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Best’s Wines was established in 1866 by the pioneering Henry Best and sold to neighbour and second generation vigneron, Frederick P Thomson in 1920.
Under the guidance of the Thomson family, the Best’s name has continued to thrive. Fourth generation vigneron, Viv Thomson and son Ben continue to combine traditional methods with modern technology to create wines of renown and integrity.
Founded in 1866 in the Great Western wine region of Victoria, Best’s Great Western is one of Australia’s oldest continuously family owned and operated wineries. Best’s is known to have some of the oldest vines in Australia and produces extraordinary wines with great longevity. Best’s flagship wine, the Thomson Family Shiraz, has an Outstanding designation from Langton’s Auction house.
Until the 1950’s, Best’s red wines were labelled Claret and the white wines were labelled Hock and they were bottled for customers both in Australia and overseas on demand. In the 1960’s, Bests began to release varietally labelled vintage wines. Throughout the history of the winery, there have only been two owners, the Best family, who founded the winery, and the Thomson family, who bought it after Henry Best’s death in 1920.
Best’s winemaker Justin Purser gives us an update on how the Great Western vineyards are faring with harvest looming in the coming weeks.
The good news is that overall the vineyards are looking great. The above average spring rains have made a hugely positive impact on the vineyards – we’ve not seen above average rainfall for 20 years! The canopies are lush and healthy and they’re providing good shading to the vines and the bunches. What’s also exciting from a grape grower’s perspective is that the crop levels are up on average. So after three seasons of low yields or none at all, it’s very uplifting to see lots of green bunches on the vines.
However, the most exciting news about the vineyards is that they are on the whole in balance. After a few difficult seasons where the vines have been stressed, it’s been very difficult to achieve balance. This season, the ample soil moisture and favourable temperatures have allowed the vines to find their own balance. What that means is that the amount of leaf and shoot growth is in check with the fruit, and the bunches of grapes are evenly distributed throughout the vine canopy. This results in the fruit ripening up evenly and ultimately makes better wine, which is the goal!
The only downside is that there have been cases of hen and chicken (a term to describe grape bunches containing berries differing greatly in size and, most importantly, maturity) in the Cabernet Sauvignon and some isolated areas of Shiraz.
These shot berries (chickens) will not develop into full-size grapes. This is mainly due to the high winds and some cooler weather we had during the pollination of the flowers in these vines. Viticulturists can control a lot of things, but they’re yet to work out how to control the wind and temperature in the vineyard.
Apart from this issue, we’re shaping up for a good vintage. Then again, it could rain for the next two months and turn to pot (or bot), so cross your fingers, toast the weather gods with a nice wine and I’ll join you in looking forward to tasting the new vintage.
India's Wine Region
Chris and Viv Thomson enjoyed an eye-opening trip to India’s wine region last year. Here, Viv recounts the discoveries they made.
On a trip to India last November, we had the opportunity to visit Nashik Valley Wine Region, which is situated about three hours north of Mumbai depending on the traffic. When you consider Mumbai has a population of about 20 million people and the relatively small town of Nashik has a population of two million, it’s not surprising the road conditions are a little congested.
Nashik runs on a similar latitude to Townsville, at an altitude of about 700m. The winters can be quite cool and pleasant, while the summers are very hot with the monsoons occurring in June and July. The problem for wine grape growing in the tropical climate is that if left alone, the vines will produce fruit all year round. It’s suggested the life span of vines under these circumstances may only be 50 years, unlike Australia, where most varieties continue to grow at 50 years plus, and can still be productive at 150 years, as in the case of Best’s Thomson Family Shiraz vines.
The problem is not so much the task of achieving dormancy naturally, it’s more about achieving a starting point from when the vine can start its growth to arrive at a suitable harvest. Because of the climate, the harvest date can almost be predicted from the date the vines are pruned.
Climactically, India is the reverse to Australia, however India’s growing period coincides almost exactly with the growing dates in Australia. Harvest (vintage) takes place in early spring (February/March), before the onset of hot weather in April/May. First pruning takes place after harvest and before the monsoon in June/July. During the monsoon period, the vines enjoy a period of rapid growth. After the monsoon during the months of August/September, the vines are pruned a second time. This sets the vines up for harvest in February/March.
Charosa Vineyard. Note the extra crops planted at the base of the vines. All land is optimised for production
There are now 29 wineries in the Nashik Valley Wine Region and although grapes have been grown in the area since the 1950s, the first renaissance was not until the late 1980s, with the production of sparkling wines. Then another flourish of growth and production occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which is referred to as the start of the modern wine production era.
