The vineyard

Sons & Brothers Vineyard is located at 940 metres altitude, in the sub-region of Millthorpe on the cool, continental Orange Plateau portion of the Orange Wine Region, NSW. It is owned by Christopher and Kathryn Bourke. The vineyard is planted on a deep, dark, red-brown, volcanic soil. This soil is a ferrosol (or kraznozem) that was formed from larva flows of about 12 million years ago. The cool continental climatic conditions at Millthorpe are similar to those of Morgon in the Beaujolais Cru area of Southern Burgundy Eastern France. The summer days are warm to hot but the nights are cool. Our estimated Gladstones biologically effective degree days value (adjusted growing season heat summation) is 1228 making it a perfect match for Southern Burgundy.


The first grapes planted for wine production, in what is now the Orange Wine Region, were those of John Glasson at Byng in 1844. He was followed by John Hicks at Canobolas in 1858. Catherine and John Bohringer planted a vineyard of Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Verdello and Muscatel at Borenore in 1865/66. The Schmich brothers followed soon after with their vineyard also at Borenore. Then in 1894 James Dalton planted a large vineyard at Duntryleague (Orange) consisting of the white wine grape Australian White Cluster (bred by William Macarthur at Camden Park) and Shiraz (aka Black Hermitage). In 1904 William West planted the original Balmoral vineyard at Canobolas, and although this consisted of four varieties of table grapes most of this fruit was used to make wine. After a gap of 48 years yet another vineyard was planted, this time at Molong (at 610 metres and inside the present Orange GI or Wine Region) by Jack Pryde and Harry Manuel in 1952. They planted 5 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Black Muscat grapes. This vineyard survived up until 1987. The first planting of wine grapes in the modern era was undertaken by Ted Fardell at Nashdale in 1980 and the second by Christopher Bourke at Millthorpe (Sons & Brothers) in 1981. Equal third place was shared by John Swanson at Cargo Road Wines (then known as Midas Tree) and Stephen Doyle at Bloodwood Wines, both planted in 1983. Today there are more than 70 vineyards in the Orange GI.

At Sons & Brothers we grow Cabernet Sauvignon and at our altitude we are at the natural climatic end of this varieties range, as a consequence attention to detail in the day to day management of this variety is crucial if a fully ripe, soft, age-worthy wine is to be produced. We rely upon copper and sulphur sprays for mildew prevention and occasional fertiliser applications to prevent bunch stem necrosis and to improve fruit set and evenness of ripening. We maintain a permanent grass sward between each vine row to enhance soil biology, to increase carbon retention, to encourage favourable insect activity, and to assist rapid rainfall absorption. We maximise ripening by both minimising yields and maintaining a very open canopy. Even though it is the air temperature that ripens Cabernet fruit it is sunlight exposure and soil drainage that have a profound effect on the chemistry that occurs in that fruit as it ripens. Long hang times, high sunlight exposure and excellent soil drainage are essential for Cabernet fruit chemistry to progress beyond unpleasant green flavours and move on to delicious ripe flavours. The fruit yield of cool grown Cabernet must be kept low, our target yield is 1.6 ton per acre or 4 tonne per hectare or 2.6 kg per vine. To meet this challange each vine is trained to a head (no cordon arms) and then four selected canes are tied upwards in the shape of a fan. Our fan pruning system combines two old Burgundian methods, the Chablis ‘Tow’ system and the Beaujolais ‘Eventail’ or fan system. Four canes and their replacement spurs are kept and then pruned back to give a total of 20 functional nodes. To reduce the risk of frost damage we use a similar high narrow vertical trellis to that used in both Alsace and the French Basque region. Our Cabernet vine density is 1,500 per hectare (600 per acre). Our average annual rainfall is 850 mm. We do not use any irrigation, either during vine establishment or for vine maintenance. Consequently each vine forms a very deep and extensive root system. Our grapes are always hand-picked and we harvest as late as possible and with Cabernet this usually means mid April. Our vines have to be able to survive frosts in spring and autumn, as well as snow falls in winter.

