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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.
Decanting Young Reds blog by Hamish Thomson
Growing up in a family in which wine is the backbone of our existence has taught me a thing or two about the enjoyment of wine. One thing I’ve learned along the way is that decanting younger red wines (screw top or cork) always improves their flavour. From my experience at cellar door, holding tastings and at home, I’ve almost always seen a benefit from allowing a young red wine breathe; and the younger, more tannic the wine, the more time it needs to “breathe”.
So what is breathing? Breathing or aerating a wine gives it exposure to oxygen, which in turn lifts the aromas from the wine into the surrounding space and softens the tannins. (I’ve also seen this transformation occur in the occasional Chardonnay.) It basically allows the wine to express itself in its most open, heightened state.
Which wines should be allowed to breathe? Most young full-bodied reds – Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Mourvèdre.
There are two commonly used methods to allow a wine to breathe – one method is to pour the wine into a decanter; the second is to use an aerator, or Vinturi, which is the common brand. An aerator sees the wine being poured through the aerator device into a glass, and this exposes the wine to oxygen. In my experience this method seems to give the wine a good lift to the flavours on the nose and the palate. This is a quick and convenient way that can be achieved by the glass. Whereas the decanting method is best done by the bottle. It allows the fruit aromas and flavours to grow, the tannins to soften and the faults to dissipate.
If you’re keen to get the best out of a Pinot Noir, I suggest allowing it to breathe in the glass. I have used a Vinturi on Pinots in the past with varying results. On some wines it works wonderfully; on others the Vinturi has stripped almost all the aromatics and fruit flavours from the wine. If you do want to aerate a light red, decanting will allow you to get the best from those more delicate characteristics without affecting them detrimentally.
Decanters come in all shapes and sizes. For young wines, you’re looking for a method of exposing the wine to the greatest surface area or volume of air possible. Choose a decanter that does this in a way that works best for you and suits your personality.
How long does a wine need to breathe? For best results, remove the cork or screw top from the wine after lunch to allow it to come to life for dinnertime. Or pour it into a decanter at about 5pm for a 7.30pm dinner date. Try not to be in a hurry.
Which serving temperature is best? Temperature can play an important role in the enjoyment of wine. If your reds are too cold, breathing the wine will not open it up very much. It’s like walking into the house after being out in the frost – the protective layers come off. So always get the temperature right before allowing a wine to breathe.
Serve your lighter reds at 12-13°C and heavier reds close to 15°C. In winter, pull the wine out of its hiding place and place it on the dining table or kitchen bench to bring it to room temperature. In summer, your wine may need time in the fridge to cool down before serving. The hotter the wine, the quicker it will release its aromatics, leaving only the acid and tannin structure behind.
Want to read more about decanting and aerating wine? Give this interesting article a read:
The story of Best’s and the history of its Dolcetto plantings are vague to say the least. It all begins in 1866, when Henry Best purchased 73 acres of land in Victoria’s Great Western region and planted the first vines 2 years later. Among Shiraz and Pinot Meunier, Henry planted the varietal Dolcetto on his Concongella estate. Translated from the Italian to mean “sweet little one”, Dolcetto was originally from Piedmont in northwest Italy, and this Mediterranean location is still considered its spiritual home.
Scottish-born William Thomson purchased the Best’s site in 1920 and since then, many generations of the Thomson family have pondered why Henry chose to plant 25% of the entire vineyard to this lesser-known variety.
We may never know why he put his faith in Dolcetto – perhaps it’s because Henry believed he was planting the French Bordeaux variety, Malbeck! In the early 1980’s, a French ampelographer (vine identifier) came to assess Best’s old nursery block that included this mystery Malbeck, as well as other rare varieties such as Pinot Meunier. When the ampelographer looked at the “Malbeck”, he said, “I don’t know what you’ve got but it’s not Malbeck”.
In 1982 when his findings were given – the correct identification of the Malbeck was Dolcetto. In the early 1980s, Bordeaux blends, including Merlot, were king, and varieties from outside France, including Italy, had not been considered as potential products by the wine industry nor had the consumer even considered venturing outside the usual French suspects. And Viv Thomson, being a stickler for authenticity, renamed the old Malbeck “Dolcetto” and it has thrived in popularity ever since.
It’s very likely that Best’s original plantings of Dolcetto are the oldest ungrafted vines of this variety in the world. In Great Western, this early-ripening variety has stood the test of time and weathered many a storm (and a drought or two) since it was planted 150 years ago.
Best’s newer Dolcetto plantings have come from cuttings from Henry’s original vines – in 1971 they were grafted and planted in a new block in order to guarantee their survival. Now, in good vintage years, they produce amazingly flavoursome yet small parcels of fruit. When Best’s does produce its Dolcetto, it’s always in limited quantities due to the small plantings and dry-grown nature of the vines.