York Winery and Vineyard
Grape varieties grown were not dissimilar to those in Australia, with Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay and a very respectable Viognier. Cabernet and Shiraz dominated the reds with Tempranillo and Zinfandel looking promising, probably due to their high natural acidity.
When you consider the growing conditions in the vineyards and the logistics of transporting the grapes to the wineries, I was amazed at the quality of the wines. The sparkling wines produced at Moët Hennessey were a revelation and certainly enhanced my opinion of the wines of India.
Grape varieties were not dissimilar to Australia, with Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, and a very respectable Viognier. Cabernet and Shiraz dominated the red with Tempranillo and Zinfandel looking promising, probably due to their high natural acidity.
When you consider the growing conditions in the vineyards, the transport logistics of the grapes to the wineries, I was amazed at the quality of the wines produced. The sparkling wines produces at Moet Hennessey were a revelation and certainly enhanced my opinion of the wines of India.
For those of you visiting India, and particularly Mumbai, a visit to the Nashik Valley Wine Region is well worth the trip. Most wineries welcome tourists and have excellent modern tasting facilities and in some case, restaurants.
In most restaurants, Indian wines are available at reasonable prices.
Of the wineries we visited, I cannot speak highly enough of the people, their hospitality, their enthusiasm and their ability to work together as a group.
These days, many Australian festive tables are adorned with a bottle of sparkling Shiraz. This uniquely Australian style has been made since the mid-1900s, so when Best’s released the Great Western Sparkling Shiraz in the 1950s, it felt like a natural progression for our Shiraz production and a great opportunity to represent the sparkling style of the Great Western region. It has become a very popular wine in the range.
After a pause in production, there was an uprising of sorts that saw Best’s Sparkling Shiraz brought back to life. In 2009, when Viv and Chris Thomson were away on their annual winter holiday, the team was handed a too-good-to-knock-back opportunity to re-launch the sparkling red. Viv wasn’t convinced the Aussie drinking population was ready to embrace the red bubbles, nor was he overly excited about bringing this wine back from the dead after such a long hiatus. But returning this wine to the stables seemed like the right decision, so Best’s winemaker at the time Adam Wadewitz and the rest of the team made the call to bring it back and release a small amount.
By the time Viv and Chris returned from holiday, the bottles were already moving off the shelf and we crowned our cheeky mutiny a roaring success.
Subsequent research on the style of Sparkling Shiraz in the region has been undertaken, including consultation with legendary winemakers, such as Ian McKenzie, and over the last few years we’ve been able to identify specific vineyards that best lend themselves to the sparkling Shiraz style.
Best’s Shiraz grapes for sparkling wine are picked early in the season, fermented in vats and a small amount of oak barrels. The wine is savoury and of medium body, retaining freshness as well as intensity over time. Best’s Winemaker, Justin Purser, is also a sparkling Shiraz believer, and has instigated his own changes to the sparkling production process, including using aged liqueur muscat from old Best’s casks as dosage liqueur.
This wine is certainly an acquired taste, but despite its distinctiveness it often sells out in the lead-up to Christmas, as it’s not produced in huge volumes. Best’s sparkling red has rounded out the range to include some of the historically significant styles of Shiraz made in Great Western.
Discover more about this uniquely Australian wine and stock up for the festive season.
2014 Thomson Family Shiraz Wins James Halliday Wine Companion Wine of the Year
By Justin Purser
Winning the Halliday Wine Companion Qantas Epicure Wine of the Year with our 2014 Thomson Family Shiraz and attaining a score of 99/100 was a fulfilling moment for the entire team at Best’s. The rarity of this wine means that it is never entered into wine shows and is rarely reviewed by wine critics, so to have a critic of James’s calibre reward it with such high praise gives credence as to why this wine is so special.
Made from the 15 rows of old Shiraz vines planted in the 1860s, the Thomson family has nurtured and protected these dry-grown gnarly old ladies for four generations and the Best family for two generations before that. This award is a fine acknowledgement of the tireless efforts of the Thomsons, the Bests and the generations of workers in the vineyards and the winery – their acute focus has compelled the Halliday team to hail this Great Western expression as the greatest Australian wine out of the 9000-odd that are reviewed for the Halliday Wine Companion.
Not only is it a fitting tribute to the resilience of these vines and of a small family business, it is also a testament to the history and success of Shiraz in Victoria. If it was possible to capture the Victorian wine history in a glass, the Thomson Family Shiraz would be it. This wine, we believe, has a special character that goes beyond turning grapes into wine, an ‘x factor’, if you like. The team at Best’s works very hard to ensure all our wines, but this one especially, are given every chance to fully achieve the quality levels attainable in Great Western, to capture the essence of the vineyards and to develop that x factor. We applaud them for their efforts and congratulate them on achieving such levels of quality.
