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The Mitchelton winery has been a hot topic in winemaker Travis Clydesdale’s family for as long as he can remember. Now he’s about to oversee its rejuvenation.
WORDS - CAMPBELL MATTINSON
It’s tempting to call the Mitchelton winery the lion that never roared – except that it once did. In the early 1990s, fresh from winning the famed Jimmy Watson Trophy with its 1990 Print Shiraz, Mitchelton, on the banks of the Goulburn River in central Victoria, was pumping out 300,000 dozen bottles of wine each year, 250,000 of these as part of the Thomas Mitchell range and 50,000 under the Mitchelton name. It was a stable, independent and important winery with Don Lewis – a charismatic and authoritative winemaker – at the helm, where he’d been since the winery’s first vintage in 1973.
Back then, the winery boasted one of the great go-to wines of its era: Mitchelton Blackwood Park Riesling. They made 20,000 dozen of that wine alone each year. It was a crisp wine with, more often than not, a hint of orange peel sweetness. And if they still made it in that style it would be a monty with spiced Asian cuisine.
But they don’t make it in that style anymore, and indeed, the landscape is altogether changed. You could now argue that the Mitchelton lion has been dozy for a very long time.
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa sang at the winery in 1990 and in 1994 and 1995, the Mitchelton cellar door, restaurant, extroverted ‘tower’ and grounds won the Victorian Winery Tourism Award. But it was around this time that momentum behind the Mitchelton brand was lost. Mitchelton was bought by Petaluma, both were bought by the Banksia Group, which in turn was swallowed by Lion Nathan. None of these acquisitions were disastrous – the place still looks beautiful today, and the wines are still good – but in corporate hands, Mitchelton didn’t attract the investment an asset of this class demands. The place stagnated and drifted backwards.
Over the past five years, visitor numbers to the extravagant Mitchelton estate – only an hour’s drive north of central Melbourne – have dropped significantly. And in 2011, the winery produced just 5000 dozen bottles of wine under the Mitchelton name. Mitchelton had slipped off the radar.
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