"Glory to Barossa," chanted Andrew Caillard as he sipped 100 year old Para port from a silver chalice both blessed and tarnished with a lifetime of memories.
"Glory to Barossa," chanted Bernie Hickin, appropriately humbled by the moment, before passing the chalice to the grinning giant beside him.
A murmur of good will rippled through the crowd as big Bob McLean took the vessel and drained its unctuous, wonderful contents in one schluk.
"Glory to Barossa," he drawled, and thus were three new Barons annointed to the thunderous applause of the crowd.
We unworthy Qwoff Boys were lucky enough to be amongst that crowd, and in one evening’s dinner and the following morning’s auction, we were reminded in the most wonderful of ways of just what the Barossa was made of.
The Baron’s Dinner, as we’re calling it (Further Clarification, to be honest, simply did not do it - this was a Feast of Kings!) was one of those nights we will never forget.
It was like getting an invitation to the greenroom at the Grammies and hanging with Robert Plant, Keith Richards, Paul McCartney and the Kings of Leon. The legends whose music we’ve danced to, snogged with, conjugated our lives by…
But perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s set the scene.
7 o’clock, the sun’s set on another day of the Vintage Festival, and the historical Angaston Town Hall is waiting. Inside, the utilitarian hall has been transformed, not just with elegant drapes and soft lighting, but with wines and people - BLOODY AMAZING wines and people!
Steven Henschke stands behind a table, ‘95 Hill of Grace in hand, with a warm smile and a generous pour. Chris Ringland, Charlie Melton, Rolf Binder, Grant Burge and dozens more, all sharing the very blood that beats in the heart of the Barossa - 98 Rockford Basket Press, Meschach, Grange, Nine Popes, Greenock Creek, Black Pepper, Octavius, Wolf Blass Platinum Label…
A line-up of wines that could humble even the most extravagant of wine lovers, shared by the hands of the creators themselves - but this was no solemn occasion, this was a room alive with belly laughs and bear hugs and kisses on the cheek and it was all just so… embracing!
It was history, it was the future, it was right here, right now, and it was bloody fantastic.
We sat down at three long tables - hundreds of us - and dined on Pigeon and Mushroom pies, some sort of exquisite lamb tart, creamy mash and all sorts of amazing and rustic delights, and all the bottles and so many more were thrown down on the tables and shared like favourite stories.
And with all of this merriment around and before us, we got to bear witness to the ritual that saw the anointment of three new Barons of the Barossa - a ritual resplendent with red and gold robes, ancient staffs and tastevins.
"It’s often fashionable to look forwards," commented MC Paul Henry, "but sometimes the answers lie behind us."
We woke the next morning with dry throats and pounding heads (well deservedly so!), and steered the kombi on over to the Penfold’s barrel hall, for the Rare and Distinguished Barossa Wine Auction.
Many of last night’s faces were there, with hundreds of wine lovers with big wallets, and the sparkling Shiraz - Barossan breakfast of choice - was flowing.
To sit and bare witness to the 130 lots of wine on auction was again to be reminded of just what the Barossa was capable of.
To see first-hand the confidence that wine lovers all around the world had in “First Growth” brands like Penfolds and Henschke as bids exploded past the $5K, $10K, $15K mark, and the eager demand for “newbies” like Rockford, Torbreck and Chris Ringland - was a humbling reminder that we need to either start making more money, or get invited to more Baron’s dinners!!
But beyond the dollars, the numbers, the smashing hammers, and the testosterone of the bidding battles, sat the wines themselves - wonderful, complex, balanced, patient and utterly delicious masterpieces that would soon be enjoyed around tables, proudly displayed in trophy rooms, and ultimately, hopefully shared among friends over the next few months or fifty years.
"Glory to Barossa," Justin whispered, humbled and inspired.
"Bloody oath," Andre replied, "pass me that RWT…"
Who are you and what’s your role at Laurance?
Dianne Laurance, Founder & Chairman.