With the length of the 2014 harvest (it progressed right until the end of April) we already had an inkling of the quality of the 2014 Shiraz wines. This protracted season enabled the grapes to achieve lots of layers of flavour. We knew we were onto something post-blending in mid-2015 when the wines began to unveil their charms presenting succulent, rolling flavours in the mouth combined with great balance and persistence. We believe that all the 2014 red wines will continue to get better with cellaring and hopefully will be looking good in 30 years’ time – if you can wait that long.
Listen to Justin Purser, Viv Thomson and James Halliday speak about this wine in this short video.
Best’s Great Western neighbour Seppelt has been in the news lately. When its owner Treasury Wine Estates announced in October 2015 that Seppelt’s cellar door would be closing, sighs of disappointment were heard all over the country. Thankfully, this historic winery, with an intimate family connection to Best’s Wines, has received a stay of execution.
It comes in the form of local businessman Daniel Ahchow, who owns Great Western Garage not far from Seppelt and runs an online recruitment company. Mr Ahchow has signed a leasing agreement with Treasury Wine Estates to keep the tourism element of the estate alive and kicking.
The agreement will see Seppelt’s 3km heritage-listed ‘Drives’ tunnels remain open to the public, as well as its cellar door, function and accommodation facilities. This is the official home of Seppelt, and will remain so for the near future.
Despite the fact that there is no official winemaking facility on site, Seppelt’s cellar door will continue to offer the brand’s wines for tasting where you can experience the history of Best’s closest neighbour.
This new ownership is great news for Best’s – we believe Seppelt’s history sits side by side that of Best’s. Joseph Best, the brother of Best’s founder Henry Best, founded Seppelt more than 150 years ago. Our desire is to encourage more people to discover the wines, beauty and history of the Great Western region, so we truly hope this new agreement will arrest any potential visitation decline.
It’s great news that Seppelt’s current employees will be given the chance to remain employed at the cellar door, and we’re thrilled that under the new partnership agreement, there are plans for funds raised from tours of Seppelt’s Drives to contribute to the development of the Great Western township via the Great Western Future Plan.
Seppelt’s Drives tunnels are the longest underground cellars in the southern hemisphere and provide a fascinating glimpse into Victorian history alongside Best’s fascinating story. Best’s and Seppelt are both about two hours’ drive from Melbourne. Our region is set against a backdrop of the spectacular Grampians sandstone mountain ranges, so a visit is a must for wine and history lovers alike.
Picture this: five former Best’s winemakers, Best’s patriarch Viv Thomson OAM and current Best’s winemaker Justin Purser, all in a room accompanied by enough amazing aged and rare bottles to impress the best of the best wine media.
The occasion? One hundred and fifty years ago, on 18 May 1866, Henry Best was granted a license to occupy four blocks of land on which the Concongella winery and vineyards stand today. What a remarkable achievement that the Thomson family continues to produce wines from the vines that Henry planted all those years ago, using the same cellars and barrels installed at the winery in the 1870s.
So it’s this 150-year anniversary of Best’s continual production of fine Great Western wines that Viv Thomson was celebrating. At the lunch, Viv led a wine tasting like no other. It was a celebration of the combined 150-year history of two families. Importantly, it was also acknowledgement of the distinctive wines that have been produced over this prolific period and how each of the respective winemakers have had a role in evolving the brand to make the style of wines that we are proud to put our name to today.
From Viv’s perspective, the lunch was also a celebration of all that had gone before – from his father Eric and mother Mary, his Uncle Bill and his wife Jessie, together with Viv’s grandfather Frederick, who Viv believes worked through the toughest Best’s shift of all, between 1920 and 1960.
Their time at Best’s was difficult due to the boom and bust of the 1920s, then the Depression of the 1930s, followed by the war years, then the slow march forward as Australia resurrected itself on the back of the wool and agriculture industries of the 1950s.
Viv returned to the family fold at the winery in the 1960s to discover that Australians had begun to embrace table wines. And what a fantastic discovery that was. At that time, Victoria boasted 16 wineries. Current count goes beyond 800.
Viv is grateful for all the people who have helped stand Best’s winery in such confident stead among the industry and its loyal customers. Viv’s wife Christine is undoubtedly his greatest supporter – her efforts in accumulating so much of the Thomson family history in order to publish Best’s commemorative 150-year book are so appreciated.
Viv’s children all remain active at the winery in various roles. Ben is now at the helm as Managing Director. And Hamish, Yvette and Marcus have all contributed to the success of Best’s over the years.
