Meet Ken Murchison

Meet Ken Murchison

Name: Ken Murchison

With a degree in viticulture from Charles Sturt University, Ken Murchison has spent the last 25 years with Portree Vineyard but has also gained experience at Hanging Rock Winery undertaking maturity testing, and as a vintage hand at both Knights Granite Hills and Pipers Brook Vineyard.

After he heard news of Grace Vineyard requiring a winemaker, Murchison was introduced to Grace Vineyard president Judy Leissner and now travels to the Shanxi province four to five times a year for two-week durations as well as spending three months during vintage.

Murchison has focused much of his efforts at Grace Vineyard as its viticulturist. He said the greatest challenge is working with the 450 small growers and convincing them that they will achieve higher quality and therefore bonus payments via better balanced vines.

'The vines are over-fertilised and over-watered and over-cropped. Impose summer rainfall on these difficulties and late season disease becomes an issue,' Murchison said.

From a winemaking viewpoint, Murchison's intention is to pick more mature grapes and produce wines with better colour and lasting ability. Shifting the tannin emphasis to finer grain skin tannins is also on his list.

'I was satisfied with these outcomes in 2006 but 2007 was a wash out,' he said.

'Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot are the principal reds at Grace
Vineyard and are made with a leaning towards the Bordeaux style. Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc are made very much in a New World style. Recent plantings have included Shiraz, Petit Verdot and Marselan Riesling.

'Grace Vineyard's winery is similarly equipped to an Australian one with tanks in
varying sizes from 5-60 tonnes and a total capacity of 1800 tonnes. It houses two Siprem vacuum presses, some rotary fermenters, and an 'awful' must pump which I am replacing with a Peristaltic this year. We also have a Fimer bottling line, good tank refrigeration and heating, the ability to sterilise juice, and reverse osmosis. Previous methods included no pH control of musts and ferments and
fermentation was followed by hot maceration - 35ºC.'

Murchison has noted that China's domestic market 'drink of choice' is Baijiu - which he describes as 'a potent white spirit which can be bought for as little as 40 cents for 500ml and is distilled from maize or sorghum, and beer, some of which is quite good but is served warm in all but the heat of summer'.

'The Baijiu is the toasting drink at meals and is a scary experience for the uninitiated. I have conducted many wine education sessions for our staff and my knowledge is improving.

'Wine is slowly catching on in the bigger cities - I saw three guys sit down with two bottles of red at a Dim Sum breakfast recently. Varietals are not recognised as yet here, with possible exception of Cabernet Sauvignon and to a lesser extent Chardonnay.'

Grace Vineyard's two distinctive markets are international hotels and restaurants in major Chinese cities. These restaurants buy mainly Reserve wines. The closest city to the vineyard, Taiyuan, is also a reasonable customer and Grace bottles 35 tonnes of table wine per month to supply Taiyuan.

'Australian and New Zealand wines are few and far between with the exception of the large companies who have a smattering of the brands that we see in all countries,' he said.

For Aussie winemakers and grapegrowers who are keen to spread their wings overseas, Murchison notes travelling is always a great learning experience and travelling to make wine is a continuation of that experience.

'Wine and food are so closely linked to the culture of most countries and many wineries are situated in and around small villages - a travelling winemaker can't lose.'

This article was first published in the September 2008 issue of Grapegrower & Winemaker. To obtain your copy of this issue or to subscribe to the magazine, contact Winetitles on +61 8 8292 0888 or email subs@winetitles.com.au

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