Two years ago I found myself in Sydney on the eve of Rootstock—the phenomenal wine/food/everything great festival—with an afternoon free, so I popped into Rockpool for a cheeky mac and cheese and a glass of wine. On the list there was a huge range of wines, from wildly pricey Beaujolais all the way to the cheap and easy Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs, but in the middle of this huge list sat a little pocket of nicely priced naturals. It was there that I first tried a spectacular Riesling from Ravensworth winery just outside of Canberra.
Now for those unfamiliar with Australia, Canberra is a region more associated with politicians, art galleries, and memorials than minimal intervention winemaking. But since opening Ravensworth in 2001, owners Bryan and Jocelyn Martin have achieved a quiet achiever distinction in Australia’s buzzing wine scene. The brand’s spectacular label art, depicting a fascinating kitchen scene that includes the owners’ cat and a distinctive hatchet, certainly helps. Since trying their wine in Sydney all those years ago, I’ve been picking up bottles back in Melbourne whenever they cross my path and have been consistently impressed.
Bryan Martin is a fascinating and incredibly accomplished fellow, having formerly made a living as a chef and food writer before moving his primary focus to winemaking. With studies in wine science and viticulture under his belt, he’s been working at the Clonakilla winery since 2004 and now looks after all their winemaking. He and Jocelyn also tend to their seven-acre vineyard that they started planting out on their own property back in 2000, and Ravensworth wines are made within their own dedicated section of the Clonakilla facilities. It’s a setup that many a burgeoning natural winemaker would be envious of, with access to great equipment and, most importantly, temperature-controlled fermentation and storage facilities.
“I’m lucky,” Bryan tells me. “Normally when you start making wine you’re making it out of a tin shed which can be a not-so-great place because they can be a bit hot. So I’ve always made my wine in here, which means that I can get pretty experimental. We’ve got a really good lab, so I’m able to be quite lo-fi but check and test everything regularly.”
Where you’d normally you’d find rows and rows of small old oak barrels, Martin gravitates toward large format oak imported from Austria and large concrete pyramids brought over from Verona. With these facilities, he’s able to make a range of wines that sit on a diverse spectrum. The wineries’ specialty are co-fermented white and red wine blends, including a representative Shiraz Viognier—a very popular combination for the region’s winemakers—all the way to the more experimental “Seven Months,” a Pinot Gris/Riesling/Gewürztraminer/Sauvignon blend which spend seven months on skins in concrete before pressing.
At Ravensworth—and in any vineyard—it’s not just the winemaking that creates these delicious products, it’s the viticulture itself. This is a particular area of focus for Ravensworth.
“I got into it because I studied wine science, and knowing what you don’t need has been a journey,” Bryan tells me. “You don’t need all that stuff [cultured yeast and malolactic bacteria], as long as you have attention to detail and good fruit. Growing the fruit is an important thing, and since we’ve changed to organics, honestly the fruit has been amazing—I don’t think we’ve ever had better fruit than the last couple of years. You pick the fruit and come in and make a wine and you know exactly what you’ve put into it, or actually haven’t put into it.”
With this in mind, the Martins are currently in the process of submitting plans to council to build winemaking facilities on their land, and intend to eventually only make wine from their own vines—even if it means downsizing their output significantly.
While I could happily wax poetic about each of the unique wines that Bryan and Jocelyn Martin make for Ravensworth, the wines’ diversity makes it easier to summarise them in a much broader way: they’re honest, they’re unique, and they’re exciting. If you’re a fan of the New Australia, these are must-drink wines, humble regional background be damned. I can’t wait to see where Ravensworth goes next, and to drink as much as I can of it in the years to come.
Eileen P. Kenny is a Sprudge Media Network contributor based in Melbourne. Read more Eileen P. Kenny on Sprudge Wine.
Photos by the author.