It has been said that “talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships”. Luckily for the muscat winemakers of Rutherglen, they have all three.
When it comes to muscat, egos are set aside and teamwork prevails, as is embodied in the Rutherglen Muscat Classification, which came into being in 1995. Prior to this, the world of muscat was a complex one indeed…
“Previously, there were a whole lot of names for the various muscats,” Stanton & Killeen winemaker Andrew Drumm explains.
“Everyone had their own opinions on what it should be called - there was no consistency. If a customer picked up a classic muscat, they might get something that’s five years old or something that’s 20 years old. It has little to do with the age and more to do with the sensory characteristics of the muscat. So, you might drink a muscat that calls itself 'classic' yet doesn’t have much guts to it, or you might get something that’s big and ripe”.
On top of this, the Australian muscat market had dramatically changed. According to Wine Australia, in 1950 fortified wines accounted for 86 per cent of Australian wine production, now they only account for around 2 per cent. That said, fortified wines are in growth, led by our champion - muscat.
“In the early 60s, fortified wines fell out of favour because table wines took over, primarily due to Italian immigrants drinking wine with food as opposed to after a meal,” Campbells Wines winemaker Colin Campbell explained.
“When that happened the fortified wines began to drop off. At that stage the different names for muscat between the different wineries were all a mess, there was no conformity and you didn’t know what you were drinking”.
Andrew Drumm of Stanton & Killeen
The new system makes a pointed effort not to rely on age to determine classifications, though it does provide some clue.
“It was a deliberate attempt to keep ages out of it because anyone, in theory, can keep a fortified wine in a barrel for 15 years and say it’s a 15 year old muscat, but the problem is if they haven’t looked after it, it’s just a 15 year old, stale, fairly unappealing wine,” Andrew clarifies.
So, now we have these classifications, how is each wine correctly classified?
“We set our wines out and have groups of the Rutherglen muscat, the classic Muscat, the grande and the rare,” Colin says.
“We all sit there and taste each of the wines, then we talk about the them. It’s all done with peers and it’s worked brilliantly”.
It’s worked so brilliantly, in fact, that the old Australian Muscat Classification system (based purely on age) has officially evolved into the Rutherglen system, though there’s always room for further evolution - if needed. Although the Rutherglen Muscat Classifications are neatly packaged up now, Fifth generation vingerion Stephen Chambers of Chambers Rosewood Vineyards explains there’s always a grey area …
Colin Campbell of Campbells Wines