So why is Dolcetto referred to as “sweet little one”? It’s not in reference to its sugar levels, rather the fact that it has low natural acidity, making it an easy-to-drink style of wine. The skin can be very dark purple, almost black. The colour of Dolcetto is quite interesting – it does not show the deep purple of many other red varieties. It’s a very attractive deep crimson, which is quite distinctive.
Best’s Dolcetto sits in the popular Great Western range – like many expressions of this wine all over the world, Best’s produces a light-to medium-bodied red. It’s brightly coloured in a vibrant garnet red hue, with lifted aromas of perfumed cherry, anise and savoury herbs. On the palate discover juicy black cherry flavours with fine powdery tannins and a savoury finish. It makes a beautiful red served with foods that have naturally occurring high acidity, such as Italian-style cured meats and cheeses, as well as a variety of pasta dishes, particularly those with a tomato base.
This Italian-born variety is best while young, when it is fresh and lively, within 5-7 years of vintage. Taste the history of Best’s Dolcetto by enjoying a bottle of this small-batch wine right here
Best’s Vintage 2017 Wrap-Up
Justin Purser, Best’s Winemaker
What an amazing few months it has been for the team at Best’s Great Western. Harvest has seen us enjoy a record intake of fruit with more than 700 tonnes coming into the winery. Our focus has since moved to ensuring the grapes receive loving care in their transformation from grapes to wine.
So why so much fruit in 2017? The last few seasons in Great Western have been lean to say the least, with frost and dry conditions taking their toll. So early in the season, when we realised that conditions were good for the impending months ahead and the quality of the vines in spring 2016 was high, we took a gamble and secured extra fruit from our growers. Thankfully, the season progressed with near-perfect conditions – mild weather and intermittent rain, but warm enough in spring to ensure good fruitfulness, ripening and excellent fruit quality.
Other surrounding regions experienced detrimental rainfall in January but it was less heavy in Great Western and largely beneficial for our grapes that didn’t ripen until late March and throughout April, which was nearly five weeks later than the 2016 season and two weeks later than recent averages. Overall, our own vineyards did especially well, with good yields and great quality.
In the wine world, we live around the vagaries of the weather so to have such an optimistic season like this, when the rainfall comes at the right time (and doesn’t affect ripening by falling at the wrong time) and there are no heatwaves or frosts to contend with, it is truly a cause for celebration.
Already we have great batches of 2017 wine in the cellar, with Riesling and Shiraz looking particularly good. The only downside was that some vineyards had a little too much fruit and therefore the flavours were a little dilute, but with all the other good batches, I am sure the overall quality of 2017 wines will be memorable.
With all the hours we’ve been putting in, it’s rewarding to see the wines looking so good. We have one more batch to press, which is Pinot Noir from the old block that was picked two months ago. It smells and tastes great, so it will be pressed off after two months on skins.
So how did we celebrate? We enjoyed a lovely dinner at the end of the harvest at our favourite local restaurant Steel Cutters Cottage. We presented awards to Best’s hard-working team members – one notable award was given to Claudio from Italy, who managed to receive three speeding fines within a few weeks (his nickname became Fangio) but he also did a great job cleaning and sealing up our old vats for the new wines. He was awarded a handbrake and an old vat door to hang around his neck in the hope that it might slow him down a bit in the future. Our French team members have now departed for France and Claudio is leaving for Italy this weekend. It’s certainly sad to see them go.
Best’s cellar is now returning to some kind of normality, with that other great time of year we love looming – bottling!
Best’s Cellar Door Project
Ever heard of a cellar door team making its own drop from the winery’s vineyard and winemaking facilities? Best’s Cellar Door Project could be a world first – read all about this eye-opening exercise in the blog post below.
Imparting knowledge to their team does not trouble great leaders. And our winemaker Justin Purser embodies this attitude when he encourages Best’s cellar door team to make its own wine, under his winemaking counsel, of course. Branded The Cellar Door Project, the mission is to impart valuable winemaking knowledge to the team, who in turn share this knowledge with Best’s visitors – it’s one skill to be able to describe a wine’s characteristics; it’s an even greater skill to experience the craft of winemaking and share that with Best’s visitors.
Best’s winemaker Justin Purser takes the first step in a project that culminates in the production of a fantastic Shiraz, as well as the unification and education of our cellar door team. First up, Justin reserves a special area of Shiraz, called James Block in our Salvation Gully Vineyard at Rhymney. At vintage time, it’s all hands on deck to handpick the grapes. Luckily the sun was shining and the hard work resulted in a tonne of beautifully juicy and ripe Shiraz grapes.
Second step sees the cellar door team “foot stomp” the grapes – a fun and fruity task with a bit of mess thrown in. Then for the next week, the team members take turns plunging (to extract colour and tannin in the wine) while the grapes are fermenting. They even enlist the help from cellar door visitors (we’re nothing if not resourceful).
