“Clonakilla was established in 1971 by my father Dr John Kirk. He came to Australia to work at the CSIRO. When he arrived in Canberra he looked around at the climate and the soils and found lots of parallels to some of the great wine regions of Europe. He couldn’t really understand why there wasn’t a wine industry around Canberra. Being a man of entrepreneurial drive he thought he’d have a crack at putting a winery in himself, so he bought a new 44 acre subdivision at Murrumbateman, and planted a vineyard.
“When you pioneer wine making in a region, it takes a long time to work out what does well. We used to blend Cabernet and Shiraz, that was a common blend through the 70’s and 80’s. In 1990, we released our first straight Shiraz, which we put into some regional shows, and it won some medals. We thought, ‘maybe Shiraz has something to say here in this district.’
“My wife and I went to the Rhone Valley in France in 1991. I was fortunate enough to taste some of the great Shiraz Viognier blends of Cote Rotie out of barrel. It was a fairly profound tasting experience. These wines had extraordinary subtlety and elegance, and soaring perfumes. We’d started to have great success with Shiraz, and remarkably my dad had planted some Viognier in 1986 with a view to making a white Viognier. I said to dad, ‘why don’t we have a go at doing a Shiraz Viognier blend?’ So it became my project to develop this new wine for Clonakilla. The 1992 Vintage was the first vintage that cropped. Immediately it won critical acclaim, and we knew we were onto something. We continued to the develop the style and year after year it continued to win more and more acclaim. It was as if something new had been discovered in the hills around Canberra, a newer style of Shiraz that was very different to the bold South Australian style. It amazes me that now, that people who write about wines regard it as one of the great Australian reds.
“We get a huge amount of support from the Canberra community for our wines. I think that 20-30 years ago, people were a bit suspicious about Canberra wines. There was a time where we exported much more wine than we sold around Canberra, but that’s changed There has been an upswing of interest from the local community about Canberra wines. Our Canberra customers are immensely supportive, interested in what we’re doing and very proud of it. I think peoples tastes evolve. I think people are now looking for more elegant wines. They find that those wines are more adaptable for food. When my dad first started doing it almost everyone told him that it was way too cold to make wines in Canberra. Thankfully he didn’t listen to the naysayers and persevered.”
Tim Kirk, Chief Winemaker – Clonakilla Wines