Vale Roger Harris

On Monday I attended the funeral of Dr Roger Harris, the founder with his wife Faye of Brindabella Hills Winery. Roger was one of the first people I spoke to when I was thinking about leaving my previous job in research at CSIRO and joining the wine community. He not only offered me work in his cellar, he also became the contract winemaker for Mount Majura Vineyard as we were expanding in 1999, and when I took over the role of winemaker a few years later, he stayed on as my consultant, not to mention host, as we leased space in his winery until ours was built in 2006.

So I learned my winemaking at Roger’s side, and he was a great person to learn from. He was generous with his time and experience, and always ready for a chat. Having left a successful career at CSIRO as an organic chemist, we had much in common, and much to talk about. Roger had known hard work all his life, and often capped a week in the vineyard and winery with a weekend in cellar door enthusing and educating about wine with his loyal customers.

Rather than leaving science behind, wine was a new field for exploration and experimentation for Roger. He contributed to the understanding of methoxypyrazines (the vegetal aroma compounds) in his beloved Bordeaux varieties, and he devised a simple and practical test for malic acid in wine that many of us have used for decades.

Roger was pragmatic as well as dedicated to quality, never committing a wine to bottle until he had perfected it. Many is the time that I came to him glass in hand with a wine that I wasn’t sure needed fining or not, and Roger could make a key judgement and suggestion. Now, many years later, some of the things Roger told me still reverberate as I plan trials for the next vintage.

It’s a funny game, winemaking. Making really good wine is not enough to earn acclaim, you also have to be good at promoting your wines, and Roger was more likely to be in the cellar or the vineyard than in the ear of the wine critics. So when his wines were recognised, as they were, it was purely on merit.

Roger and Faye sold the winery and retired in 2017. Roger is survived by his wife Faye and sons Ben and Michael.

I will always remember a big Riesling tasting we held, where a vertical of Brindabella Hills clearly stood out for their sheer quality, balance and finesse — gentle-natured wines from a gentle man.

 

Frank van de Loo