So where did the celebration take place? Melbourne’s Jimmy Watsons’ Bar – it was such a fitting place in which to commemorate the day, given its history. It first opened as a wine merchant place of business in 1935, and has gradually evolved as a meeting place for lovers of wine to this day. Viv is honoured the Watson family agreed to host this special day.
Best’s history is coloured with so many acclaimed winemakers and on the day we were lucky that most of them could join us to discuss the wines of which they are most proud. Best’s current winemaker, Justin Purser (2011-present), was joined by Adam Wadewitz (2005-2011), Hamish Seabrook (2000-2005), Michael Unwin (97-2000), Simon Clayfield (88-97), and Sandy Mast (wife of the late Trevor 75-98).
So which wines were enjoyed?
Along with these rare and aged wines, we enjoyed the limited release wines that were crafted to commemorate Best’s 150th anniversary.
This Is Your Invitation to Open That Bottle Night.
Great wine is made to be shared. And one of the most fulfilling parts of belonging to the wine industry is hearing the stories of people opening those bottles with friends. It’s not always about cracking open the oldest vintage in your cellar (although that is a unique story in itself!). It could be a brand new wine release that’s made from small parcels of pristine fruit picked from lovingly nurtured vines. Just like we do in Best’s Great Western vineyards.
So in conjunction with Best’s 150th Anniversary celebrations, here’s your excuse to open those bottles you’ve been saving.
Best’s is hosting a series of Open That Bottle Nights throughout 2016. Put the following dates in your diary to join in the fun:
Saturday 27 February 2016 (Global Open That Bottle Night)
Saturday 21 May 2016
Saturday 3 September 2016
What’s Open that Bottle Night?
The concept of Open That Bottle Night (OTBN) was initiated by two reporters at The Wall Street Journal. Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher wanted to encourage their readers to open a significant bottle, then to share their stories. Since its inauguration in 2000, the event has become a global phenomenon, and is always held annually on the last Saturday in February.
The underlying premise of Open That Bottle Night is that wine is more than liquid in a bottle. With the opening of these wines comes memories of life milestones, births, deaths and marriages, long lost loved ones and treasured holidays. These memories are too precious and significant not to celebrate and share.
So, here’s how to hold your own Open That Bottle Night:
Dig out a special wine that you’ve been saving for a special occasion or purchase a new release to celebrate and join in the fun.
Invite friends and family to your place or an outdoor picnic while the weather is a warm? Tell your guests it’s a special occasion – you provide the wine, they bring a plate? Or try to match the food to the wine being opened?
Once the wine has been opened and tasted, post your thoughts using #OTBN, or if you’re opening an old bottle of Best’s Wine, use #Bestswines150.
Tell the stories about the wines – where did you buy it from, did you meet the winemaker, what food matches best. Is there a story from early days of discovering wine that you care to share?
Plan to do it all over again!
Don't waste the opportunity of opening a special bottle – take Best’s winemaker Justin’s advice about how to open old wines by reading his blog post: http://www.bestswines.com/blog/How-To-Open-Old-Wines
With a healthy collection of aged and rare wines in our cellar, the team at Best’s has loads of experience opening these bottles with all the required pomp and ceremony. So how to open old wines safely? Simple common sense and a few tips and tricks will help ensure your old wine makes it into the glass as good as new. One piece of advice – don’t sweat over deciding to open old bottles. It’s better to drink them too young, than too old.
Hopefully, your timeworn wine will have aged gracefully and you’ll have the chance to savor, discuss and enjoy. (If possible, reserve a backup in case the wine has reached its use-by date.)
Top 6 Activities in the Grampians
Heading to the Grampians soon? We thought you’d like a helping hand to draw up a to-do list while you’re here. Best’s Wines certainly attracts many visitors, but we’re humble enough to recognise the appeal of many other top wineries in this Victorian wine region – from Seppelt Great Western through to Mount Langi Ghiran, each winery represents a slice of the Grampians wine region and is worth a visit. The Grampians National Park is also a major draw card, with its natural wonders and winding walks. Read on for the best travel tips in the Grampians region. We look forward to seeing you!
It goes without saying that if you’re in the area, a visit to Best’s Wines is a must, with our age-old cellar door, 150-year-old vines and warm hospitality. But there’s a colourful selection of other wineries, rich in history and alive with new energy, to discover in the Grampians region. From the iconic Mount Langi Ghiran to the popular Seppelt Great Western, there’s a vast array of destinations to choose from. Visit visitvictoria.com/Regions/Grampians to find out more.
