Innovation. It’s a word that is thrown around with reckless abandon today. Despite this, there are very few businesses that are genuinely innovative; Apple, Cochlear and when it comes to wine, Brown Brothers.
Australian wine has a proud history of innovation. From the vineyard to the winery to the laboratory the Australian community is renowned around the world for its research and development. But if you had to list Australian wineries at the forefront of taking research and development and turning it into real world innovation, Brown Brothers would be at the top of the list. From the grapes grown in the vineyard to their winemaking techniques and technology, to the cellar door experience, where they’ve led, others have followed.
‘Innovation is a really big part of our business. We’re not just looking at new grape varieties, we’re also looking at new places to plant grapes, new ways to make wine, and new ways of packaging and marketing the wine. We’ve had so many great successes over the years and the reason for that is innovation’.
Caroline Brown, Public Relations and Content Manager, Brown Brothers
A young man with big dreams plants a vineyard in the King Valley
John Francis Brown was the man responsible for starting what would become one of the great names in Australian wine. It all began in 1885 when John convinced his father to allow him to plant 10 acres of vines on the family property. While John had no idea at the time, the site he planted these vines on would become instrumental in the future success of his nascent venture. We’ll get to that later.
Riesling, Muscat and Shiraz vines were planted near the town of Milawa in the beautiful King Valley in the North East of Victoria. By 1889 the vines were ready to produce their first significant crop. The grapes were vinified in an old hay and grain storage barn – a structure which still stands on the Brown Brothers property today.
Before long John was gaining a reputation for the quality for his grapes and the wines he made from them. So much so that one of the key figures in Victoria’s developing wine industry, Government Viticulturist Francois de Castella, commented on, ‘the excellent quality of Mr. Brown’s Riesling and Hermitage (Shiraz)’.
Filled with hope and enthusiasm, John named his new venture Brown Brothers, hoping that his brothers would join him. They never did, but the name has stuck ever since. So rather than the brothers leading the charge it was up to John and his son John Charles to build on this promising start.
The challenges that beset him in the early years could have destroyed others with less determination than John. Just as he was starting to really grow demand for his wines, the dreaded louse phylloxera was detected in the vineyards in Milawa. Phylloxera devastated the Victoria’ wine industry, just as it was starting to bloom. Many early vignerons abandoned their vineyards, never to return, but not, thankfully, not John.
John truly believed that there was a bright future for viticulture in the King Valley. Within 4 years the entire Milawa vineyard was replanted with over 30,000 vines grafted with phylloxera-resistant rootstock. New varieties like Cabernet Franc, Mondeuse and Semillon were added to the already successful Shiraz, Riesling and Muscat. New milestones were reached in production, with over 10,000 gallons a year of wine helping to build Brown Brothers’ bourgeoning reputation in Melbourne.
John Charles Brown lays a foundation of innovation
To build a culture of innovation and dedication to quality you need to have a solid foundation. John Charles Brown was the solid foundation for Brown Brothers. He picked up the baton from John and ran with it. He took a well-respected local winery and turned it into one of Australia’s most successful and best-loved.
One of the key elements in the early success of Brown Brothers was John’s recognition of the importance of the cellar door in building a brand. John developed the cellar door from afterthought to its essential place on the Australian wine landscape. John took full advantage of the fact that the Brown Brothers Milawa Vineyard was planted in a special place. And for once we’re not talking about terroir.
Today, winter in the King Valley is all about cool alpine air, log fires, exceptional local produce and the ski season. When John Francis Brown first planted his vineyard in Milawa the winters were all about cool alpine air and log fires. He wasn’t to know that the road past his winery would become one of the main arterials taking keen skiers up to the Australian alps every winter.
John Charles noticed that each year more and more people were leaving Melbourne for skiing holidays. He recognised that these were people that could become the greatest advocates of Brown Brothers’ wines. To help with this he changed the cellar door experience. Gone was anything that would make a visitor feel intimidated. He let the warm and friendly country hospitality shine through, turning casual wine drinkers into passionate wine lovers over successive visits.
This spirit of innovation in the cellar door experience remains at Brown Brothers to this day. Brown Brothers were the first winery in Australia to produce a food and wine book in the 1980s. They were one of the first to shine a light on regional produce and wine through the ‘Epicurean Centre’ and ‘Patricia’s Table Restaurant’. Wine drinkers continue to flock to Brown Brothers year after year, making it one of Australia’s busiest cellar doors and one of our Ultimate Winery Experiences. Countless other wineries across the country have followed the example set by Brown Brothers - something all food and wine lovers can be grateful for.
The future for Brown Brothers – A proud tradition in safe hands
Innovation at Brown Brothers hasn’t just been limited to the cellar door experience. The family have worked closely with government research agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to develop new grape varieties suited to the Australian climate and changes in wine consumer tastes. Varieties like Tarrango, Cienna and Mystique have added a new dimension to the Australian wine story.
These new varieties have been complemented by Brown Brothers dedication to alternative varieties in Australia. This dedication has exposed a wide range of wine lovers to varieties like Prosecco, Graciano, Gamay, Nero d’Avola and Montepulciano, accelerating the growth and acceptance of these varieties as an important element of the evolution of Australian wine.
The family has also been instrumental in the rise and rise of the King Valley, now recognised as one of Australia’s most exciting cool climate wine regions. Former tobacco farmers like the Dal Zottos and Pizzinis got their start in the wine game growing grapes for Brown Brothers. The guidance and assistance of the region’s most famous wine family gave them the confidence and belief in their ability to grow exceptional grapes. This confidence and belief was then transferred into making their own wines from these grapes, and the region has never looked back.
Today, several generations of the Brown family are ensuring that the tradition of innovation and excellence in the King Valley are maintained. Recent acquisitions in the cool climate regions of Tasmania and Yarra Valley have strengthened the family’s position, ensuring they can deal with the challenges presented by climate change. The current generation of the Brown family are slowly but surely taking the reins, and they are as passionate about innovation and quality as any of their forebears. Here’s to the next 127 years of innovation at one of Australia’s First Families of Wine.
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