Not many people jump straight from a three-acre vineyard to one of the largest family-owned holdings of pinot noir vines in Australia, but big-picture thinking seems to be an Austin family trait. Richard Austin, founder of Austins & Co near Geelong, says: “Back then [in 1990] it seemed like a logical step to buy 800 acres of run-down sheep farm in the Moorabool Valley because I knew the soil near Bannockburn was producing great pinot – I suppose you could say I go over the top once I get an idea in my head.”
That idea is very much alive today, with around 150 acres under vine and more pinot noir and chardonnay being planted this year.
Richard’s son Scott, who now owns and manages the business, says: “I’m definitely inspired by dad’s bold move to plant such a large pinot noir vineyard at a time when shiraz and cabernet were far more popular. He’s much more conservative now and I guess I’m the young bull, so he balances me when I’m looking at multiple big projects at once for example.”
In addition to recruiting an experienced full-time winemaker in John Durham (having previously relied on contract talent), Scott’s latest initiatives include installing a bottling line and bringing in new pinot noir and chardonnay clones. He explains: “We’re continually growing our production of pinot noir and chardonnay, but also bringing in clones we believe will improve the complexity of the wines.” He adds: “Working with John has also allowed me to get more involved in the day-to-day aspects of winemaking; he’s a great teacher.”
Richard says it gives him great pride to see Scott’s clarity of vision and that “vigorous discussions” between them about the direction of the portfolio are few and far between. “He’s far smarter than me so, even if I disagree, I’m not going to stop him trying new things,” adds Richard.
This spring Scott is adding to the estate's calendar of monthly events and giving wine lovers the chance to get their hands dirty. He explains: “We’re going to invite the local community and loyal customers to help plant and later prune our vines, and perhaps own a panel, so they can become part of our family and follow their wine through the whole process.”
Call of the vines
You would be forgiven for thinking that Richard had been grooming Scott to take the helm since childhood, but it was not until 2008 that the younger Austin chose to put down such roots. Scott says: “I never felt any pressure from dad to get into wine, but in retrospect I can’t help but wonder whether he had a hidden agenda when he invited me up here in 2004.”
He continues: “As soon as I got behind the scenes I fell in love with the romance of winemaking, and when I saw how much we were growing and how well-received our pinot was, I realised the huge potential of what dad had created.”
Whereas the development of the vineyard was Richard’s raison d’être, Scott’s is helping people discover their wines and the broader offerings of the Moorabool Valley sub-region. As president of the local grapegrower’s association, Wine Geelong, Scott says the value of collaboration was impressed upon him by his father. “One of the things I love about the wine industry is that you can work with, rather than against, your competitors and the Geelong region feels very collaborative.”
That collaboration and ambition seems to be working for the brand, with hot sellers like the 2014 6ft6 Shiraz described by James Halliday as ‘taking cool climate shiraz into another dimension’.
Something the two clearly share is a hope the winery will stay in the family for decades to come. Richard says: “I have noticed my grandson Spencer taking an interest in the vineyard and who’s who around the place, but he is only four so that might just be a grandfather reading into things…”
Scott adds: “I suppose you could say that naming our wines after the grandchildren is a strategic approach!”
Father’s Day favourites
Picking a perfect Father’s Day drop is no easy task for Richard. He says: “If I was going to reach into my cellar I’d pick our 2003 riesling – that vintage was a beauty. Alternatively, I’d opt for the 2013 Ellyse Chardonnay or 2012 Ireland Pinot Noir in our Custom Collection range, or both!”
Scott says: “My top pick would be the 2013 Custom Collection Spencer Shiraz from my son’s birth year, and second would be the 2015 Austins & Co Pinot Noir because it was our best vintage for a few years, so while it’s drinking well now you could also put it down.”