To help mark Australia Day we turn our attention on Brown Brothers’ that has been making wine in Milawa in Victoria since 1889. The winery remains with the family all these years later and is now under the control of three sisters, Katherine, Caroline and Emma who have taken the helm of one of Australia’s first and leading family-owned wine companies. Libby Brodie talks to winemaker, Katherine Brown, about life on the estate, its future plans and how it is looking forwards to bringing Brown Brother’s sweet wine Orange Muscat and Flora back to the UK.
As one of the key members of Australia’s First Families of Wine, Brown Brothers has built a reputation as one of the country’s innovators and trailblazers – and can claim to have brought ‘Prosecco’ and Moscato to Australia.
First, let’s discuss the elephant in the room. The company is called Brown Brothers, but you are three sisters, are there any plans to change the name?
We get asked this a lot, but no. It is our legacy and tradition. The winery was founded in the 1880s when our great grandfather migrated from Europe to follow the sudden Gold Rush in Australia. He found an area in Victoria, about three hours from Melbourne and set up a farm, which he named Brown Brothers as he always had a dream his brothers would one day join him there. They never did.
In fact, in all the generations there has only ever been one that actually did have brothers working together, which was our father and uncles. We have, however, taken on other wineries now such as Devil’s Corner, Tamar Ridge and Innocent Bystander, and that umbrella corporation is called ‘Brown Family Wine Group’ so that is more inclusive.
Did you always know you were going to go into the family business?
It is a pretty attractive industry to go into. You meet people around here who have taken over their family pig farms…so we feel very lucky to be born into the wine side. It is the family policy that was go and work at least four years in another business so we can have that experience and learn other things or, as my father says, “go screw up someone else’s business”.
I actually went to work in the coffee business, before turning to wine when I worked in Bordeaux and then for my favourite Champagne house Bollinger. I got to be an intern there for five weeks and it was amazing. In a weird twist of fate one of the family married an Australian and they have a wine business here in South Australia too. It was really in France that my love for winemaking started.
Being the winemaker is incredibly exciting, did your sisters ever want to be part of that too? How did you decide who took over which role?
It all just fell together. In my father’s generation there were four brothers in different parts of the business. It shows some good family understanding because you’re not stepping on anyone’s toes. No one wants a sibling as a boss. Wine is broad enough that whatever your strengths there is a role for you. If you loved accounting, you could still be a company accountant. Emma went into marketing and Caroline does the PR and communications.
Your father is on the board, but that generation has stepped away from the day to day. What is it that you want to do with the company?
We really want to show wines that are not just what your parents drank. Australia is more than just Shiraz and Chardonnay. Our Orange Muscat and Flora is fun and versatile, it can be paired with everything from having it as an aperitif to dessert. We want to do things differently and keep one eye on tradition and the high-quality wines we have been producing for 130 years but also one eye on innovation.
We have a female-led mindset. Those who are doing the same wine they were in the 1970s stay small. We have even started a ‘kindergarten winery’ to work on new ideas, varieties and recipes. For example, we are the only ones growing Cienna (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sumoll) in Australia. We tried making a dry wine but it was too tannic so we made it like a Moscato and it was this lush red wine, a fruit bomb of summer berries. It is now the biggest selling off-dry red wine in Australia. We serve it chilled, and it is perfect mud cake wine.
What is the best thing about Australian wine?
Exactly this. We make wine without boundaries. We have so much freedom [compared to Europe] and we try to make use of that freedom. We can look at different blends, different growing locations, different styles and winemaking techniques. If you think of it in terms of a Chef, we write our own rule book and recipes so there’s going to be some really exciting things coming out of Australia.
And why have you decided to export to the UK again with a new partnership with Enotria & Coe?
We got our passion for the UK from our dad. In 1987 my parents packed up myself and my sister and we spent three months just outside of London. Dad walked and walked and knocked on every door. He was leading the charge, getting Australian wines into the UK. Australian wines then fell out of favour, but it works on a cycle and now people are reassessing how great the wines are. Our biggest market is domestic and New Zealand, but my hope for the future is that everyone in the UK drinks a bottle of our wines.
What are you hopes for the future of the company?
I hope that everyone in the UK drinks a bottle of Orange Muscat and Flora and I can get on a plane and come do it with you. I think just to get that reappraisal from wine consumers in the UK about how exciting Australian wine is and this would then open it up for us to really showcase what we can do.
- You can find out more about Brown Brothers at its website here.