Meet the Winemaker: Katherine Brown, Brown Brothers

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Vintage Cellars
October 23, 2018
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As a fourth-generation member of the Brown Brothers Wine Family, Katherine Brown is brightening the future of this well-loved Australian Winery.

Brown Brothers in North-East Victoria’s Milawa is a much-loved household name in Australia and has been for generations of wine drinkers. For many, Brown Brothers produced the first wine they bought and was the first winery they visited.

Katherine Brown is a fourth-generation member of the family and has been involved in almost every facet of the business, from public relations manager to brand ambassador and now winemaker. Working alongside her sister, Caroline, who is now public relations manager, Katherine is at the coalface of innovation – an area Brown Brothers takes very seriously – in the creation of new grape varieties, such as cienna and mystique, as well as alternative varieties from the Mediterranean that will counter some of the effects of a changing climate.

Your family has been involved in winemaking in Victoria since 1889. Was it inevitable that you would join the family business?
There was never any pressure to join the family business and, as part of the fourth generation of the Brown Family, we spend at least four years working outside the business before returning. Once I finished school, I completed a business degree with not much understanding of where to go next. I took on my first job in marketing for a small coffee-roasting business and learned a lot from the small-business experience; but I also saw the parallels between the world of coffee and the wine industry. It was not for another eight years (and two more university degrees) that I found myself back working for the family business. The year 2018 marked my fourth vintage as part of the Brown Brothers winemaking team, looking after exciting wines, including the Patricia range.

The Browns grow more grape varieties than almost any other wine producer in Australia, and now the company has vineyards in two states, Victoria and Tasmania. How do you keep track of it all, winemaking-wise?
We have six winemakers across the Brown Family Wine Group, all of us looking after red, white, sparkling wines or the fruity and dry wines categories. This split of all these diverse wines allows us all to be across the whole portfolio of more than 45 grape varieties.

After buying vineyards in Tasmania, how is the winemaking team becoming acquainted with the cooler climate and the opportunity to craft pinot noir and chardonnay?
We have a full-time winemaker, Tom Wallace, based in Tasmania, who works with these wines. Tom has extensive experience in cool-climate winemaking in Tasmania and New Zealand.

Brown Brothers has the knack of picking the next big thing in wine. Where do you think wine styles are heading?
I'm very excited about the growth of sparkling wine in the Australian market. Sparkling wine was seen as a wine for celebrations in the past, but with the rise of prosecco, this style is now seen as a drink for the daytime, as well as for casual and relaxed occasions.

Prosecco is all the rage right now, but is this to the detriment of other sparkling wines in your ranges, in particular, the Patricia wines?
There’s certainly a big groundswell in the sparkling wine category, with prosecco showing great growth. The méthode traditionelle style of sparkling wines is a good Champagne alternative for celebrations and special events, whereas prosecco is the sparkling wine for more relaxed, regular occasions.

Which Australian wine region – an area from which Brown Brothers does not source grapes –excites you the most?
I’m a huge riesling and chardonnay fan, and I’m seeing great wines from these varieties coming from the Great Southern in Western Australia. The flinty and mineral characters of these wines, produced from lovely cool-climate fruit, are what attract me to this region.

What are your thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of the Australian wine industry?
The greatest strength of the Australian wine industry is its willingness to adopt new technologies. We lead the world in innovation and we are always looking at new and smarter ways to make the highest quality wine.

Our weakness is that we still need to be taken seriously in export markets. We are now making world-class wines that are many levels above those that were sold overseas a decade ago. Family-owned Australian wine businesses are leading the way in producing high-quality wines for these export markets – businesses that carry strong stories with heart and soul.

Which Brown Brothers wines are you most enjoying at the moment?

The Patricia Pinot Noir and Chardonnay Brut – it’s perfect for celebrations, with crisp, citrus cool-climate fruit from Victoria’s King Valley. The wine is kept on lees for six years, longer than most Champagnes, giving it a beautiful brioche flavour with very good bead and intensity.

When you’re not opening a Brown Brothers wine, what are you drinking?
I like to explore rosés of the world. Of course, there are number of lovely fresh-flavoured wines from the south of France, but Australia is also making great rosé, like the Dominique Portet Fontaine Rosé from the Yarra Valley.

What’s your most sublime food and wine match?
It has to be Brown Brothers Limited Release Gamay and the Milawa Cheese Company’s Tomme goat’s-milk cheese. We have so much great locally produced food in Milawa.