Most of our vineyard is Cabernet Sauvignon, and this includes an old section of Shiraz vines that have been grafted over to Cabernet. Roughly 50% of our Cabernet vines are clone G9V3 and the other 50% are the ‘Reynella’ mass selection clone. We also have a tiny amount of the ‘Dorrien’ mass selection clone. Clone G9V3 came into Australia in 1969 from Davis California where it was known as FPS 07. It is a heat treated hence virus free clone that was collected from the Concannon vineyard in Livermore California in 1965. It came to California from France in the 1930’s and has been the clone most commonly used in the Napa Valley. We suppress its natural vigour by pruning it very hard and this also reduces its potential crop load. Both the ‘Reynella’ selection and the ‘Dorrien’ selection come from South Australia. They originated from the same mother vines, which were established in 1838 at Camden Park NSW by William Macarthur. Macarthur established these Cabernet vines from about six cuttings that he imported from France in that same year. Macarthur’s cuttings were supplied by Messers Barton & Guestier and came off ‘one of the best vineyards near Bordeaux’. This vineyard could have been the Barton owned portion of the Chateau Leoville vineyard in the Saint Julian appellation, but it is more likely that it was the Chateau Lafite vineyard in the adjoining Pauillac appellation. Both vineyards lie within the Haut Medoc on the left bank of the Gironde river just north of Bordeaux. Lafite was a first growth (premier grand crus) vineyard whereas Leoville was only a second growth vineyard. Both were English owned at the time, Lafite by the English banker Sir Samuel Scott and Leoville-Barton by the Barton family. In 1859 when Barton & Guestier supplied 5,200 Cabernet, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Vedot cuttings to Paul de Castella’s Yering vineyard in the Yarra Valley they listed the source vineyard as Chateau Lafite. Likewise when the Melbourne merchant Federick Klemm visited Europe in 1873 and purchased Cabernet cuttings to supply Albert Bruhn’s Emu Creek vineyard at Bendigo his source vineyard was also Chateau Lafite. This consistent trend would support the notion that the William Macarthur vine cuttings also came from Chateau Lafite. Many have assumed that the Busby Cabernet Sauvignon cuttings, collected in 1831 from the Luxembourg Gardens vine collection in Paris, were the source of Australia’s earliest Cabernet plantings, but this is not true. The Busby material that arrived in Australia labelled as Cabernet Sauvignon was found by William Macarthur to be Pinot Gris and this is why Macarthur contacted Barton & Guestier in Bordeaux and organised a supply of genuine Cabernet cuttings in 1838. In 1845 John Reynell purchased Cabernet cuttings from William Macarthur for his Reynella vineyard in South Australia and these vines were the source of the Reynella mass selection which was subsequently used to establish Cabernet in McLaren Vale and Coonawarra. In 1847 Joseph Gilbert also purchased Cabernet cuttings from William Macarthur for his Pewsey Vale vineyard in the Barossa Hills. Cabernet cuttings from Pewsey Vale were later planted at ‘Wongalere’ near Williamstown in the Barossa. This was a property inherited by Gilbert’s wife Anna Browne. In the mid-1870’s the Gilbert family winemaker was Benno Seppelt. The ‘Dorrien’ selection, which came off old vines growing at Seppelts Cabernet vineyard at Dorrien in the Barossa, appears to have been sourced from Joseph Gilbert’s original vines, hence are descendants of the originating Camden Park source vines. Our ‘Reynella’ vines came from the Karrawirra vineyard at Wrattonbully near Coonawarra and our ‘Dorrien’ vines came from a vineyard planted in 1952 at Molong in New South Wales with Dorrien cuttings. The Molong vines consisted of 100 mother vine cuttings collected from Seppelt’s Dorrien vineyard in the Barossa. Cuttings from these Molong vines were later (1961) used by Alf Kurtz to establish the first Cabernet plantings ever made in the Mudgee district of New South Wales. The ‘Reynella’ and ‘Dorrien’ selections are the oldest surviving Cabernet ‘clones’ in Australia, and their pre-phylloxera origins in France would place them amongst the oldest surviving Cabernet ‘clones’ anywhere. They are naturally low yielding, ripen slightly earlier than G9V3, and produce bunches with smaller more intensely flavoured berries. Their potential wine quality is very high.

