Taking over viticultural duties from her father in 2012 added another string to Belinda Thomson’s already laden bow.
Not too many people have both the title of chief winemaker and viticulturist. Belinda Thomson, of Crawford River in Henty, south-west Victoria, might also throw in the terms keen gardener, experimental cook and olive grower. One could add globetrotter, flying winemaker and organic enthusiast.
And juggler, perhaps, in light of the simultaneous winemaking and viticultural roles she’s held in Spain and Australia. Working in Spain gave Thomson confidence. She learnt to speak Spanish, on top of German which she already spoke, and at one point was managing a 200,000-tonne vintage with fruit sourced from far and wide.
I suspect that there’s not much that fazes Thomson. Except perhaps, when she first took over the winemaking from her father at the family winery.
The first sip of a Crawford River Riesling tells you that there are extraordinary people behind the wine. Concentrated lime and preserved lemon flavours drive their way through the weighty, persistent palate. The varietal clarity is phenomenal
The vineyard was established in 1975 by Thomson’s parents John and Catherine.
“Dad’s a real perfectionist and an incredibly hard worker. I think lots of people would probably argue we are quite similar. I’ve always looked up to him”.
“Belinda’s Thomson’s attention to detail and precise execution is manifest in all her Crawford River wines. While renowned for riesling, the quality and value across the range is exceptional, especially the splendid aged releases, a luxury in themselves.”
After an arts degree, her penchant for cool-climate viticulture took her to Lincoln University, New Zealand, for postgraduate studies in viticulture and oenology, after which she headed to Marlborough for roles at Huia, and later at Spy Valley. She worked in France, Spain, Germany and Italy, punctuated by stints back home at Crawford River.
All up, she spent almost 10 years splitting her time between Spain and Australia. She “absolutely loved” the itinerant lifestyle – to a point. “There comes a time when you need to put your foot solidly in one camp or the other, or you’re never going to be anywhere,” she says.
Her last vintage in Spain was ’16 and in 2011, she ran the Crawford River harvest after her father injured his shoulder, taking over the reins in 2012.
She has been full time since 2014, running the winery and vineyard solo, apart from an additional pair of hands in the cellar for a few weeks at vintage and some help with tractor work.
Thomson has continued with her father’s meticulous, low-key winemaking approach, though she has made changes that reflect her philosophies. She continues to age the riesling on lees – though also does a little maceration to help build texture and fullness. A new crusher that can destem without crushing allows for whole berry use in the reds. And she has tweaked the wood regime focusing on different tonnelleries.
Thomson takes an experimental approach with some wines, including the Apis Field Blend and Gewürztraminer. There’s also Beta, a barrel-fermented sauvignon blanc semillon blend made from whole bunch fruit with no additions. On the side, she’s produced a flor aged contemporary drop called Sea Party.
Organic cultivation is central to her philosophy and she is transitioning the vineyards in that direction. She’s stopped using herbicides under vine, and uses composts and mulches for improvements in soil balance and grape quality.
Canopy manipulation is used to improve fruit quality and green harvesting for more even ripeness at harvest.
“The vineyard is planted on a slope. The top of the hill is an ironstone buckshot volcanic soil.
“Underneath that, there’s a clay loam and at the very bottom of the hill, there’s a limestone base from the ancient risen seabed,” she explains.
Thomson is on a replanting schedule to rejuvenate and partly reorganise the vineyard though she’s taking it slowly, as she likes to do things properly.
“I’m about creating a fantastic product that I 100 per cent believe in. I don’t stick anything in a bottle that I am not proud of”.
Thomson’s wines are modern expressions of the 45-year-old site. Her zest for life is infectious, and it’s this enthusiasm, which she pours unreservedly into the wines of Crawford River, that makes them so compelling.
FACTS AND FIGURES
REGION | Henty, Victoria
YEARS IN INDUSTRY | 19
ANNUAL CRUSH | Not Specified
STAND-OUT WINES | 2018 Crawford River Riesling; 2018 Crawford River Cabernet Franc