The next, even messier stage is pressing the grapes, using a basket press. It’s incredibly satisfying to watch the grape juice flow through the press and move one step closer to magically becoming wine.
The juice is then “racked” into barrels where it sits peacefully, until instructions are given for the next steps.
The next phase of the project sees the wine racked off its malolactic lees into tank and analysed in the laboratory, where small adjustments and additions are made before returning to barrel for further maturation.
The cellar door team approaches the tasting component of this practical experiment with grand enthusiasm – and they are all happy to put on their science coats and watch the chemistry in action.
Time to check the wine’s maturation process! Thankfully, it’s looking good with rounded, supple fruit characters, yet retaining wonderful freshness. The maturation journey is occurring in second-fill French oak, where monthly topping is undertaken to ensure the wine is kept off ullage (any amount by which a barrel is left unfilled).
The wine has reached its optimum maturation point in barrel and put into bottle with a release date pegged for early 2017. The cellar door team have been dedicated participants in this project, taking in every morsel of fact and nuance in this caper that is called winemaking. Their approach to learning about the winemaking process has been inspiring.
It’s time to release the cellar door team’s labour of love. The 2015 Cellar Door Project Shiraz is made from fruit grown in a special plot of Shiraz called James Block in our Salvation Gully Vineyard at Rhymney. The cellar door staff handpicked the grapes, foot stomped, basket pressed, racked, matured in oak, blended and bottled the wine, to present it to you in their place of work – the cellar door. This corner of the world is the only location from which this drop is available. And a mere 30 dozen cases were produced so if you want to stock your cellar, come and visit, or call the cellar door and purchase over the phone – 03 5356 2250.
What’s does the 2015 Cellar Door Project Shiraz taste like?
Delicious! It’s dark red with a garnet hue, and lifted herbal peat-like characters. Its rich, mid-weight palate displays dark fruit flavours with a long savoury finish. It will soften and become more complex over the next 10 years.
Keen to try it but can’t make it to the cellar door? No problem, give the friendly cellar door team a call on 03 5356 2250. They’d be very happy to talk you through the entire project and help you purchase a few bottles over the phone.
Best’s winemaker Justin Purser gives us an update on how the Great Western vineyards are faring with harvest looming in the coming weeks.
It has been an ideal start to Vintage 2017 in Great Western. So far, we’ve picked nearly all the Riesling, all the Chardonnay and some Pinot Noir. It’s been a slow but steady maturation of the grapes. Compared to the fast pace of vintages in recent years, 2017 has been a bit of a waiting game for the fruit to ripen. The advantage of this is two fold.
The first benefit is that the flavours in the grapes have had plenty of time to mature before the sugar level becomes too excessive. Too much sugar means too much alcohol, which we do not want.
The second bonus is that the slow ripening allows us to plan and pinpoint the right time to pick, which is not easy in warmer years. Most of our blocks that we’ve picked so far are four or five weeks later than last year.
The frustrating thing about this waiting game is that the staff (myself included) in the winery and the vineyard are anxious to get their hands on the fruit, so we don’t have to process any more grape maturity samples or do any more cleaning.
We did see plenty of nervous energy in the winery this week, with an impending rainstorm threatening our Riesling crop. Never fear though, the team rallied and we spent a long night and day picking and pressing five different blocks of Riesling plus one of Orange Muscat and some Gewürztraminer for our Gentle Blend. The result of these picks is fantastic – I’m really excited about the potential for high-quality wines this year. The flavours coming through the juice and the early fermentation are very encouraging.
The rain seems to have fizzled out now and has resulted in giving the vines a freshen-up and allowed the dust to settle. We need to wait a couple more days for the grape’s flavours to return to their previous state – which leaves us with the perfect opportunity to clean and write a vintage blog. We’re also putting together our 2016 Bin 1 blend at the moment, a task normally reserved until after vintage, but it is ready to go now, so carpe diem.
This year, our winery vintage staff includes stalwarts Leanne, Jamie, Hadyn and Justin Burns (the other Justin), Glenn (in the vineyard), plus celebrity guests Viv and Hamish Thomson, and our new recruits of Claudio from Bologna in Italy and Manon and Jeremy from Champagne in France. We all went out to the Pigsty Vineyard last week and picked the small amount of old-vine Pinot Noir that’s mingled with the Pinot Meunier. We intend to recreate the wine we made from these vines (the oldest Pinot Noir vines in the world) in 2014 and released in 2016 to celebrate our 150th anniversary. The Pinot looks great, with fruitful and balanced crops and delicious flavours in the berries. We’ll pick all of this fruit as soon as it dries out. (As I am writing this, it seems we’ve been lucky as only a small amount of rain fell and we have some drying winds to follow.)
This week we should also start to pick our Shiraz, but next week will be the true onset of the “Shiraz-alanche”.
Yours, until the next update.
8th February 2017
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.
BThese 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.
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.