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8/05/2015

The Portuguese influence: Simon becomes Simão

Born into generations of winemakers, Simon Killeen grew up on a farm with a vineyard and a small winery in Rutherglen. For someone who has never known any different, the wine industry seemed like a natural choice and one that Killeen made at a young age.

“Most of my weekends and school holidays were spent on the farm doing sheep work, pruning, helping with vintage or bottling,” Killeen explained. “I’ve never wanted to do anything else.

Killeen’s family history of winemaking goes back seven generations. His great-great-great-great grandfather Timothy Stanton planted vines at Rutherglen in 1875. That venture is now called Stanton & Killeen Wines, also known as S&K.

“Dad was a winemaker and so was Grandpa,” he said.

Growing up on a winery introduced Killeen to the craft, but a passion for winemaking and viticulture pushed him to pursue a career in the industry.

After finishing Year 12 in 2004, Killeen gained some hands on work experience, completing 15 vintages across Australia and Europe.

He was a cellar hand at Gapsted Wines in the Ovens Valley, Brokenwood Wines in the Hunter Valley, and Voyager Estate in Margaret River.

Working his way up the ranks, Killeen then travelled to Griffith where he was a cellar supervisor at Casella Wines for a year before completing vintages in Alpine Valley and back home in Rutherglen.

“It was an unbelievable experience,” Killeen said.

Setting his sights a little further, Killeen travelled across the globe to France where he gained invaluable knowledge working at M. Chapoutier in Tain l’Hermitage for five months.

Two years ago Killeen revisited Europe where he joined Benjamin Leroux in Burgundy before travelling south to take up residence with the world renowned Taylor Flagdgate Yateman port house in Portugal.

The journey hasn’t been easy. The Rutherglen community was rocked by the tragic passing of Simon’s father and mentor, Chris Killeen in 2007.

“Losing my dad and grandfather within three years of each other when I was at the age of 20 was pretty ordinary,” Killeen said. “I lost two of my greatest influences and mentors at a very early stage of my career.”

In an enormous feat of courage, Killeen walked away from S&K to pursue a dream of running his own wine label, a move which he credits as one of his biggest achievements and challenges to date. 

Simão & Co. Wines was created with a dream to inspire a new generation of fortified wine drinkers.

“I really want to try and capture the last two generations of Aussie drinkers who have paid little regard to fortified wine and re-engage them,” Killeen said. “The Simão brand is about showing what north- east Victoria can do well.”

Killeen said the region has a broad array of mesoclimates and soil types which can produce a varied range of wines, perfect for exploring innovative and creative wine styles.

“In one part, you can make brilliant powerful, unctuous Muscats at home in Rutherglen but then drive 45 minutes down the road and get access to some of arguably the best sparkling fruit in Australia,” he said. “I love the diversity in winemaking opportunity you can choose from.”

Opting to shift the focus to his first name, Killeen said Simão, the name given to him when he worked in Portugal, also grew to be symbolic of his winemaking style. 

“It ties in with a few winemaking philosophies I learnt while being in Portugal, along with my love for native Portuguese varieties such as Touriga Nacional, Souzão and Tinto Cão.”

Killeen said he wants Simão & Co. Wines to have drinkability, freshness and class but with one exception.

“My vintage port style. I’m aiming for power, depth and longevity that will sit alongside any great Portuguese or Australian port and hold its own,” he said.

This article was published in the May 2015 Grapegrower and Winemaker magazine. Not a subscriber? Visit www.winebiz.com.au/gwm or email to subscribe today to the wine industry’s leading information resource package.

More than 1,500 key Grapegrower & Winemaker archived articles are now included with each subscription. These can also be purchased individually at www.winebiz.com.au/gwm


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