Wine | Topper's Mountain on wild journey | John Lewis

MELLOWING AWAY: Mark Kirkby with casks of his Topper's Mountain 2017 Barrel-Ferment Gewurztraminer.
MELLOWING AWAY: Mark Kirkby with casks of his Topper's Mountain 2017 Barrel-Ferment Gewurztraminer.

PARDON the pun, but when it comes to unusual grape varieties, offbeat blends and adventurous winemaking it’s hard to top the Topper’s Mountain brand of Sydney engineer-cum New England vigneron Mark Kirkby.

The 10-hectare, 900 metres-above-sea-level vineyard in the 650-hectare Tingha property has familiar sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, viognier, shiraz, pinot noir, barbera, tempranillo and nebbiolo plantings but also such rarities as petit manseng, tannat, pinotage, tinta cao, touriga nacionale and petit verdot.

Pinotage is a crossbreed of pinot noir and cinsaut created in South Africa and seldom grown in Australia. Tannat is a red grape of Basque origin but now best known in south-west France’s Madiran area and tinta cao is a Portuguese variety mainly used there for port.

Touriga nacional is also a Portuguese-origin grape and one that has won Hunter winemaker Mike De Iuliis a pile of prizes such as the 2015 NSW Wine Awards best young red blend trophy to the De Iuliis 2014 Shiraz-Touriga. Petit manseng originated in the Basque area of Spain and has migrated to south-west France, where it makes the fine Jurancon sweet whites. 

This grape miscellany is crafted into wine by Mike Hayes, Queensland Granite Belt viticulturist/winemaker and co-owner of Symphony Hill Wines, who last November won the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology Winemaker of the Year title.

The ways Mike’s Topper’s Creek creations challenge orthodoxy show in the oak barrel-fermented gewürztraminers and sauvignon blancs, the petit verdot-dominant and nebbiolo, barbera, tannat Red Earth Child blends and the Bricolage Blanc combination of chardonnay, viognier, gewurztraminer and sauvignon blanc. There are numerous wild yeast wines where fermentation has been triggered by yeasts from the vineyard rather than from commercial agents. 

At bargain hunters can buy a batch of wild ferment wines previously priced at $30 for $16. They are the 2011 and 2013 pinotage-viogniers, the 2010 pinotage, the 2011 and 2013 tempranillos, 2011 and 2013 shiraz.

Mark Kirkby divides his time between Topper’s Mountain and the Sydney engineering business he runs with his brother. He grew up in a Moree cotton farming family and he and family members were partners in cotton, citrus juicing and the Moree Gwydir Grove olive oil ventures.  In 1999 he joined two brothers to buy Topper’s Mountain for cattle grazing and to plant wine grape vines. Now he and his wife Stephanie are sole owners.

Wine reviews


FOR the next week this usually $30 Topper’s Mountain 2013 Wild Ferment Shiraz is selling for $16 on It’s terrific value, with 13.5% alcohol, ruby hues and ripe raspberry scents. The front palate has vibrant plum flavour, the middle palate melds bramble jelly, licorice, dark chocolate and spicy oak and the finish has ferric tannins. DRINK WITH: coq au vin. AGEING: six years.

RATING: 4.5 stars


WITH brassy hues and jasmine perfume, the Koonowla 2017 Clare Valley Riesling brings elegant lime flavour to the front palate, pineapple, flint and leatherwood honey to the middle palate and a finish of slatey acid. It comes from Andrew and Booie Michael’s 50-hectare Clare Valley Auburn vineyard and is in shops and on PRICE: $20. DRINK WITH: frittata. AGEING: eight years.

RATING: 4.5 stars


FROM 77-year-old Bainton vineyard vines at Broke, the Gartelmann 2017 Benjamin Semillon is green-tinted straw and has ginger blossom scents and a crisp lemony front palate. Green apple, mineral and nascent toast and honey show on the middle palate and the finish has steely acid. It’s at the Lovedale Rd cellar door and PRICE: $27. DRINK WITH: calamari. AGEING: nine years.

RATING: 4.5 stars