Jason Brown from Moppity Vineyards in the Young area came by the other day. He has made a huge impression on the respect for this region by wine drinkers.

The family business has been wine retailing in Canberra but this was still a pioneer operation by Jason and Alicia. This couple’s main focus was to identify and establish a super-premium brand with the equivalent quality vineyard sited in a highly-regarded Australian region. He had the Eden Valley, Clare or Margaret River in mind.

It did not have to be a stones throw from Canberra.

Jason had been drawn to the hilltops region by McWilliams winemaker Martin Cooper who was obviously seeing the Barwang grapes and other regional fruit come through the company crushers. That excited Martin and his enthusiasm for the capability of high end red wine production was blowing off on other local Hilltops people.

The Brown’s original asset was a vineyard planted in 1973 by pioneer Pat Wickham; there was 4 hectares of shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, riesling and semillon plus more chardonnay and riesling planted in ’80s.

Moppity Park was the original property name, sited in the Parish of Moppity, with an address of Moppity Road. It sold in the mid-90s to a consortium with links to Hardys (then an Australian owned company), where it had grown to 70 hectares; the same varieties had been bulked up plus merlot planted.

“There was never enough water infrastructure and water was in short supply. an area short on rain, the 150 ML dam leaked, losing 2/3 rds of its water,” said Jason.

The property was in receivership and purchased as a distressed asset in 2002, eventually settled by the Browns in 2004.

So Moppity became a lifestyle in the making, though a tough one, as this branch of the Brown family was less interested in the retail of wine and set out to distribute their own brands throughout Australia. Hence my encounter in Brisbane.

“Here we had the potential to be over-extended; I wanted a great vineyard and I wanted great wines. Hilltops had the potential and this Moppity property was going to auction in 2002, yet it looked unaffordable even though we were familiar now with the region,” he said.

“It was past my initial intention of a hobby farm; there was a tender to make. I found out that Helm Wines had bought grapes from the old shiraz vines and had been very happy with the result.

“The best of the region had yet to come, so we were in on the ground floor, we had found a vineyard. My wife Alicia had grown up in Young, 12km away.

Well the recognition did come afterwards when grapes from this vineyard contributed to the 2009 Jimmy Watson trophy shiraz which was made in Canberra; a first for a long time that New South Wales-grown grapes had figured in this Melbourne award. Jason’s hunch was correct, and the focus on the Hilltops has stayed with many winedrinkers.

“We made a cheeky offer which took six months to negotiate, we then put a lot into the property to have it restored from the run down condition. We intended to make a small vintage and sell the rest.

“The Cooper Coffman business, Eden Road in Canberra, took all our fruit in 2007, with over-the-top pricing at $2500 per tonne when at the $800 mark normally, 2008 started a six year contract taking up to 3500 tonnes if available. When that business folded in 2008 I took over the bulk wines with a potential 30,000 cases a year, and I placed 25,000 dozen in the first year.”

He crushed 450 tonnes in 2009, then 500 in 2010, adding some pinot noir and chardonnay from Tumburumba.

The entry wine group is Lock and Key which has great sales as the escape route for Moppity. There is 2010 Chardonnay Pinot Noir (charmat), Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, 2008 Chardonnay, then 2009 Rose, Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, all USD 14.

I tried the 2010 Riesling, 94, 11.5%, peachy; lemon, it develops early in the mouth, has citrus, long acidity, dry, 3.5 g. Then 2009 Shiraz 95, 14%, has a Winewise trophy and two golds, is nose rich and aromatic; has weighty smells, funky; yet low oak and warming flavours, contains a dab of viognier

There is an estate range of the same wine varieties, with sauvignon blanc from Orange and chardonnay from Tumburumba, Rose from shiraz, all USD 23.

Moppity Vineyards 2009 Estate Shiraz USD 23, 14%, has nose concentration, more age on nose than the Lock and Key Shiraz, it’s made mainly in puncheon (larger barrels), 25% is new barrel, the rest being 2,3 and 5 year-old barriques; it has up front fruit sweetness and tangy black fruit flavours, there have been four recent gold medals so the shiraz is doing well.

The Estate 2010 riesling is more serious than the Lock and Key wine; bone dry, has length as a small part was aged on solids in old barrel to impart textural complexity. “For us, thank goodness riesling sells, we have 6 ha of it,” said Jason

The final tier is Reserve 2008; USD 55; 14.5%, quite a hefty wine. It has 2.5% viognier, 10% whole bunches in the ferment; cold soaked for two weeks before ferment, cool ferment at production, all that saying a lot of work was done on the wine to extract the best character.

This wine lifts the profile of the Hilltops region. It’s had a trophy at the Sydney International as best medium bodied red; the winemaking has given it more texture than normal, diversity of flavour, length, and a jubey, cool flavour which persists. It’s blended from 10 different wines, part being the 37-year-old vines.

The follow-on wine, 2009, has four golds in New Zealand and the Sydney International, made the NSW Top 40 in 2010 and made best in class Winewise 2010. There is much to look forward to drink.

To Moppity Vineyards www.moppity.com.au

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