Rick's Newsletter


Australian shows make 'boring' wine

The Australian show system is holding good wines back and promoting boring wines, winemaker Rick Kinzbrunner says in the latest issue of Decanter.

Kinzbrunner, founder of Giaconda in Beechworth, Victoria, tells Andrew Jefford the shows have become moribund.

In the ‘early years’, he says, the system helped ‘drag the bottom end up’ but now it’s doing the opposite.

‘It’s holding people back. It just drives wines to a certain level of interesting boredom, clean boredom.’

The problem is one of winemakers’ egos, Kinzbrunner says, and the solution would be to have consumers in charge.

'Why do winemakers run the show? They're not the people who drink the wine. It's absolutely crazy. You should have consumers in charge, with a small winemaking contingent.'

Giaconda’s wines are feted by critics as diverse as Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson and Jefford himself. Berry Brothers, which imports the wines, is begging for a ‘stay of execution’ on a Roussanne vineyard that Kinzbrunner is thinking of pulling out – Giaconda’s Aeolia, pure Roussanne, is one of the most renowned of the range.

‘Despite his success, he’s still very much the outsider,’ Jefford writes, ‘his famed Chardonnay … is the antithesis of modern Australia’s …critically acclaimed ideal.’

In the course of a wide-ranging interview, Kinzbrunner airs his views on a number of subjects, including the Australian need to ‘cut you down to size’, his countrymen’s ‘insane preference for screwcaps’, and his love of Schubert, Bach and Beethoven.

‘Bach's cello sonatas [are a ] wonderful example of harmony in art as in nature – it reminds me of the synergy I think there can be between a terroir and a winemaker.’

Adam Lechmere, Decanter Magazine

A winemaking wanderer

Those who visit wine cellars professionally quickly learn to look for something particular as they step into the cool gloom. There are no guarantees; if you see it, though, your pulse quickens a little. That sight is a collection of empty bottles of great wines from other regions and other producers.

It means that the producer in question has wider perspectives than his or her own hillside; that hard-earned money was spent on the work of gifted peers; and that the aromas and flavours surrendered by those bottles were precious enough to keep the empties from the bottle bank. Expectations rise.

When I first visited Australian wine producer Rick Kinzbrunner of Giaconda, in Victoria, he went further. He gave me eight wines to taste blind. I tasted; I talked; he listened patiently, asking the odd question. Four, it emerged, had indeed come from his own vineyards in Victoria’s Beechworth; the other four proved to be from Burgundy, the Rhône and Bordeaux. He hadn’t chosen milksop opposition, either: his 2005 Chardonnay matched (and in my notebook eclipsed) Leflaive’s 2004 Puligny Combettes, while his Pinot Noir and Shiraz from the same vintage held their own, in a different style, with Clavelier’s 2002 Chambolle Combe d’Orveau and Chapoutier’s 2004 Ermitage Le Pavillon, respectively. His Cabernet, by contrast, failed to ignite – though it was nose to nose with Pichon Baron 2000.

Then I moved from my temporary home in Australia to the Languedoc – and discovered that Kinzbrunner had a house in St Chinian. He didn’t just come for three weeks a year to forget his care; he came for up to three months every year, and spent much of the time burning tyre rubber on visits to other European regions and producers. In Australia, moreover, Kinzbrunner is something of a lone wolf: a self-taught winemaker who learned most of his craft in California, and whose work is perhaps more widely praised abroad than at home.

I learnt to my horror that he is thinking of grafting his rich, languid, salty-oily Roussanne grape (from which he makes a wine called Aeolia) to Chardonnay – because of the disparagement and incomprehension the wine receives at the hands of Australian critics. It is Aeolia, and the no less mouthfilling Chardonnay, which are my two favourites from his exceptionally consistent Giaconda range.

I caught up with this winemaking wanderer earlier this summer to quiz him about his travels. “The biggie for me,” he cautioned, “is what’s in the bottle. I hear so much talk about vineyards, terroir, organics, natural winemaking, low sulphur, whatever – but if the wine doesn’t measure up, it’s all irrelevant.” Kinzbrunner said he has visited “many places where people are fixated on their vineyard – but the wine is crap. They’re not bothered or they’re doing the wrong things. Then sometimes it’s the other way around – they’ve made huge investments in the winery, but they have horrible, chemically farmed vineyards, and the wine’s still crap.”
A bottle of 2009 Giaconda Aeolia

2009 Giaconda Aeolia (Berry Bros and Rudd, £61, 0800 280 2440). Deep colour, complex aroma, weighty and lush

If you’re assuming that Kinzbrunner’s definition of “crap” chimes with that of most of his countrymen, let me put you right at once. This Chardonnay craftsman is dismayed by much of the white burgundy he tries from the region, “because a lot of the producers are becoming more modern, and their wines are getting cleaner, more pristine”. He professes to love the fungal, undergrowthy, matchsticky wines: “I feel we’re seeing fewer of these. There’s too much protection of juice, too much settled and cleaned-up juice, too many modern presses, too many selected yeasts; they’re shying away from traditional methods, to their detriment. That’s why the wines don’t age as well as they used to.”

