Doug Bowen, Bowen Estate, SA

Doug Bowen, Bowen Estate, SA

Name: Doug, Emma & Joy Bowen

Marking 30 years of Cabernet Sauvignon at Bowen Estate

Australian Viticulture recently asked Doug where he would choose to plant Cabernet if he could do so anywhere in the world, he still picked Coonawarra. And that's in spite of the sour taste that the frost-ravaged 2007 vintage has no doubt left him after 90% of Bowen Estate's fruit was lost to the multitude of chills that struck the region this season. Doug's love of the Coonawarra has no doubt played an integral part in reaching the milestone of 30 Cabernet vintages - a love which developed well before he and Joy purchased their first patch of terra rossa in 1972. In fact, Doug reckons his fondness for the Coonawarra took root in the 1960s while he was in his late teens and still living in Mildura.

'I was interested in wine at a fairly young age,' Doug recalls. 'I began drinking wine around the same time that my parents started drinking wine which was back in the days of Barossa Pearl and Sparkling Rhinegold. My parents were cutting their teeth on those wines as was I - they never said 'no' to us kids to having a taste.

'One day our neighbour, an accountant who did the books for Mildara and had quite a collection of wine, gave me a taste of what I now believe was Mildara's 1963 Peppermint Pattie.'

A Coonawarra Cabernet and a benchmark for the wine industry at the time, the Peppermint Pattie had a lasting impression on a young Doug Bowen.

'I can still remember it and that's when my real interest in wine started. I barely knew anything about wine at the time let alone wine regions but I maintain that's when I fell in love with the Coonawarra.'

A growing interest in vine and wine

Although he was never sure about exactly what he wanted to do when he left school, Doug knew that he wanted to work in agriculture. Not that he was brought up on the land - his father was a pharmacist. Although his brother chose to walk in his father's footsteps, Doug's vocational aspirations lay elsewhere.

'My real bond was more with agriculture and living in Mildura the type of agriculture most people were interested in up there was sheep and cropping. But the opportunity to own land around Mildura was limited. So much of the land consisted of huge pastoral holdings that hardly ever changed hands and if they did you needed to rob a bank to afford them.'

Doug enrolled in what was then known as Dookie Agricultural College anyway where he would shortly discover that his future lay with winemaking.

'One weekend some of the boys from the 'Plonky School' came over to play football,' Doug remembers, referring to the name that Roseworthy Agricultural College was commonly known.

'One of the footballers was Philip Shaw and I remember having a few drinks with him. By the time I finished talking to Philip, I knew that making wine was what I wanted to do.'

Doug immediately made inquiries about enrolling in Roseworthy where he graduated in 1971.

Guiding a fledgling business

'By the time I got to Roseworthy I was right into drinking red wine. I particularly loved Coonawarra reds and while I was at Roseworthy we were asked to do a study on a wine region. Naturally enough, I chose the Coonawarra and went
down there to interview some of its grapegrowers and winemakers.'

Doug says it was then that he was left without a shadow of doubt that the Coonawarra was where he wanted to make wine.

And it wasn't too long before that dream was realised. The year after he graduated from Roseworthy, Doug married Joy. While on their honeymoon, the couple happened to pass through Coonawarra where they made inquiries about land for sale in the area. They were pointed in the direction of a block with a just-planted 3ha vineyard of Shiraz and Cabernet which Doug and Joy promptly purchased upon returning from their honeymoon.

'We immediately established another 4ha of Shiraz and Cabernet on the block - two-thirds was Shiraz and one-third Cabernet. Planting those proportions seems strange now but back then people still planted Shiraz and Cabernet in the quantities that John Riddoch insisted on back in the late 1880s for the growers who bought blocks in the Coonawarra Fruit Colony. When Katnook Estate came along in the late '70s and planted out a whole block of Cabernet it was quite radical.'

Bowen Estate produced its first vintage in 1975, the year Doug became assistant winemaker to John Vickery at Lindemans in Coonawarra. Prior to that, he had spent the years immediately following his graduation working for Hungerford Hill, Chateau Reynella and Mildara.

'I initially turned down the job with Lindemans because I thought it was a bit of a conflict of interest to work for them and produce my own grapes and wine. But they didn't see it that way so allowed me to work for them until such time as I had wine on the market. I left Lindemans in 1977 when we opened our cellar door.'

The Bowens remained content with their 7ha of Shiraz and Cabernet until
1980 when the remainder of the original block was planted out with more of the same two varieties as well as some Riesling and Chardonnay. Then in 1986 the Bowens bought a second block the other side of their southern neighbour,
Balnaves. Over the next three years, the 16ha bare block was planted to primarily Cabernet. Some Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Chardonnay also went in but the Chardonnay has since been replanted to Cabernet, while the Merlot was pulled out in 2001 and replaced with some Viognier and Shiraz.

Ten years after purchasing their South block, the Bowens bought their northern
neighbour - a 20ha holding consisting of some 8ha of mechanically-pruned Shiraz, Cabernet and Riesling vines. The Riesling was almost immediately grafted over to Shiraz, but the grafts failed so the vines were removed and replaced with new Shiraz plantings. On the 8ha of suitable vineyard land still bare, more Cabernet was subsequently planted.

The full article can be found in the May/June issue of Australian Viticulture. To subscribe go to http'//www.winebiz.com.au

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