Vines were first planted in the Canberra District in 1971 near Lake George by Dr Edgar Riek. The district is roughly divided into two areas, one in the Yass Valley around Murrumbateman and the other around Lake George and Bungendore. Canberra District has a cool continental climate with hot dry summers necessitating irrigation. A region of rolling hills, with elevations varying between 300 and 800 metres, means that spring frost is a real hazard, making site selection crucial. Small producers dominate the region, making handcrafted, high-quality wines particularly from Riesling, Viognier, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Shiraz.
In 2002, husband and wife Bryan and Jocelyn Martin, and David Martin (Bryan’s brother) bought a vineyard in Murrumbateman. They undertook a programme of regrafting, pulling and planting vines. Today, the lion’s share is Shiraz but there’s also a good measure of Riesling, Sangiovese, and some select white Rhône regulars like Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. Then there’s some Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and more recently some Gamay and Nebbiolo. Most everything grows well in the region.
The long and arduous task of revitalising the soil began in earnest. Not overworking the soil, getting rid of the heavy machinery, and manging the vineyard in a way which Bryan describes as ‘what could loosely be called natural forestry principles.’ His approach is to understand that the vines are ‘used to clinging to life in the competitive arena of a forest’ rather than a well-ordered monoculture of the typical vineyard’. To this end, they’ve planted a diverse range of plants with long taproots to work with the vineyard and interact with the vines beneath the soil.
Shortly after purchasing the vineyard, Bryan joined Tim Kirk fulltime at Clonakilla and has been his righthand man during a period of incredible success in the winery.
In 2010, the Ravensworth brand was established and two years later, their first wine won the International Riesling Challenge in Canberra in 2012. Putting Ravensworth firmly on the map.
Since then the range has grown considerably. Estate fruit makes up about half of the output with bought fruit from Tumbarumba, Hilltops and Gundagai with doubtless more to come. The wines using ceramic eggs, (for the Riesling) concrete vats and a variety of oaks. This all suits his winemaking style which is driven by curiosity; it’s creative, even playful.
Bryan, an ex-chef and an experienced forager, makes wines with food in mind. He’s not looking for maximum extraction, rather balance, savouriness and, most importantly, drinkability.