Tessa Brown’s career as a viticulturist and winemaker has taken her around the country and the world. But after an extended stint on the Mornington Peninsula, a greenfield site 11 kilometres outside of Beechworth saw her and her partner tip all in, launching Vignerons Schmölzer & Brown. Working with their fledgling vines and also sourcing from growers, Brown makes fine and savoury chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah, as well as decidedly Germanic rieslings. Schmölzer & Brown was a Young Gun finalist in 2016.
Growing up on a sugarcane farm in Queensland, Brown switched her university preferences at the last minute after a trip to Rutherglen set her on the wine path. Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga followed, studying viticulture, then a little later she studied postgraduate winemaking at the University of Adelaide. Brown has worked in New Zealand, Italy and Spain, as well as in Orange and for Shaw + Smith and Wolf Blass in South Australia.
After a sizeable tenure at Kooyong Estate with Sandro Mosele, Brown and her architect partner (life and wine) Jeremy Schmölzer purchased a 20-hectare property near Beechworth. It’s a high-altitude site, right at the top of the register for Beechworth, and one they were steered to by legendary viticulturist Mark Walpole as being of vast potential. That site had been cleared but not planted in 2012 when they bought it, with chardonnay, riesling, nebbiolo and shiraz going in the ground in 2014.
With a viable crop from their Thorley vineyard some years away, the Vignerons Schmölzer & Brown label was launched in 2014 with fruit from a pocket-sized vineyard across the road, the Brunnen vineyard, and also from select parcels from North East Victoria. That neighbouring vineyard, a little under an acre, is planted to chardonnay and pinot noir and is dry grown, but it was not being managed to yield a viable crop for making wine. A quick chat changed that, and Brown and Schmölzer have been co-farming it ever since.
Key among their grower sites is an 800-metre vineyard on the Whitlands Plateau, which is where they source their riesling from. That vineyard lays claim to the highest plantings of riesling in Victoria, which are closely spaced and unirrigated. The Schmölzer & Brown wines from that site all bear the name Obstgarten, meaning orchard in German, with the direction of the rieslings very much Germanic in feel, from dry, off-dry to slightly more luscious expressions.
Brown also makes a range of drink-now wines, describing the Prêt-à-Rosé as “a dry, savoury barrel-fermented pink thing made for necks”. Which sums it up neatly. There’s a Prêt-à-Blanc built around riesling and a Prêt-à-Rouge that employs shiraz and pinot noir as a foundation. A sylvaner, skinsy pinot gris and pinot noir from two sites, a pinot and a shiraz from Beechworth’s Indigo vineyard also feature, and the first chardonnay and pinot noir from the home Thorley site joined the Brunnen examples in 2018.
Brown and Schmölzer have many other things in their sights, too. Among them, short, medium and long-term goals in growing grapes and making wine, but the restoration of their land into a more natural state is also important, with a program of growing and planting native trees occupying much of Brown’s spare time. They have also planted a row of oak trees inoculated with truffle spores for a little income buffering. The mid-term will bring organic certification and over that and the longer term, Brown sees the farm transitioning to one that is completely sustainable and sustaining, self-sufficient and one that gives back to its environment far more than it takes away.