WINE: Wild colonial wines

NEWCASTLE University historian Dr Julie McIntyre has vivid memories of childhood days spent on her grandparents' Rosebud Farm vineyard at Mudgee.

She recalls being small enough at three or four to duck under the vine trellising wires and to note the lavishness of grape vines in full green leaf against the dull drought colours of the surrounding Mudgee landscape.

There are memories of harvest time with "bunches of grapes clouded with bloom, sticky and sweet with juice and laced with spider webs" and crushed grapes fermenting into wine in frothing waxed concrete vats in the winery next to her grandparents' farmhouse.

Julie's paternal grandfather Alf Kurtz had a significant role in the history of chardonnay in Australia.

He worked for the Roth family in their Craigmoor vineyards, which contained plantings of chardonnay, then called white pinot, and blended with other varieties to produce Craigmoor whites.

When Alf and his wife Laura decided to establish their own small vineyard on Rosebud, Alf took some Craigmoor white pinot cuttings and, when these vines produced their maiden crop in 1964, made what seems to have been Australia's first straight chardonnay.

He labelled the wine white pineau and sold it without fanfare in small quantities that year and in succeeding vintages.

With this family background, it's not surprising that Julie McIntyre has relished documenting in numerous papers and publications over the past decade the history of Australian wine.

This has now culminated in the publication of First Vintage: Wine in Colonial NSW, her meticulously researched and beautifully illustrated book that the author says seeks to redress the lack of academic scholarship on Australian wine.

She writes that at first she rejected as a "notion to be dismissed out of hand" the "rogue idea" that Australia was envisaged as a future vineyard of Britain right from the days of the departure of the First Fleet in 1787.

But it was so, she insists. The ships of the First Fleet collected vine cuttings from the then-Dutch colony of the Cape of Good Hope, barrels and bottles of wine purchased from the then-Portuguese colony of Rio De Janeiro and "crucially, British ideas about the cultural status and material profitability of winegrowing".

The book points to the extent to which these early dreams have materialised in booming wine production and exports and a growing Australian taste for wine that promises to see wine replace beer as "the drink of the nation".

Julie writes lovingly of her grandfather Alf and grandmother Laura, who still lives in Mudgee at the age of 85, and days spent on the Mudgee farm.

First Vintage: Wine in Colonial NSW is a thoroughly good read, a valuable reference for wine lovers and a fine by-product of Julie McIntyre's love of the "mysterious alchemy" of wine and youthful enjoyment of the "seductive perfume in that high-roofed corrugated iron shed that delighted me long before I was old enough to drink wine".

Published by University of NSW Press, the book can be purchased at nswwine.com.au for $49.95 plus postage and handling.

McGuigan big in Ireland

THE McGuigan arm of Australian Vintage Ltd (AVL) has become the number one selling brand in Ireland and the seventh biggest seller in the UK market.

AVL chief executive and chief winemaker, Neil McGuigan, said the Irish success was aided by a September 2012 Dublin City Vineyard promotion in which Meeting House Square was transformed into a "real-life" Australian vineyard.

In the Australian domestic market the AVL brands outperformed rivals with 46 per cent volume growth year-on-year. Black Label Red is the best-selling red wine.

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