I’ve been involved in a diverse range of successful business ventures including establishing restaurants, design, manufacturing and property development.
Ten years ago I entered the wine industry after purchasing a vineyard in the premium wine growing region of Margaret River in Western Australia.
My focus has always been to empower women and girls within Australia. Through my involvement in a number of organisations including the Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School “Women’s Leadership Board”; Leading Women Entrepreneurs of the World; the Clinton Global Initiative; Ted Women and Freedom to Create gives me the focus to achieve this.
I am particularly focussed on assisting Indigenous women artists from Western Australian communities to preserve and translate their culture and history through art while at the same time, providing a lucrative business venture for their communities and independence for the women.
Describe Laurance in 3 words:
Unique – Successful - Dynamic
Who started it, when and where?
In 2001, the Laurance family purchased 40 hectares of prime viticultural land situated in the premium wine growing region of Wilyabrup, Margaret River as a family retreat.
The vines, which included the six best known Margaret River varieties, had been planted in 1996 and, by 2001 were already providing fruit to International wine producers. After watching the first harvest, I knew what my next business was going to be.
My vision from the outset was to create an iconic and premium wine brand that set “Laurance of Margaret River” apart from all others by producing top quality wines in unique bottles and packaging and eventually opening a “must see” cellar door facility.
What is your philosophy?
What the mind can conceive and believe, it will achieve.
To produce the best wine from Margaret River; to have an iconic tourism cellar door with a difference, which is family friendly and affordable for all to enjoy.
To create happy memories for all who visit.
What do you love about the region?
The region is blessed with the best climate and terroir for growing exceptional wines; the natural attractions, pristine beaches, community spirit and the friendly competition between the wineries to produce the best!
What are three key moments in the history of Laurance?
There are actually five key moments for Laurance:
What are your 3 favourite Laurance wines and why?
Laurance of Margaret River Rose – Laurance’s signature wine. It’s a true European style dry Rose made from the Shiraz grape that is perfect with any style of cuisine at any time of the year. Awarded Gold at the Sydney International Wine Awards.
Laurance of Margaret River Icon Cabernet 2007 - during vintages of exceptional quality, small parcels of our finest fruit are used to create the Laurance Icon. The 2007 Cabernet was the first ever bottled under the Gold lady.
Darkly coloured and exotic, with aromas of violets, cassis, macerated plums and a hint of black licorice, which all stay focused on firm, but fine-grained fruit coated tannin structure. The lingering finish reveals juicy acidity, minerality and refined mocha notes.
An outstanding wine receiving five Gold Medals – Decanter World Wine Awards; Royal Adelaide Wine Show; Margaret River Wine Show & Japan International Wine Show and Royal Melbourne Wine Show.
Laurance of Margaret River Chardonnay - Bright and lively with complex stone fruit and fig aromas in front of some smoke, toastiness, vanilla and hazelnut. The palate is nicely textured with a long intricate minerally aftertaste. The wine is delicious in its youth; however, those who cellar it with care will be well rewarded with increased complexity.
Gold, Femmes et Vins du Monde Concours International France 2007;
Gold, International Chardonnay Challenge, New Zealand; Gold, Perth Royal Show; Gold, Royal Adelaide Wine Show
What’s with the unmistakable bottles?
In such a highly competitive industry, packaging and marketing strategies to engage the consumer are critical. First impressions will often dictate whether the consumer connects with the product which ultimately results in the purchase.
With this in mind, I wanted to create a premium range of wines in unique packaging. While Laurance has received numerous national and international awards for the wines, it is Laurance’s screen printed bottles and packaging that provides a point of difference. In Paris in 2005, it won the best design at a world-wide packaging show.
While I knew my packaging idea was appealing, the popularity of the bottles has astounded all expectations with empty bottles having a life of their own as they are sold at the Cellar for $5 each. There wouldn’t be many fridges in Australia without a Laurance bottle being used as a water container and their website can never be erased from the bottle – a great marketing tool.
