by Fred McMillin
for May 15, 1998

Winery of the Week

A Winery in the Pyrenees


Hugh Johnson in his World Atlas of Wines describes "the rolling landscape of the Pyrenees."

The Rest of the Story

Has Hugh lost his head? If you've driven south from Bordeaux into the Pyrenees you KNOW the rugged hills are anything but "rolling." So what's the explanation?

One hundred miles northwest of Melbourne in southwestern Australia is ANOTHER Pyrenees range, in the wine district of Victoria. Let's start with the district.

"Victoria is Australia's most exciting wine state," writes critic Huon Hooke. "In 1960 there were less than 20 wineries...30 years later there were 169!" The mild Pyrenees area produces richer, fuller wines than the cooler regions nearby.

A leader in making those rich wines is Taltarni, led since its 1972 founding by Bordeaux native Dominique Portet. His Cabernet has been described by experts as "explosive," "awesome," and "blockbuster." Hence, it was no suprise when it won a major USA competition. The Shiraz also is praised for its distinctive "power."

As for whites, Sauvignon Blanc does unusually well in the Pyrenees, and Taltarni discovered it early on. In fact, they were one of the very first to make that wine in all of Australia.  

Just The Facts

Name—Taltarni Vineyards
Address—Taltarni Road, Moonambel,Victoria,Australia
Grape Sources—Only from its own 250 acres of vines.
Prices—Reasonable. That big Cab is only $16.
Contact—If it's not convenient to phone the winery at (054) 672218 in Moonambel, call Erika Ruthnick, (707) 259-2228, Clos du Val Wine Co., Napa, CA. Clos du Val President Bernard Portet is the U.S.A. importer of his younger brother's (Dominique) Taltarni's wines. Both grew up at France's Chateau Lafite, where their dad was the technical director for decades.


While Taltarni has done beautifully, the first Pyrenees winery had its problems. Founded in 1848 by a family named Mackereth, it survived phylloxera and the effects of World War I...but it couldn't handle the church. In 1929 a Methodist minister bought it, destroyed the cellars, uprooted the vines and closed the winery.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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