Grant Burge, Owner of Grant Burge Wines

11/17/2008 20:00

 Grant Burge Barrel Tasting

Preface

On a night late in July, my wife and I tried a bottle of 2003 Grant Burge Holy Trinity from Barossa Valley at a top French restaurant, Delicias, in Rancho Santa Fe, California. The taste was exquisite and made an amazing night incredibly memorable. 

We were so impressed with the flavor, texture and finish of the bottle, we had to get more information on the Barossa Valley, the wine Holy Trinity and the wine maker Grant Burge.   Luckily for us, he agreed to a conversation during a trip to the east coast in September.

When we spoke with Grant, his car was headed to Connecticut from Manhattan for a wine maker’s dinner. During the hour long trip he entertained us with stories and advice to share with our GotTannins.com readers.

Enjoy!

Interview

Got Tannins: Thank you for taking the time with our readers. Where are you headed and what are you doing in New York?

Grant Burge: I just spent some time in Canada before heading to New York and Connecticut. We have a couple of stops in North America meeting with wine enthusiasts and hosting dinners.

GT: Your family has a strong history in wine making, and in the Barossa Valley. What was your first memory of wine?

GB: This year marks our 150th year in Barossa and I’m the 5th generation. On March 3, 1854, my great grandfather, John Burge and his wife moved to South Australia and they started a small winery.

My first memory of wine was when I was a kid, I grew up on a vineyard. When I was two years old I remember moving to the winery and on hot days we used to jump in the concrete fermenters filled with water to cool off.   I grew up in a house right next door to the winery. I used to play in the winery with all the staff as a kid. I remembering heading over there before and after school.

Wine was unique to the Barossa Valley at that time. Wine wasn’t like it is today, it wasn’t an everyday drink. Beer was the everyday drink and wine was a novelty. Not many folks knew much about wine or the wine profession.

GT: When did you know you wanted to go into wine making?

GB: I always wanted to be a winemaker, probably because of my father. When I arrived at secondary school they asked me what I wanted to be and I told them a winemaker, but most people outside of the Barossa Valley had never even heard of winemaking as a profession.

GT: What is your favorite “wine story”?

GB: I went on a trip to the Rhone in 1996. On the way back from Rhone we stopped near Burgundy and went to a producer in Santernac. The winemaker took us to dinner at his home and we had a bottle of 1921 Pinot Noir, Cote de Charlemagne.

We drank it blind so we had no idea what it was. It was the finest and most delicate wine I’d ever had…probably the best I’ve ever had. We had to guess which wine it was and a few of us thought it was a 1982, but were blown away that it was a 1921.

I’ll always remember that; fantastic wine, great food, great conversation, it was perfect.

GT: Barossa has some extraordinary wines. Tell us what makes Barossa such a special place for you?

GB: The community is quite unique. We’ve got some of the oldest vines in the world. Barossa has a lot vines that are over 100 years old, in fact, many vines are 120 to 130 years old. The quality of wine that can be made from those grapes helps Barossa stand out.

GT: Tell us about the ‘old vines” of Barossa? What should a wine drinker be looking for when they are drinking an ‘old vine wine’?

GB: Beautiful color from Shiraz; wonderful flavor and finish. The thing about the old vines is you get so much more concentration, especially in the mid-palate. With the old vines you get a much deeper concentration of flavor from start to finish.

My best advice to understand Old Vines is to try two wines from the same vintage. Vineyards that are maybe next door to one another. One will be made from vines that are 80/90 years old, the other will be from vines that are 18/20 years old.

Old Vines on Grant's Vineyard

GT: Now, talking specifically about Grant Burge Wines, we have tasted the 2002 Holy Trinity and were blown away.   Which ones should we be trying now?

GB: The Holy Trinity as a brand is a great one. We are now offering the 2003. We’d recommend your readers try this one. It is one of the wines made with old vines. The youngest vines are 50 years old in this wine.  One of my basic rules is that if I couldn’t drink it, I wouldn’t put it out there.

GT: What is your favorite varietal?

GB: That’s a hard question. There are days when I love Shiraz. There are days when I love Grenache. I do really like Cabernet Sauvignon!

GT: Grant Burge is a very popular wine, not only in Australia but internationally. What’s the biggest challenge you have in running an internationally recognized wine?

GB: The biggest challenge is funding everything. It’s incredibly capital intensive. I started my vineyards with my father in 1971, almost 40 years ago. Early on I invested in vineyards, which for years were undervalued in Australia. Instead of just buying grapes, I was trying to buy vineyards.

GT: You’ve been growing your company! Where do you want Grant Burge wines to be in 5 years, 10 years?

GB: We’ve got a couple of wineries now. Doing a brand is very expensive, so we’ve tried helping folks with private labeling. We did 80,000 cases recently for a company that did all the marketing, distribution, etc. They went broke, but we lost $8m in their ongoing contract. So we’ve focused on increasing the brand of Grant Burge. We won’t totally drop Private Labeling, but will only do it for a few key folks that we have a good relationship with.

In the next five years we will be concentrating more on quality end of the product, we’re in 40 countries around the world.

I would like to develop opportunities with our more premium brands.

GT: Has the wine industry changed in the last few years, if so how? Has the internet changed the wine industry?

GB: There is tremendous opportunity in the internet in terms of getting out our message of quality. We have to always explore the channels available to us. Internet, direct mail, and the various mediums of reaching directly to the consumer.

Grant Burge wines needs to work out ways to engage consumers and sell direct. We need to maintain reasonable margins so that I can survive. Sixty five percent of Grant Burge wine is sold in Australia. The remaining thirty five percent is sold in 40 countries. Lots of our business is sold to restaurants, which provides margins for everybody.

GT: Caps vs. corks?

GB: I’ve got nothing against screw caps; they have been around for a long enough time. There was a big comeback from screw caps in the late 90s because of all the issues with cork supply. Technology on screw caps has improved and there’s been a change in attitude amongst drinkers and younger drinkers are more open to the screw cap. Even some Sommeliers are more open to screw caps.

Corks been around for 400 years. We’ve been doing test on our premium wines with some under screw caps and some under corks, then doing blind tasting. So far 80% of the wines are coming out on the side of cork. This is for wines more than five years old.

Right now we are sitting back and seeing how it all evolves. Screw cap manufacturers are working on research to improve their quality and to allow for a little bit more oxygen. There is a big debate in the wine industry about the amount of oxygen to allow into the bottle.

Down the road it could be 100% screw cap. The cork industry has made a big strategic blunder. It should have been more technically minded years ago. Why should a consumer waste money on a cork that is no good. The cork industry should have been a lot more diligent.

GT: your advice for new wine enthusiasts?

GB: Drink what you like. Don’t worry too much what people say. Be open minded and do your own thing. Once you get hooked on wine you’ll come to the conclusion that certain wines may go with certain foods; but that will be up to you. Eat the foods you like, drink the wines you like.

About Grant Burge

Grant Burge is a fifth-generation Barossan vigneron and winemaker, who throughout his career has been one of the most respected and innovative forces in the Australian wine industry.

Grant Burge Wines was formed in 1988 by Grant and his wife, Helen, and is based at the historic, Cellar Door, on the banks of Jacobs Creek, in the heart of the Barossa Valley. The Cellars are one of the most successful and popular in the area, and have together with the wines has been awarded many accolades.

Read More Here on Grant’s Website

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