‘Heathcote is on the cusp of something great’

By Vanessa Wiltshire

TALKING with India Munari is a bit like chewing the fat with an old friend. She’s generous with her knowledge and easy to get along with. And her passion for wine is infectious.

India is the daughter of Deborah Jones and Adrian Munari, Founders of Munari Wines at Lady’s Pass. Just 10 minutes north of Heathcote, the property was once an historic sheep station. Now under vine, it has a glorious energy, evoking the feeling of a time gone by. Now, after more than 25 years, Munari Wines has grown from a single shiraz and a blend (the Schoolhouse Red) into an award-winning internationally recognised portfolio.

In a sentiment echoed by every maker and grower we’ve met this vintage, India said the 2019 season has been particularly challenging.

“Our fruit has definitely taken a hit this season,” India said. “Not the quality but the volume. Unfortunately there has been a lot of damage to the fruit by kangaroos and cockatoos. The heat has also affected the crop.

‘‘It’s felt like a very fast vintage too, because everything ripened so quickly. It had to come off the vine at once, whereas in past years, there has been more time.’’

Despite this, the 31-year-old viticulturist and winemaker is positive and upbeat. “You’ve just got to make the most of it,” she said.

The family labrador, Panther, lazes beneath a steel vat. It’s a hot morning and he’s not interested in any attention, even from the local paper.

Outside, a small group of workers attend the mobile bottling unit, processing as much as they can before the sun climbs too high.

Inside the winery, grapes in a large barrel emit a heady fragrance as they ferment in their own juice. India intermittently pumps the raw shiraz from the bottom back into the top of the barrel. There’s a bit of muscle involved, and maybe a bit of artistry too.

‘‘I don’t have any formal qualifications in wine-making or viticulture,’’ India said. ‘‘I’ve been working with my father since I was four. ‘‘Wine-making is in our blood. In 1921 my great grandfather Antonio Munari came to Australia from Gallio in the Veneto region in Italy. He was also a winemaker. Within the next 10 years he brought the rest of his family out including my grandfather Giovanni, who was around 11 years old at the time. My family have been in the region ever since.’’

After finishing high school, India left the family winery to study at the University in Melbourne. She completed an Arts degree, majoring in Psychology and Indonesian. Following this she applied for the graduate wine ambassador program at Pernod Ricard. India spent nine months gaining first-hand vintage experience across three countries. She also gained crucial corporate sales and customer service experience. At the beginning of 2018 India returned home to apply her knowledge in the family business, and local industry.

Since then she has been involved in wine judging and stewarding and has completed a certificate in wine and spirits education.

While India enjoys the growing side of the industry, she is most passionate about connecting people to wine through education and experience.

This weekend India is running a ‘Wine 101’ Masterclass at Heathcote on Show, where she will help to demystify ‘wine language’ and make it more understandable.

“You can throw all the wine terms around that you want, but what does it mean at the end of the day?” India asked. “I want people to truly understand what they are drinking and feel a connection to it. I want them to feel confident to talk about wine and their experience with it.”

As a next-generation leader in the Victorian wine industry, India sees opportunity.

“Heathcote is on the cusp of something great,’’ she says. “It’s an incredible region, one that has several micro-climates within a relatively small area. From Tooborac to Colbinabbin you get very different wines, even from the one varietal. You can’t really get that anywhere else.’’

India emphasised that while shiraz has made Heathcote famous, there are many varietals flying under the radar. ‘‘White wines are highly overlooked in Heathcote,’’ she said. ‘‘Given the cool nights, Italian varietals like Vermentino and Fiano do really well and they are delicious.’’

‘‘Sangiovese is another good one. It does well in warmer climates and is a little lighter than the traditional Heathcote reds.

‘‘While Heathcote makes great shiraz and will continue to do so, there is lots the region has to offer.

‘‘We’ve just grafted over three small blocks of Sangiovese, which we’re really excited about.’’