Recently we took a trip out to Michael Unwin Wines which is just up the road from us here in Lucas. We were so excited with what we found that we wanted to share it with everyone. So here is a little interview with Mike, who is of course the namesake, chief winemaker and innovative thinker behind Michael Unwin Wines.
You were previously operating in the Grampians Region. What spurred the move to this scenic 100-acre property?
The business operated out of Ararat from the year 2000 and then Beaufort from 2004, but my wife Cat and I, and our three children considered Ballarat home. When the opportunity came up to purchase the farm at Windermere – just ten minutes out of town – it was too good to pass up.
From a winemaker’s perspective, the high altitude and corresponding cool climate presents a wealth of opportunities for us to grow a wide range of grape varieties. I’ll be able to flex my ‘innovation muscle’ by growing some grapes that many local people have never even heard of, yet also tap into my experience with New Zealand styles and European varieties.
You’ve travelled and made wine around the world. What makes the Australian wine industry unique?
In Europe, the wine industry is renowned for being hampered by bureaucrats and red tape. In Australia, we have the opportunity to establish a business within one generation. And of course, the Aussie sun and soil allows us to grow a fabulous variety of grapes and produce unrivalled wines.
How did Michael Unwin Wines begin?
I originally studied horticulture in New Zealand, before travelling to Europe in 1985. I worked for a champagne maker and therein piqued my interest in grape growing and wine making. I then travelled all over Europe studying winemaking and learning from, and working with, some of the most highly regarded and forward-thinking experts in the field. For 8 years I was a flying winemaker, travelling between New Zealand and Europe. My wife Cat and I came to Australia in 1995 and I worked at some of the oldest wineries in the country. In 2000 we started “Michael Unwin Wines” in a disused weaving mill in Ararat and in 2004 the purpose-built winery in Beaufort came to life. We purchased the farm at Windermere, Ballarat in 2014 and finally opened our doors there in February 2020.
We have now realised our dream of having a vertically-integrated working winery, where everything is done right here on site, and within the boundaries of our favourite city.
What can you tell us about your plans for the future of the vineyard and cellar door?
I am so excited about the opportunities that this site affords us. Our cellar door is already well-frequented by our customers who have been part of our following since Beaufort. And Ballarat locals are genuinely thrilled to have a winery that they can call their own.
We are loving the steady flow of new and familiar faces coming out to see us. We also have a lot of tourists itching to come to our cellar door and we’re excited by the prospect of welcoming people from further afield now that we have some relief from Covid restrictions. And, of course we are still distributing to restaurants and bottle shops.
In the near future our visitors will be able to experience the entire wine making process. Being a working winery, they can already see the grapes growing on the vines; but they will also be able to witness the harvesting, wine making and bottling. Then of course, they can sit by the fire or out under the veranda taking in the views, enjoying a cheese platter, whilst one of our experienced staff members helps them find the right wine for their preferences.
We have so much space here, the opportunities really are endless. We have a number of exciting events and projects in the pipeline- collaborating with so much of the talent we have here in this part of the world – so stay tuned!
There are many people living in Lucas who may like to visit the vineyard and cellar door. When is the best time to visit and what should visitors expect?
We are open 7 days a week, almost every day of the year (we do try to spend time with the family for special occasions like Christmas!). We’re really passionate about creating a ‘village type experience’ because European villages, where I learned so much about wine making, are at the heart of everything I do here. People are welcome to drop past and grab a nice bottle of wine to take home for the weekend or they might prefer to sit and catch up with friends over a few glasses of locally produced wine and a cheese platter, while soaking up the sun and taking in the views. We also offer free tastings with our experienced cellar door staff. And, we have a variety of disused barrels available for purchase for gardening or home décor projects.
You can visit Michael Unwin Wines at 10 Powells Rd, Windermere, Ballarat
(just off Remembrance Drive).