and wine that will be discussed and consumed.  Many occur in exotic places such as Tuscany or Provence or take place on cruise ships featuring ‘intensive’ cooking or wine tasting courses that are great fun and great education.
While you can select your own destinations and visit different wineries and partake in different tasting experiences, having an expert aware of the region, its food and wine styles, and with access to the best venues and instructors can be a real help; both in terms of what you learn and how enjoyable it is.  You can query online or visit a travel agent find out more about these types of wine educational tours and vacations to start to search for and plan available options.
I am not going to provide links or names as I am more familiar with the growth of this concept for ‘extreme gustatory vacations’ than I am knowledgeable with the increasing number of providers in this space.  You can easily find out more by looking online or talking with a travel agent.  However, I will use one provider I am familiar with and can recommend to illustrate the services and options available.  On the Road Culinary Adventures ( combines a love of food and wine with a love of travel to provide culinary travel adventures.  These include several-day events hosted in the US and longer overseas trips, including cruises.
On the Road Culinary Adventures combine a relaxing vacation experience which focuses on teaching you more about food and wine through providing a tremendous culinary experience complimented by increasing your cognitive knowledge through lectures, instruction by guest chefs, and a hands-on teaching experience where you are preparing the food and the meals under the tutelage of culinary experts.  I know the owners from having worked together with them in the corporate world, and know they have exquisite taste and knowledge when it comes to food and wine and a passion to share that with others.
Gustatory vacations can provide intense and in-depth experiences in a relaxing environment.  You should come back from this type of experience with deeper knowledge and increased abilities to recreate similar events at home and share with friends.  A gustatory vacation also increases your visibility of what is possible and heightens your expectations of how to be involved and even host similar events in the future.
Visit the fish market with the Executive Chef of the Quest in Kusadasi, Turkey followed by a cooking demo with lunch


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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Tasting, not Drinking – Intoxication, not Drunkenness

Many people drink for the sheer ‘pleasure’ of getting drunk.  I don’t understand that, or why becoming drunk would even be an objective for anyone, but I have seen it occur many times.  I gave up hard alcohol by the time I was 30 because I could not handle it, nor did I enjoy it.  I still drink the occasional beer, especially on a hot summer day, but beer bloats me if I have more than a few.

Wine is my drink of choice for many reasons, and I almost exclusively drink wine now.  I have never been drunk from wine, nor would I want to be.  I enjoy drinking wine for the taste and flavor and for its diversity of grapes and styles.  I can drink multiple wines in an evening, and sharing time and food along with the wine with friends for a great experience.

But I ‘taste’ my wine, not indiscriminately drink it.  I take the time to swirl it to open the bouquet and increase the pleasure of nosing it, fulfilling my sense of smell.  I then pour it onto my palate and experience the taste as it impacts my taste buds – but I do not swallow immediately!  I enjoy the wine as it warms up further in my mouth, releasing more new flavors and sensory (if not sensual!) perceptions.  I let my tongue and taste buds pick up on the sweetness, bitterness, or whatever flavors it finds.  I might keep the wine in my mouth for 1 – 3 minutes before actually swallowing it!

I also love to match up wine with foods, or just chocolates or cheeses, and having some food nourishment along the way helps to reduce the impact of alcohol also.

This process and experience intoxicates me, and it constrains me from getting drunk.  I drink less because I get more flavor and satisfaction out of each sip of wine and I slow down the amount I drink over any period.  This is similar to the advice of chewing your food 25 times before swallowing.  You pick out much more flavor and nourishment from your food, become more satisfied and ultimately, eat less.

Drunkenness is not a state I enjoy during or after drinking, and I avoid it.  Avoiding drunkenness comes easily for me since I taste my wine while drinking and before swallowing, combine it with food which further absorbs and disperses the alcohol content, and enjoy it and let it satiate me along the way.

I recommend you do the same.  You will enjoy your wine far more and treat your body far better along the journey!  Remember to taste, not drink (or guzzle) your wine to become intoxicated, not drunk!


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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Wine education – Lesson 1

There are a lot of ways to learn how to appreciate wine drinking more, but there is one lesson that stands above all others, and that is to keep on tasting different wines.  I could have you read books, attend courses, read wine reviews and participate in a number of other activities, but there is no better means to learning about wine than by trying a number of different wines.

I have a lot of author friends and they sometimes get distracted focusing on marketing, social media, taking classes on creative writing and participating in a number of other activities that seem like writing, but are not really writing.  They have to keep reminding themselves that there is no other activity that makes you a writer than to just sit down and actually write!

Therefore, wine education Lesson 1 is to taste a variety of different wines and understand what you like and what you don’t.  And Lesson 2 will be on the difference between tasting and drinking.  I want you to taste wine, not just drink it.  That would be an incredible waste.

Having said that and gotten Lesson 1 out of the way, there are a variety of different things that comprise a simple wine education that should increase your pleasure of drinking wine.  These include:

  • Reading a variety of different books on wine
  • Attending tastings with other people and sharing your tasting experiences
  • Trying different wines with different foods, including different wines with cheese and chocolate
  • Writing down tasting notes
  • Participating in vertical and horizontal wine tastings
  • Attending some specialty sessions on glassware, decanters and other wine paraphernalia
  • Learning a bit about how to make wine
  • Experiencing and thinking about what wine does to your senses

I have written over 125 blog posts in the last year and plan to write plenty more.  Many of my posts have been about reviewing specific wines, matching wine with food, and enjoying the wine lifestyle more.  Some have been educational.  Therefore, I am not going to label any of my future posts as ‘educational.’  many will be, but hopefully many of those already written have been also.

The key thing is that with a little more understanding of wine, you are likely to enjoy tasting and drinking wine a lot more.  And it makes it easier to share the experience and talk about it with others who enjoy drinking wine also.  I have certainly found that to be the case for me and many of my friends.  Let’s learn a bit more together.


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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