Our vineyard includes a small amount of Jura Savagnin (pronounced ‘sav-an-yen’). This white wine grape variety has an amazing ability to produce aged wines of great complexity, much like Semillon does. Prior to phylloxera, that is prior to 1875, the Savagnin vines planted in the Jura were a mixture of pink fruited musque types and white fruited non-musque types collectively referred to as ‘Savagnin’. Our Savagnin is a mix of a pink type the ancestors of which were still growing in the Jura in 1810 and a white type the ancestors of which have been growing in the Jura since around 700 AD. After phylloxera destroyed the Jura vineyards in the late 1800’s only the more productive and non-musque white type was replanted hence in the new Jura Savagnin plantings the variety for the first time became known as ‘Savagnin Blanc’. The pink fruited form of Savagnin that we grow has been in Australia since 1832. Jura Savagnin is the parent of many well known grape varieties and suprisingly the grandparent of some red varieties notably Cabernet Sauvignon and Mencia. DNA evidence indicates that Pinot Noir is the parent of Jura Savagnin and this is consistent with the first appearance of Savagnin in the Jura region of France in about 700 AD. By the time of Charlemagne namely 845 AD, Jura Savagnin had spontaneously crossed with an unknown vine to produce Trousseau in the Jura and both Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc in the Loire Valley. The existence of Savagnin in a monastic vineyard at Orleans in the Loire Valley in 1100 AD has been confirmed by DNA analysis of grape seed debris found there. Savagnin had reached South West France by about 1120 AD, where it appears to have been planted at the Abbey of Roncevaux in the Basque district of Irouleguy. From here it was taken to the Abbey of Santa Maria de Armenteira in Galicia North West Spain in 1168 AD. Evidence of its existance in south west France can be found in the form of its offspring, because Savagnin is the parent of Petit Manseng and Bequignol Noir, both from South West France and because Savagnin is the parent of Verdelho and Alfrocheiro, both from Northern Portugal and North West Spain. Trousseau under the name Bastardo can also be found in North Western Spain and Northern Portugal, but this child of Savagnin was not born there but rather taken into this part of the world from the Jura region. The Jura region is part of the Franche-Comte and between 1516 and 1668 this was a duchy of the Habsburg Spanish Empire and this is consistent with the arrival of Trousseau vines in Spain, from the Jura, in 1531.

When James Busby visited France in 1831 he collected vine cuttings from the Montpellier vine collection in southern France and the Luxumbourg Gardens vine collection in Paris. He also collected some additional vines directly from some of the vineyards he visited, most notably Pinot Noir cuttings from Clos de Vougeot in Burgundy. The Luxumbourg Gardens vine collection was initially assembled by Chaptal and Bosc at the request of Napoleon Bonarparte during the period 1801 to 1825. This became the French national vine collection. Duplicates of these vines were used to establish the Montpellier vine collection between 1810 and 1831. Professor Guillaume Delisle provided Busby with cuttings from all of the Montpellier vine varieties on hand in 1831 but at that time Montpellier was about 127 vine varieties short of the full French national vine collection, so Busby had to source these from the Luxumbourg Gardens in Paris. The vineyard manager at the Luxumbourg Gardens was notoriously deceptive, he repeatedly sent incorrectly labeled cuttings to Montpellier to prevent them from establishing a complete duplicate collection, his usual gambit was to supply Chasselas in place of the requested varieties. In Busby’s case the vineyard manager was certainly not going to provide an “Englishman” with the full French collection so many of the cuttings that Busby received from Luxumbourg were in fact Pinot Gris and not the requested varieties. Busby’s Cabernet Sauvignon came out of the Luxumbourg collection and on arrival in Australia it turned out to be Pinot Gris. Busby’s ‘Sauvignon du Jura’ came out of the Montpellier collection not the Luxumbourg collection. It was in fact the Savagnin of the Jura but the Napoleonic requirement for the French language to be strict Parisian French and not regional dialect French resulted in the word Savagnin being replaced by the word Sauvignon, both mean “wild”. When Busby’s Savagnin was initially grown in hot coastal New South Wales on neutral pH soils it produced fruit that was yellow-green in colour but with a pink blush hence by 1860 in Australia it was classified as a Savagnin Blanc selection. Later on, in acidic hot Hunter soils it produced pale pink fruit, and even later still when it was grown on an acidic cool central tablelands soils in New South Wales it produced fruit that was pink-red in colour, demonstrating that it was in fact a Savagnin Rose selection. At Sons & Brothers we grow this old Jura Savagnin selection that Busby collected in France in 1831 and ours are the last surviving descendants of it.

A white fruited clone of Savagnin arrived in Australia from Spain in 1989, under the misnomer ‘Albarino’ (pronounced alba-rin-yo). We have added this clone to our Savagnin vines at Sons & Brothers. We can confirm that the fruit colour remains yellow-green and does not turn pink-red under our cool highland growing conditions and on our acidic volcanic, iron rich soils. Likewise under our conditions this clone is aromatic but not musky and it is a more reliable fruit-setter then the pink clone. This white clone was collected from an Albarino vineyard in the Galicia region of northwestern Spain. We now know that the old Albarino vineyards of Galicia and Asturias were a mix of about four white grape varieties that looked very similar to each other. Now days only the true DNA identified Albarino is planted. Savagnin was one of the other three varieties planted in the mix and has been a part of that mix since the middle ages. Its ancestor vines were established in the Benedictine abbey of Roncevaux, in old French Navarre, around 1120 AD the different vine types were grouped together on the basis of what they looked like not on the basis of their DNA profiles, hence more than one vine variety could be included under the same name and that name could have been either French or Spanish in origin. Consequently Jura Savagnin lost its true identity for the next 850 years.

