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10th Oct 2017 From an experiment to an icon

The Shiraz, Mondeuse & Cabernet Sauvignon Story

The year was 1954 when second-generation Brown Brothers John Charles Brown decided to try an exciting experiment…

He left some Shiraz on the vine until it was very ripe while allowing the Cabernet Sauvignon and Mondeuse to fully ripen. All three were picked on the same day and fermented together. And so the Shiraz, Mondeuse and Cabernet wine was first crafted.

The 2013 release of the Shiraz, Mondeuse and Cabernet, or SMC for short, is an exciting time for us at Brown Brothers. It was made using John C. Brown’s original co-fermentation technique.

We’ve never seen our original and iconic blend replicated by another winery. The combination of grape varieties, wine characteristics and winemaking details has made this a truly unique wine.

But a wine like this doesn’t happen overnight. It’s the culmination of almost 100 years of experimentation and adaptation in the vineyard and winery that led to such an innovation.

To truly appreciate this wine, we need to look back to the mid-1910s when Phylloxera, a vine destroying bug, was discovered at Milawa. Towards the latter part of the decade John Francis Brown needed to start replanting his vines. Government viticultural representative François de Castella, the Grandfather of marathon runner Robert de Castella, was brought in to help farmers rebuild post the Phylloxera devastation.

De Castella and John Francis worked together on replanting Milawa with American rootstocks to eliminate the effects of the grape vine pest. With the replanting a number of new varieties were established including Graciano and Mondeuse. Through the early years of the life of Mondeuse it was made into blends and rarely as a straight varietal.

So where does these obscure Mondeuse grape variety originate from?

Some early information around Mondeuse has its origins in the Eastern districts of France and this is supported by British wine critic Jancis Robinson in her comprehensive book Wine Grapes.

Savoie is now the recognised region for the variety and increasingly single varietal wines are making their way to our Australian shores.

Its late ripening and susceptibility to drought, poor fruit set, downy and powdery mildew plus botrytis make it an incredibly challenging variety to grow.

The grapes themselves are deep in colour and have quite thick skins. The subsequent wines tend to be high in tannins and spicy with little fruit intensity. Mondeuse benefits from ageing and with around eight years in the cellar, the secondary leather and tar flavours become very attractive.

Why is co-fermenting the key to the wine’s success?

Modern day wine making will tell you to make each variety separately and then blend the components together. This gives you more control over the final wine and offers an opportunity to keep the vintages consistent by tweaking the blend.

For a period of time during the late 1980s and early 1990s the separation technique was practiced but the wines never quite had the depth of colour and flavour to age like the original 1954 SMC.

A researcher by the name of Roger Boulton did a study into co-fermentation during the 1990s and found that co-fermentation with particular varieties producers more flavour, colour and tannins than if the wines were fermented separately. And what do you know…. Mondeuse is one of the best for delivering this added intensity.

Co-fermentation adds to the intrigue and hence we have interesting vintage variations depending on climate, picking times and how the wine reacts during the winemaking process.

Third-generation family member John Graham Brown took over the winemaking in 1958 and kept the co-fermentation process going. In his time the blend was as close to using a third of each as possible depending on the vintage. After around two weeks on skins, the wine went into oak for a long maturation. After bottling with no fining or filtration the wine was bottled and often kept up to five years before release to the market.

In the early years the SMC was made every vintage and was a hit with the Melbourne négociants like Jimmy Watson and Dan Murphy.

At Brown Brothers, the SMC is a single vineyard wine from the Milawa vineyard at the original farm which was planted way back in 1885. The current 2013 release is crafted in a similar way to the original release with only a few slight differences in blending and oak handling.

For the last two decades we have been honouring the uniqueness and history of the wine by only releasing it in the very best vintages.

Only 39 of a possible 59 vintages have been released showing our commitment to this Brown Brothers icon.