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To a vigneron, an east-facing slope with limestone speaks softly but urgently of a need to plant vines. So it was that the late Dr Edgar Riek, a pioneer of viticulture in the Canberra District, came to plant a vineyard together with the then owner of our site, Mrs Dinny Killen. In 1988, the first hectare of Mount Majura Vineyard was planted.
Mount Majura Vineyard lies near the top of the Majura Valley, just outside the city of Canberra. On the slopes of the valley, where the the cold air drains away, the soil develops from two geological formations. Limestone is deposited in the Silurian period, 430 million years ago, at the beginning of the simplest life on land. The Ainslie Volcanics, which form Mount Majura itself, are deposited very shortly afterwards. Movement along a fault that runs through the valley has resulted in mixing of the limestone and volcanic layers.
This is Ngunnawal country. For tens of thousands of years the Ngunnawal people use Majura Valley as a transit corridor and camp, and leave artefacts that can be found on the property. We respect their long-enduring culture.
Dr Edgar Riek, one of the first to plant vines in the Canberra District in 1971, shows Dinny Killen of ‘Glenlyle’ a geology map, identifying the limestone on an east-facing slope. Drawing parallels with the Côte-d’Or in Burgundy, they plant a hectare, mostly to pinot noir and chardonnay, but with some merlot (as it turns out, a field blend of cabernet franc and merlot) as well.
The first wines are made by Edgar in 1990, soon showing considerable promise. Indeed, a superb 1994 Chardonnay lives on in the memory of current winemaker, Dr Frank van de Loo, who takes over management of the vineyard for Dinny in 1998, and very soon after for the new owners, a small group of wine enthusiasts.
It was certainly with enthusiasm that the vineyard is expanded in 1999 and 2000 to 9.3 hectares. Significantly, enough capital is available to make quality the sole focus. Frank takes over winemaking responsibility from a series of contract winemakers in 2001.
The expansion of the vineyard allows for experimentation with new varieties. Also at this time, Frank works vintages in Gevrey Chambertin and Pommard, learning about terroir, and also how different the climate there is to Canberra’s. The objective becomes to find the ideal variety to express the Mount Majura terroir.
Tempranillo is quickly seen as an exciting variety for the vineyard, and consultants are brought in to participate in a blind benchmark tasting. The 2008 Tempranillo and barrel samples of the 2009 rate particularly highly, but every vintage since the 2003 score well. Tempranillo becomes the flagship variety.
Now nationally recognised as a leading small winery not only for its Tempranillo but also for Riesling, the culture of innovation is central to the business. Another expansion of the vineyard is underway with the development of the Valley Block, again including a number of experimental varieties.
With their roots deep in these ancient rocks and red soil, our vines help give voice to this place, and our best wines are still ahead of us.
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