Arthur Wines is unusual, and potentially unique, in the Australian wine scene. Started by Tash Arthur in 2011, Arthur Wines is based in Rosa Glen, Margaret River, but there’s no cabernet or chardonnay there, rather she focuses on making fortified wines, some as modern reframings of styles that dominated the market way back in the mists of the early 20th century, and some as wines pitched to a new demographic. Today, Arthur Wines produce aperitif-style fortifieds, with white, red and rosé styles, which are made to serve over ice or be mixed, along with more classic wines, such as a barrel-aged muscat and a solera tawny.
Beginning her career as a registered nurse, an interest in wine eventually diverted Arthur into earning a bachelor’s degree in oenology and viticulture. Somewhat against the flow, she developed a deep passion for fortified wines, and a practical apprenticeship both in Rutherglen and Portugal cemented her on the path to making her own range. That was all supposed to happen in Rutherglen, but a trip back to her home state saw her meet her future husband, Rob, a third-generation Margaret River farmer.
Arthur worked as a cellar hand then assistant winemaker with Bill and Stephen Chambers at their iconic Chambers Rosewood winery, where some of this country’s finest fortifieds have been made. She also credits Chris and Jen Pfeiffer as mentors for sharing their equally deep knowledge of Rutherglen wine history, as well as their equally deep reserves of great wine. But no education would be complete without a trip to Portugal, and a stint as vintage winemaker at Croft followed.
“Part of my job was to monitor the lagars overnight, where the best fruit destined for vintage port would be foot-trod and fermented. I spent many a nightshift watching and working the musts waiting for them to be ready to be pressed and fortified at exactly the right Baume. 2007 was a great vintage and some stellar vintage port was made in the region that year,” Arthur says.
Returning to WA to set up on shop on the family farm, Arthur worked at both McHenry Hohnen and Amberley Estate while her and her husband found their feet. The Arthur Wines debut release was in 2011, with friends and family pitching in. “We had a few hiccups especially in the labelling department which meant we had to reapply all the neck ties on our first run. But we learn as we go and improve what we do each time. We completed our winery build in 2013 which made it so much easier as our first bub arrived just before the fruit did in that year.”
While there are others that make fortified wines in the region – though not many – there are none with such a singular approach. “Fortified. It’s all we do,” says Arthur. “Everything in our cellar is fortified. I guess we are different to other fortified wine producers as we are in Margaret River, which is known for exceptional table wines and not fortifieds. But like all wine, the key is excellent quality fruit which we have in abundance here. We are different with our branding, as we are trying to lose that older person stereotype of fortifieds and make our wines appeal to a wider audience.”
That steering away from norms may be unusual in the slightly dusty world of fortified production, but Arthur is not short of inspiration to walk a less busy road. “It’s great to see quite a few producers doing things their own way and bucking the traditional bigger winery approach. I’m always inspired by producers like Mij and Liv at South by Southwest, Dylan and Taryn at LS Merchants and Jen and Rob at Corymbia. These guys make great wines that aren’t always the traditional varieties and blends. It gives you confidence that you can try new things and take your wines to customers in your own way.”
Arthur Wines is a bold player in Margaret River, indeed in an Australian wine world that appreciates but rarely drinks fortified wines. And while Arthur has classic styles for ageing in the wings, her fresh approach to making wines with lithe energy that can be drunk as is, over ice or with a splash of mixer make them very of the moment. “I love what I do,” she says. “I’m very fortunate that I get to make the wines that I love and at the same time try and reshape the image of one of Australia’s oldest wine styles.”