We consider the 150-year history of much-loved Victorian vineyard Best’s Great Western, and winemaker Justin Purser shares what it’s like to work with 1867-planted vines.
For a winemaker who has spent most of his working life overseas, Justin Purser couldn’t resist throwing his hat in the ring when a role came up at Best’s Great Western. “It’s an iconic winery with a legacy of great, age-worthy wines, but for me, it was about the vineyards,” he says. Some five years later, Justin is relishing working with the vines that date back to 1867, and is responsible for Wine of the Year – the 2014 Thomson Family Shiraz.
“I can’t take too much credit because at the end of the day, we’re dealing with excellent fruit and those types of wines are easier to make,” Justin says. “I always think the best wines shout the vineyards, so you just have to give them all the support you can along the way.”
It’s incredible to consider that the Thomson family has owned and run Best’s for almost 100 years. While Viv Thomson is still incredibly hands-on, Justin is humbled by the level of autonomy he is given. “One of the great things about working with the Thomsons is they want to make sure the quality comes through. They’re humble farmers and not about massive profits,” he says. “They’re about making great wine as good as it can be and that gives me the ability to put my heart and soul into it. They put a lot of trust in me and that’s a great privilege.”
While Justin was new to Victoria’s Great Western when he joined Best’s, he loves what the region provides. “Having a continental climate is a big criteria for making great wine because you get that real temperature shift. Few regions have that,” Justin says. “The other thing is we’ve got lots of granite gravels and bedrock, and Northern Rhone similarities. I draw a lot of inspiration from that and never stop learning here.”
Mixing things up
While respecting the winery’s history, Justin has also been playing with various new wines, in many cases reflecting on the Best’s wines of old. “Sometimes it takes a bit of persuasion, but allowing invention is really healthy,” Justin says. These newer wines include a red to commemorate their 150th anniversary this year, combining their famed pinot meunier with shiraz and dolcetto, as well as an Alsace-style blend of riesling, pinot gris, gewurtztraminer and muscat. Judging by this recent direction, there’s still so much more to come.
What James says...
It’s obvious that the self-set standards have been stricter with a succession of highly qualified winemakers... The fruit selection is rigorous. That the wine is not ‘stretched’ with younger material is self-evident given the number of years it is not made at all, and that 2200 bottles were made in 2014, compared with (for example) 4200 in 2010. It is handled with kid gloves in the winery... It is a truly glorious wine.
Read more from James on his Wine of the Year, and watch our exclusive video interview with Viv Thomson and Justin Purser.