Winemakers source unique grapes from Kilmore

By Aleksandra Bliszczyk

Autumn is vintage in Victoria, when winemakers harvest their grapes ready to be fermented and bottled later in the year.

In warm areas like Queensland, grapes can be picked as early as January, and in cool climate regions like Victoria, usually in April.

But in Kilmore, the unique climate means that, while the grapes bud at the same time as the rest of the state, they aren’t picked until late May or June.

Small-scale winemaker Konpira Maru, owned by Sam Cook and Alastair Reed, has been sourcing shiraz, cabernet merlot and semillon grapes from Kilmore for seven years for their ‘flagship’ wines.

While they pick fruit across Victoria and Queensland, Mr Reed describes the Kilmore region a ‘gem’.

“The Kilmore climate is really peculiar in that it’s extremely cold in that particular spot – I think anyone from Kilmore would understand,” he said.

“The grapes actually mature on the vine for an extraordinarily long period of time in really cold conditions and so you get grapes that have fantastic acid retention but you get fantastic fruit flavour, and in Australia it’s really hard to get those two things.”

Mr Reed, who was head of the Bachelor of Viticulture and Winemaking at the Northern Institute of Tafe in Epping for 12 years, spoke to the Review last month after picking grapes in the King Valley, one of the country’s highest altitude wine regions.

“It snows here, but we still pick a month and a half before Kilmore,” he said.

The Kilmore grapes come from the Quarry Ridge vineyard, where owners Russell and Barbara Browne have been growing a number of varietals since the 1990s.

“All the important stuff that happens with that wine actually happens in Kilmore from the grower and then we just chaperone them to bottle,” Mr Reed said.

Konpira Maru wines are made in Melbourne and in the King Valley, and are known as ‘minimal intervention’ wines, a term for wines made naturally, the original, ancient way.

Wine label Konpira Maru sources grapes from Kilmore’s Quarry Ridge vineyard to make its ‘flagship’ wines.

Natural wine has no additives like yeast, sugar or chemicals – it’s just grapes, which ferment thanks to natural yeast in the air, and don’t go through any filtering or fining (clarification) process.

“The more generally accepted term, or the one that’s used in common parlance, is wine that has nothing other than sulphur added to it,” Mr Reed said.

“We add sulphur as a preservative, antioxidant, anti-microbial agent, but we don’t add anything else, so we don’t filter or add any other chemicals, and that’s the approach we take to the Kilmore fruit, so what you get is wines that can be a little bit cloudy, but they’re wines that are really expressive of where they come from because they haven’t had any other trickery, which end up turning the wine into a generic thing.”

Natural wine is a booming trend in major cities across Australia, with bars and bottle shops dedicated to this style of wine.

Most of Konpira Maru’s wines are sold in metropolitan Melbourne, but being one of the only makers using grapes grown in Kilmore has captured broad attention.

“Via the Kilmore connection we’ve sent wine all around the world. There’s a couple who live in a really ritzy part of London, and she’s from Kilmore and we sent her wine over to London for a little taste of home,” said Mr Reed.

“She saw this wine [in a London bottle shop] and saw Kilmore on the back and nearly fainted.”

While natural and minimal intervention wines don’t have a huge market in regional Victoria, Mr Reed encouraged people to try something new, tasty and unique.

The Kilmore shiraz, for example, Mr Reed said was delicious and fruity and with nice acid but it also had ‘a really incredible palate weight’, partly because it doesn’t get filtered.   

“It’s like Penfolds Grange but $698 cheaper,” he joked.

Konpira Maru delivers everywhere in Victoria. Wines can be ordered at www.konpiramaruwinecompany.com.