Tradition is a positive virtue in the Kinzbrunner lexicon, though his experiences with red burgundy have cautioned him against a dogmatic interpretation. “Red burgundy taught me that there’s no formula for doing anything perfectly,” he said. “Some growers use all whole-bunch [ie ferment both stems and grapes] and some use none, and both can make great wines.”

The efforts made in contemporary Bordeaux impress him. “You have to try very hard to get an edge in Bordeaux, to stand out from the crowd. I think that’s one area where the modern wines are much better than they were 30 years ago.”

Kinzbrunner worked briefly at Moueix properties such as Magdelaine and Pétrus in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He finds the Rhône a mixed picture, despite having a joint-venture project (called Ergo Sum) with the effervescent Michel Chapoutier back home in Beechworth, Victoria. “I think there is less expertise in the Rhône than in other top regions. Sometimes the fruit isn’t picked ripe enough, or looked after carefully enough; I like tradition, but rusticity often comes at the expense of complexity there. Languedoc can be a bit similar to Australia: the wines can quickly get too alcoholic and too heavy, and lack vibrancy and depth … But there’s a small amount of outstanding wine in the Languedoc.”

In Spain, he’s more of a fan of Priorat than Rioja. “You get more sense of place in Priorat than anywhere else in Spain. There aren’t any boring wines there. I love the traditional wines in Rioja – the Gran Reservas can be like old burgundies. The wines they make in the newer style are wonderful, but for me the sense of place is gone.”

His favourite region, though, is Piedmont. “I’ve been inspired by Piedmont. There’s a lot of people there who are thinking deeply about what they are doing. They don’t all agree, and some of the winemaking is wild, but I was deeply impressed with the best wines.” Not coincidentally, Kinzbrunner will be releasing a Nebbiolo of his own before long – and he says that this “neurotic” grape variety and his Piedmontese travels have made him rethink almost everything he does in the winery. I’ve tasted it: it’s authentically light yet craggy, full of the fruits of experience.

