ROSE Kentish is a queen of McLaren Vale winemaking, having put her stamp on an innovative range of wines made in France.
It’s common for Australian winemakers to work in Europe, but the mother of four has pushed the boundaries in three vintages to make French wine to sell under her own label in Australia.
Two of the wines from her third French vintage, the Ulithorne 2012 Epoch Rose and Ulithorne 2012 Corsus Vermentinu, recently arrived on my tasting bench and are reviewed today on this page.
French law provides many hurdles for ventures like Rose’s, but Hunter winemaker Usher Tinkler has succeeded with chardonnay and pinot noir wines in the famed Burgundy Region.
A friendship established in 2006 with French winemaker Arnaud Desfontaine paved the way for Usher to release early last year a 2009 Montagny Premier Cru Le Burnins Chardonnay, 2009 Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Millieu Chardonnay and the 2009 Fixin Premier Cru Clos du Chapitre Pinot Noir.
Self-confessed pinot noir fanatics Steve and Leanne Webber, who head the De Bortoli Yarra Valley arm, have succeeded in producing De Bortoli brand wine in Burgundy.
After much negotiation with French authorities in 2003, Steve and Leanne went to Burgundy and bought grapes from a Villages-rated vineyard in the Gevrey-Chambertin area.
They made a tiny batch of 2003 wine and exported it back to Australia where it sold for $85 a bottle as the De Bortoli 2003 Gevrey-Chambertin Combed du Bas.
Rose Kentish’s French adventure was triggered a year after she was crowned Queen of McLaren Vale’s 2008 Bushing Festival for her Ulithorne 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz.
The Bushing King or Queen title is awarded to the maker of the best wine of the McLaren Vale Wine Show and Rose was only the second woman, after legendary winemaker Pam Dunsford, to win the award.
When a heatwave wiped out her 2009 Ulithorne grape crop, Rose decided to pack up her artist husband Sam Harrison and their four children, then aged six, 10, 12 and 15, and head off to France to realise a long-held ambition to make wine in Europe.
Sam and the children were not keen, but Rose prevailed and in 2010 they settled into digs in the mediaeval town of Aubais, between Montpellier and Nimes.
The children quickly learned French and settled into local schools, and painter Sam drew inspiration from the new locations.
Although she had only schoolgirl French, Rose managed to persuade French vignerons to sell her grapes and to allow her to turn them into wine in their wineries.
She used cinsault, grenache and mourvedre fruit to make a 2010 rosé at the Domaine de la Sangliere winery in Provence and bought vermentino grapes in Corsica to make her Ulithorne 2010 Corsus Vermentinu at the Vino Vecchio winery.
After nine months in France the family returned to their lives in the South Australian south coastal town of Middleton, between Victor Harbour and Port Elliot.
Rose went back to France sans family in 2011 and 2012 to make new vintages of her Ulithorne French wines to sell alongside her small-batch McLaren Vale wines.
The products of these sojourns were the 2012 Epoch Rosé and the 2012 Corsus Vermentinu and a now sold-out $34 Ulithorne 2011 Immortelle red, a blend of shiraz and the rare Corsican minustellu, niellucciu and carcaghjolu neru varieties.
Rose plans to make her fourth vintage visit to France next September-October and aims to make a 2013 Epoch Rosé, Corsus Vermentinu and Immortelle red and will check on the progress of casks of the 2012 Immortelle. She also hopes to make progress with another French ambition – making a sparkling wine in Champagne.
Passion for Ulithorne
THE Ulithorne story began in 1971 when Sam Harrison’s parents bought land at McLaren Vale and planted a vineyard. In 1997 Rose Kentish and husband Sam bought the vineyard, a move that ignited Rose’s passion for winemaking. Her guide into the world of wine was prominent McLaren Vale winemaker Brian Light, who was contracted to make the early Ulithorpe wines.
With Brian as her mentor from 2001 on, Rose took an increasing role in the success of the Ulithorpe and Frux Frugas (Fruit of the Earth) wines.
In 2006 Sam and Rose sold the Ulithorpe property, but retained the brand name and first option on the vineyard’s grapes.
They bought a disused 1855 flour mill at Middleton, on the Fleurieu Peninsula.
The mill has been turned into a studio for Sam and a cellar door for Rose’s wines. With one exception these McLaren Vale wines are made from Ulithorne vineyard fruit. The exception is the Ulithorne Chi grenache-shiraz red, which comes from old bush vines on another McLaren Vale property.
In the wake of the 2008 Bushing Queen win and the daring forays into French winemaking, Rose notched up another first last March – becoming the first woman to win McLaren Vale’s Wayne Thomas Scholarship.
The scholarship was established in 2008 and allows the recipient to attend the Australian Wine Research Institute’s Advanced Wine Assessment Course and to serve as an associate judge
at the McLaren Vale Wine Show.
The award honours Wayne Thomas, who died on April 13, 2007, at the age of 65 after a long battle with cancer. The father of ace Hunter winemaker Andrew, Wayne was a popular figure in McLaren Vale and Hunter winemaking.
Rose says she is “stoked” at the chance to boost her wine judging skills, in addition to which she is doing a post-graduate masters degree in winemaking at Melbourne University.
Her wine career is a far cry from her first job after growing up in Adelaide.
She went off to Longreach as a governess and cook on an outback station.
That was followed by a return to Adelaide for a business and marketing degree course at the University of South Australia and eight years as a marketing consultant.
During this time she developed an interest in wine, which became a deep commitment after she and husband Sam bought the Ulithorne vineyard.
Winemaker moves on
JIM Chatto last month ended his seven-year term as chief winemaker of Dr John Davis’s Pepper Tree Wines group and took up his exciting new challenge with the McWilliam’s family wine company.
Jim, 40, has been appointed McWilliam’s chief winemaker in charge of the family-owned company’s Australia-wide portfolio.
He will be based at Mount Pleasant winery at Pokolbin and in charge of winemaking at that iconic operation made famous by its founder Maurice O’Shea. He will also remain a consultant to Pepper Tree, where 32-year-old Scott Comyns has taken over as chief winemaker.
Pepper Tree is the centrepiece of millionaire geologist and oil exploration company director John Davis’s wine empire, which includes the Hunter Briar Ridge and Tallavera Grove operations and vineyards in Wrattonbully, Orange and Coonawarra.
CROWNING GLORY: McLaren Vale 2008 Bushing Queen Rose Kentish, right, with mentor, winemaker Brian Light.
CELEBRATED: Winemaker Rose Kentish.