The Pinnacle Walk
From the local town of Halls Gap, bordering the Grampians National Park, The Pinnacle lookout can be seen towering above everything in its wake. It may look scarily high, but hiking to the lookout is not as gruelling as it seems. Every effort made to get there is worth it, as the scenic views over the vast expanse of the Grampians National Park are staggering.
The easiest route to The Pinnacle begins at the Sundial car park within the national park and ascends to The Pinnacle via Devils Gap. Choose this route if you have children or less confident walkers in tow. The 4.2km walk will take one and a half to two hours for the return trip. It does include water crossings and rock-hopping, so good sturdy shoes are essential.
The more testing walk departs from the aptly named Wonderland car park and ascends via the impressive Grand Canyon. Its unique Australian rock formations are super impressive, albeit on a smaller scale than its American counterpart. The walk continues through the Silent Street before rising up to The Pinnacle. For details, visit http://parkweb.vic.gov.au.
Also in the Grampians National Park are the spectacular Mackenzie Falls. The numerous cascades of the Mackenzie River as it flows through the gorge can be viewed from the Bluff Lookout, accessible via a sealed walk that meanders through sheltered woodland from the Mackenzie Falls car park. Daring walkers can also continue on a downward track to the base of the Mackenzie Falls. For details, visit http://parkweb.vic.gov.au.
Halls Gap Zoo
Visit Halls Gap Zoo to encounter an amazing 160 species of native and exotic mammals, reptiles and birds. Sitting in the foothills of the majestic Grampians mountain ranges, the zoo is home to meerkats, giraffes, cheetahs, red pandas, lemurs, macaws and a huge array of wallaby and kangaroo species. For details, visit http://hallsgapzoo.com.au.
Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre
The Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre tells the story of the Chinese miners’ taxing journey from Southern China to Australia, where they dreamed big about finding their own pot of gold. Designed in the traditional style of Southern Chinese Architecture, and incorporating the principals of Feng Shui, the two-storey building houses a fascinating selection of interactive displays and period pieces. Imagine life during Ararat’s early beginnings and the excitement of the immigrants who discovered one of the world’s richest shallow alluvial goldfields. For details, visit http://arts-events-tourism.ararat.vic.gov.au/gum-san-heritage-centre.
Brambuk, the National Park & Cultural Centre
Drop in to Brambuk (meaning renewal) to see the culture of the Jardwadjali and Djab Wurrung indigenous communities come to life. The cultural centre provides everything you need to know about the park and its people, so you’re fully equipped to discover the park’s environment and Aboriginal culture. Enjoy bush foods at the café and perusing the Aboriginal arts and crafts at the gift store. For details, visit http://brambuk.com.au.
These grapes are great. It’s a pity we don’t have more of them”.
Flies on the walls at Best’s would have heard this phrase uttered often this vintage. We did have lower yields than we’d have liked, due to the lack of water, but the upside is the lower yields have contributed to more concentration, and the moderate weather has meant the wines will still be medium bodied and fine. Quality has been very good across the board for both the reds and whites, with bright varietal aromas and rich flavours.
Although the summer was warm and dry, the vines weren’t exposed to any nasty heat waves, which meant they faired reasonably well. A succession of cooler nights from late summer into autumn provided ‘hang time’ to allow the grapes’ flavours to develop slowly.
Then, 100mm of rain in the Great Western area in early January gave the vines a great boost, as the soil was very dry. The vines are nearly all picked now, just our 13 Acre Cabernet Block remains. (Cabernet is always the last to come in but this year it’s worth the wait.)
Among our usual suspects assisting at vintage time has been Joe Warren, former chef turned winemaker from Queensland, and Raphael Mulligan, a French sommelier from Rockpool in Sydney. With Great Western temperatures plummeting to a chilly 2C, Rabs and Raf, as they are affectionately known, have begged, borrowed and stolen every piece of warm clothing available to survive the bleak conditions working atop the outdoor red fermenters. (I would not be surprised if they have been tempted to bathe in the heat of the red ferment!)
During the off-season and quiet times (which are few and far between), we’ve been tweaking, servicing and upgrading the tools and toys in the winery. And this vintage we’ve been able to test them out properly. Our cooling system has been serviced and upgraded to cool more tanks and to produce more flow. Despite an orchestra of weird and wonderful noises emanating from the liquid flowing through a serpentine network of pipes, the upgrade is certainly a relief for weary winemakers (and questioning wives!), who previously made midnight checks to ensure a tank wasn’t too hot or too cold.
I believe 2015 will be remembered as a low-yield year with good wines, similar to 2009 and 2014, but without heat waves reducing quality. In terms of style, it will be similar to 2012 or 2014 – fine, rich varietal wines without excess weight. I can’t wait to try the 2015 wines down the track.
Best’s Great Western