Andrew Jefford, Financial Times



  • Beechworth Provender
    18 Camp Street
    Beechworth VIC 3747
    (03) 5728 2650
  • Cellar Door Wine Store
    62 Ford Street
    Beechworth VIC 3747
    (03) 5728 2882
  • Provenance Restaurant
    86 Ford Street
    Beechworth VIC 3747
    (03) 5728 1786
  • Armadale Cellars
    813-817 High Street
    Armadale VIC 3143
    03 9509 3055
  • Auscellardoor
    12/345 Plummer Street
    Port Melbourne VIC 3207
    03 9646 4099
  • Banks Fine Wine
    134 Mollison Street
    Kyneton VIC 3444
    03 5422 6682
  • Blackhearts and Sparrows
    88 Punt Road
    Windsor VIC 3181
    03 9510 6385
  • Boccaccio Cellars
    1030 Burke Road
    Balwyn VIC 3103
    03 9817 2257
  • Bottega Tasca
    321 Lygon Street
    Carlton VIC 3053
    03 9347 7379
  • Como Wine and Spirits
    Cnr Toorak Rd And River Street
    South Yarra VIC 3141
    03 9827 0934
  • Decanters By The Bay
    174 Nott Street
    Port Melbourne VIC 3207
    03 9676 9440
  • Fine Wine Merchant
    Shop 9, 87 Mount Eliza Way
    Mount Eliza VIC 3930
    03 9787 3646
  • MW Wines Pty Ltd
    1 Marine Parade
    Abbotsford VIC 3067
    03 9419 6990
  • Nicks Wine Merchants
    10-12 Jackson Court
    East Doncaster VIC 3109
    03 9822 9100
  • Parkhill Cellars
    45 Errol Street
    North Melbourne VIC 3051
    03 9328 1132
  • Prince Wine Store
    177 Bank Street
    South Melbourne VIC 3205
    03 9686 3033
  • Randall The Wine Merchant
    324-326 Pakington Street
    Newtown VIC 3220
    03 5223 1141
  • Rathdowne Cellars
    348 Rathdowne Street
    Carlton North VIC 3054
    03 9349 3366
  • The European
    161 Spring Street
    Melbourne VIC 3000
    03 9654 0811
  • The Winestar Centre
    13 Mcgregors Drive
    Keilor Park VIC 3042
    03 9261 4444
  • Vintage Cellars Ashburton
    261 High Street
    Ashburton VIC 3147
    03 9885 8199
  • Wine House - Old and Rare Wines
    133 Queensbridge Street
    Southbank VIC 3006
    03 9698 8000
  • Winestyle
    1/177 Salmon Street
    Port Melbourne VIC 3207
    03 8644 4040
  • Annandale Cellars
    119 Johnston Street
    Annandale NSW 2038
    02 9660 1947
  • Best Cellars
    91 Crown Street
    Sydney East NSW 2000
    02 9361 3733
  • Camperdown Cellars
    233 Victoria Street
    Darlinghurst NSW 2010
    02 9380 6133
  • Corkscrew Cellars Rose Bay
    93 O'Sullivan Road
    Rose Bay NSW 2029
    02 9327 2354
  • Cremorne Cellars
    45A Spofforth Street
    Cremorne NSW 2090
    02 9953 1331
  • Crown West Cellars
    428 Crown Street
    Wollongong NSW 2500
    02 4228 9842
  • Darlinghurst Cellars
    140 Liverpool Street
    Darlinghurst NSW 2010
    02 9360 4695
  • Five Way Cellars
    4 Heeley Street
    Paddington NSW 2021
    02 9360 4242
  • Jd Cellars
    133 Alexander Street
    Crows Nest NSW 2065
    02 9965 7224
  • Kemeny's Food and Liquor
    137-147 Bondi Road
    Bondi NSW 2026
    02 9389 6422
  • Langton's Brokerage
    Level 1, 26 Waterloo Street
    Surry Hills NSW 2010
    02 8507 2662
  • North Sydney Cellars
    189 Miller Street(Cnr Berry St)
    North Sydney NSW 2060
    02 9954 0090
  • Northbridge Cellars
    153 Sailors Bay Road
    Northbridge NSW 2063
    02 8090 6793
  • Palm Beach Wine Co
    1109 Barrenjoey Road
    Palm Beach NSW 2108
    02 9974 4304
  • Pyrmont Cellars
    119 Harris Street
    Pyrmont NSW 2009
    02 9571 8555
  • Sixty Darling Street Fine Wines
    60 Darling Street
    Balmain East NSW 2041
    02 9818 3077
  • Summer Hill Wine Store
    7 Lackey Street
    Summer Hill NSW 2130
    02 9798 7282
  • The Australian Wine Centre
    Shop 3, 1 Alfred Street, Circular Quay
    Sydney NSW 2000
    02 9247 2755
  • The Grove Cellars
    81 Hillcrest Avenue
    Hurstville Grove NSW 2220
    02 9580 4464
  • The Oak Barrel
    152 Elizabeth Street
    Sydney NSW 2000
    02 9264 3022
  • United Cellars
    179-181 Palmer Street
    Darlinghurst NSW 2010
    02 8915 5300
  • Vaucluse Cellars
    58 South Head Road
    Vaucluse NSW 2030
    02 9337 1765
  • Vintage Blue Wines
    418 Kent Street
    Sydney NSW 2000
    02 9286 3344
  • Wine Culture
    23 Babbage Road
    Roseville Chase NSW 2069
    02 9882 1788
  • Prohibition the Bottle Shop
    148/39 Eastlake Parade
    Kingston ACT 2604
    02 6295 0864
  • Ferry Road Wine and Beer
    Shop 3, 107 Ferry Road
    Southport QLD 4215
    07 5526 3103
  • Grandview Hotel
    Heritage Precinct,49 North Street
    Cleveland Point QLD 4163
    07 3286 1002
  • Stewarts Wine Co
    The Barracks, Shop 10 61 Petrie Terrace
    Brisbane QLD 4000
    07 3018 9070
  • The Wine Emporium
    Tenancy E2, Gasworks 76B, Skyring Terrace
    Newstead QLD 4006
    07 3252 1117
  • Wineaway Pty Ltd
    Unit 3 - 276 Abbotsford Road
    Bowen Hills QLD 4006
    07 3852 1891
  • Australian Wine Centre
    4 Truro Avenue
    Kingswood SA 5062
    08 8272 7248
  • East End Cellars
    25 Vardon Avenue
    Adelaide SA 5000
    08 8232 5300
  • Edinburgh Cellars
    1-7 High Street
    Mitcham SA 5062
    08 8373 2753
  • Melbourne St Cellars
    93 Melbourne Street
    North Adelaide SA 5006
    08 8267 1533
  • Parade Cellars
    Shop 15, 161-175 The Parade
    Norwood SA 5067
    08 8332 0317
  • Print Hall
    Brookfield Place, 125 St Georges Terrace
    Perth WA 6000
    08 6282 0000
  • Raffles Hotel
    67-71 Canning Beach Road
    Applecross WA 6153
    08 9314 9010
  • Scarborough Cellars
    166A Scarborough Beach Rd
    Scarborough WA 6019
    08 9341 1437
  • Steves Fine Wine and Food
    30 The Avenue
    Nedlands WA 6009
    08 9386 3336