Here’s another really good reason to do the wine trail out the back of Canberra and drink Australia’s arguably best shiraz.
The world’s new best barista Sasa Sestic of Canberra uses a splash of Clonakilla shiraz viognier juice in his signature coffee. Sasa was crowned the best barista in the world in Seattle over the weekend. Top baristas from more than 50 countries competed in the championships, each preparing four signature drinks, four espressos, four cappuccinos in only 15 minutes.
Sasa set up ONA Coffee in Fyshwick and then grew the business to include a Manuka shop and the popular Cupping Room in Civic, reports Good Food. He also founded Project Origin which works with coffee producers and co-ops.
Tim Kirk is the owner and award-winning winemaker at Clonakilla wines out the back of Australia’s capital. I first visited there four years ago. It was eclectic and much awarded then, and it’s drop dead famous and even more awarded now.
You will find Clonakilla on Crisps Lane, off the Murrumbateman Road, in Murrumbateman, New South Wales, just off the Barton Highway. The cool, underpopulated southern tablelands had virtually no grapes growing there until Tim’s dad, John, a research scientist, bought a 44-acre farm about 40 minutes south of Canberra in 1971 and planted his vines.
John Kirk called the vineyard Clonakilla which is Gaelic for “meadow of the church”. He planted cabernet sauvignon and riesling, then added chardonnay, shiraz and pinot noir and finally viognier. Encouraged by his son Jeremy to try something new and rare, John Kirk planted the white grape viognier in the Clonakilla vineyard in 1986. Viognier has flavours of stone fruit and floral accents. In 1991 Tim Kirk visited Cote Rotie in the Rhone Valley, France, and had a vision for a shiraz viognier blend. The flagship wine now is a shiraz viognier blend.
In 1998 Tim and his wife bought the farm next door and added more vineyards. Clonakilla produces up to 12,000 cases a year, most of which is bought at the cellar door, online or mail order, or at wine specialists in Australia’s state capital cities. Limited exports to New Zealand, Ireland, US, UK , Singapore, Hong Kong and Canada. You have to be quick, because Clonakilla sells out.
My visit – which became one my my earliest blog posts – was on a grey, cold day which called for a hearty red. The rows of vines were pruned back hard, black and stark against the pale tones of the wintery landscape.
Tim’s a modest chap, preferring to talk about how you can taste the terroir in the glass, and the whollistic relationship the wine has with the land. He says the area has the potential to become one of Australia’s great shiraz regions. I think it already is. The soil is decomposed granite in a cool, continental climate. He says wines should be “liquid geography. We work in a landscape of integral elements: wind, rain, soil, plants and trees. It’s our job to convey all that movement and energy and capture it in a bottle”.
He doesn’t say much about the accolades Clonakilla receives, but here’s one or two.
- Gourmet Traveller’s Winemaker of the Year for 2013
- “Some argue this is Australia’s greatest red wine, it is certainly one of the greatest Shiraz’s” – the Wall Street Journal
- Spicy red fruits dance around darker fruits, and the fine tannins have an altogether different feel to those of the other two ’13 shirazs. 98 points for the Clonakilla shiraz viognier – James Halliday’s Wine Companion 2015
The Kirks say one of the great things about shiraz in Australia is the range of flavours it produces in the different geographical areas in which it is grown. No other country produces such a diverse range of wines from the one variety, each style clearly recognizable as shiraz. From intense ripe plum, blackberry and chocolate in the warmer South Australian areas to the raspberry, aromatic spice and cracked pepper characters from the cooler regions of Victoria, shiraz presents so many options.
By car Clonakilla is 30 minutes drive from Canberra, 3 hours from Sydney and 7 hours from Melbourne. Cellar door is open for tastings and sales 10am to 5pm daily, except for public holidays. For more details go to Clonakilla
Other vineyards in the ACT
There are now lots of other vineyards in the Australian Capital Territory, and the wine trail is known as the Poacher’s Way with excellent eateries en route. There are about 25 wine, food and art destinations. It’s about 40 minutes drive northeast of Canberra.
Poacher’s Pantry, about 20 minutes drive from Clonakilla through almost deserted countryside, feels as though it’s off the beaten track but attracts a lot of business. Susan and Robert Bruce quit the corporate world to build a smokehouse and a winery on their grazing property. The Poacher’s Pantry and Wily Trout wine label are now stars on this rural foodie circuit. Daughter Katie (pictured above) helps runs both and is a dab hand at running wine tasting for customers.
The smokehouse products – including lamb, chicken, beef and venison – are also featured at Sydney restaurant Tetsuya’s and in Qantas first class. There’s a cool room chock full of smoked meats, an eaterie, shelves groaning with local produce including olive oils and preserves and space for picnics outside on the grass. Many products are vacuum packed for easy travel. In winter the potbelly stove pumps out the heat, and it’s very cosy sitting close by with a glass of Wiley Trout’s best and a platter of smoked meats with condiments for lunch.
More info: www.poacherspantry.com.au
More on Canberra: www.visitcanberra.com.au