I believe good wine should not only taste great, it should look great.
Can people visit your cellar door, and what can they expect to experience?
Many traditional cellar doors are a walk-in-taste-walk-out 15 minute experience. At Laurance Cellar, the aim is to entertain the tourist for as long as they choose with an entire Margaret River wine experience.
An integral part of the business plan was to provide wine tastings with a difference, in a relaxed and comfortable manner. Rather than standing at a bar and asking for each tasting under the constant gaze of hovering staff, Laurance provides each guest with their own tray, and offers tastings of their choice of wines accompanied by tasting notes, Turkish bread, olive oil and olives, all for $9.
The overarching theme that we wanted to create was to make Laurance Cellar a family-friendly destination that was affordable to everyone. The casual lunch trays using fresh local produce are all priced at less than $22 except some daily specials. The children’s trays are a specialty.
There is a state-of-the-art playground and vast expanses of rolling lawns for the children where they can play cricket, football, fly kites and indulge in other boisterous activities.
The focal point of the entire landscape plan is a circular-design 1,000 bush rose garden. At its centre is a 4 metre wide promenade leading from the cellar to the lake and covered by an antique timber rose covered arbor, all of which is especially popular with bridal parties, but enjoyed by rose-lovers of all ages.
The cellar itself is adorned with indigenous and conventional artwork and sculptures from Australian and international artists. A wishing well cockatoo sculpture by Australian sculptor “Willie Wildlife”, which is a memorial to Steve Irwin attracts significant donations from guests which are forwarded monthly to the “Wildlife Warriors Foundation”.
At the entrance of the property, a five-metre high bronze tree with a single bright red apple surrounded by a bed of bright yellow flowers, which are collectively known as the “Garden of Eden” assure visitors they are entering a place of beauty and tranquility.
The expansive lake is dominated by a significant work of public art, which, because of the controversy with local government regulations, became an Australian cause célèbre, and known locally by all and sundry as “Chick on a Stick. Her real name is “Free as a Bird”, which represents the freedom and opportunities this country offers its people.
Laurance provides an extensive and unique range of merchandising not offered in other cellar doors. All wines are sold in a wide array of gift packaging and the presentation is second to none.
We all want to help create a more sustainable world – what are you doing by way of making a better world?
Laurance strives towards becoming an organic vineyard in the future and has implemented holistic viticultural practices growing from the ground up, by reducing the use of harmful sprays and activating the microbiology of the soils under vine.
Reducing herbicide application and the introduction of holistic strategies by creating healthier soils and happier vines which parent greater flavour concentration and complexity ensuring that the wines produced are world class.
Laurance bottles are recycled as previously mentioned and they have a life of their own.
Can you share with us your favourite dish/recipe, and what wine would you suggest drinking with it?
Grilled salmon and salad with the Rose if I wish to be good; and if I want to be bad, fish and chips from the local chippy with our wonderful buttery Chardonnay.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve shared a glass of wine with and why?
My husband Peter. He is one of the most unique people I have ever met.
At the end of a busy day, relaxing over a glass of wine we chat about how our businesses have gone during the day. He is a successful Australian developer. We give each other advice and take advice. We discuss the news of the world, we talk about our families and, in particular, our eight beautiful grandchildren. The most interesting topic that we discuss is our future and where we would like our philanthropic business and personal lives to go. I share more with and learn more from this man over a glass of wine.
Who would you love to share a glass of wine with and why?
Hillary Clinton. To hear first hand of her amazing journey empowering women throughout the world by eradicating gender bias in the professional world and breaking through the glass ceiling where women are concerned, promoting the acceptance of their individual accomplishments so they are not viewed in the light of someone else’s – a fascinating and powerful woman.
If there was a song that could be the Laurance anthem, what would it be?
“Simply the Best” by Tina Turner
What advice would you like to leave the winelovers of the world with?
Life is far too short to drink bad wine.