Photo of vineyard.

Now that we have DNA technology it is possible to ascertain the original names and origins of all of the Spanish and Portugese vine varieties. This has revealed many unexpected outcomes, for example the recent discovery of Jura Savagnin in Galicia. Prior to this technology the Spanish and the Portugese have routinely tried to explain the existance of unexpected vines as being bought in as part of the post Phylloxera replanting programmes of the late 1800’s and eary 1900’s. But this is largely nonsense because many of these unexplained vine varieties have been in existence in mixed vineyard plantings in Spain and Portugal since the middle ages. A recent example of this is the random collection of vine material supposed to be Albarino from a vineyard in Galicia only to find out much later when it was subjected to DNA analysis that it was in fact Jura Savagnin. Consistent with the arrival of Savagnin in Galicia, as part of a vine mix introduced by the monks of Roncevaux way back in 1168 AD, just as the Galician historian Jose Maria Castroviejo has always confidently stated.

CSIRO by accident has saved the medieval white Galician clone from extinction and Sons & Brothers has intentionally saved the old pink Jura clone from a similar fate. Adding about 5 or 6% of Savagnin to a Cabernet ferment has a similar effect to the addition of the same amount of Viognier to a Shiraz ferment. Busby’s Savagnin vine importation was alive in the Sydney Botanic Gardens vineyard in 1832 but dead by 1842. Only George Wyndham of ‘Dalwood’ in the Hunter River Valley appears to have taken cuttings of this vine from the Botanic Gardens during this period. He was interested in fortified wine styles and he would have known that Jura Savagnin had been used to make a Fino Sherry-like wine in France, called ‘yellow wine’. He established the first Australian Savagnin vines at ‘Dalwood’ in about 1834 and then in 1849 he took cuttings from these to establish more Savagnin vines at Inverell (northern NSW). Cuttings from ‘Dalwood’ were planted at Pokolbin in 1880 by Charles King, and at Minchinbury in 1916 by Penfolds. Charles King’s Pokolbin vineyard later became Maurice O’Shea’s Mount Pleasant vineyard and the Savagnin (later renamed Traminer) block survived there until 1986. This block provided cuttings for four other NSW vineyards during its life. In 1882 the French-Australian vine expert Henry Bonnard confirmed that this Busby vine was the Savagnin of the Jura even though it was imported under the misleading name of ‘Sauvignon du Jura’. Australians at the time had difficulty pronouncing the word Savagnin (Savanyen), as they still do, so they called the vine ‘Savannah’ a corruption of the word ‘Savanyen’. In 1919 Leo Buring, then working at the Minchinbury vineyard near Sydney which grew ‘Savannah’, had to put a less colloquial name on his Penfolds wine labels for the Savagnin wines he was making, so he took part of the corrupted name ‘Savannah’ and part of the easier to pronounce German synonym for the variety, namely Traminer, and produced the novel name ‘Trameah’, easy to pronounce and not Germanic (remember that the recent world war had made German names very unpopular). Penfolds continued to use the name ‘Trameah’ for their Minchinbury Savagnin wines right up until the 1960’s although by this stage neither the Minchinbury vines nor the Pokolbin vines at Maurice O’Shea’s vineyard were being called Savagnin, Savanyen, Savannah, or Trameah any more, the easier to pronounce German synonym for this variety, namely ‘Traminer’ having been universally adopted. To increase the production runs of Trameah, Penfolds eventually started to add some Riesling to the wine, and this overtime led to the widespread use of this blend plus residual sweetness by many other wine companies and ultimately the total destruction of Traminer as a marketable quality dry wine style.

In more recent years we have established a small number of Tempranillo vines at Sons & Brothers. This is a red variety from the cooler parts of Northern Spain. It ripens at about the same time as Savagnin and so can be co-fermented with it. Where Savagnin adds richness to the Cabernet, Tempranillo makes the Cabernet softer and more mellow (much like Merlot can sometimes do). Cabernet and Tempranillo are a marriage made in heaven, they are a perfect match. The cooler higher altitude end of the Orange Region is highly suited to the growing of Tempranillo.