The names of Matt Fowles and Sam Plunkett may not be immediately familiar to British wine lovers, but their wine brands, particularly the striking ‘Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch’ range surely will be. Based in the Strathbogie Ranges in the State of Victoria in Australia, over 500 acres of vineyard are planted with over a dozen varieties from Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, to small plantings of Albariño, Arneis, Sangiovese and Lagrein.
This is a family business – or rather a two-family business. Sam Plunkett’s family were the first to plant grapes in Strathbogie ranges, and Sam recall how he started out making wine in a small shed, with home-made tanks and crushers that he and his dad manufactured, growing the business slowly until it had half a dozen employees. Matt Fowles on the other hand, was a lawyer, but one looking to get out of law and into wine making.
Soon after the formation of Plunkett Fowles, someone else’s misfortune became a lucky break for the fledgling business when an established estate with its own state of the art winery fell on hard times, Matt (left of picture) and his family bought it: “We paid 30 cents in the dollar for it,” says Matt, “the winery really did fall into our laps.” Sam Plunkett (right of picture) is clearly delighted: “and I got this beautiful toy to play with,” he says with a grin.
Plunkett and Fowles met through a mutual contact (though after years of working together they learned they are also distant relations) and today the business is tightly run, with Matt’s graphic designer wife doing all of the company’s labels and Sam’s dad working the cellar door. “We really are a family affair,” says Matt. The company is very active in Australia, but expanding in export markets too, including distribution through Naked Wines and Oddbins in the UK. “We are trying to explain that cool climate regions in Australia exist,” says Matt. “A few years ago people said there was no future in the UK – it was all 3 for a tenner,” Sam chips in, “but we get out on the road and explain ourselves, showing that we can do restrained, quality Australian wines.”
Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch is a range that could seem at a glance like another quirky, marketing-led branding, but the concept – Matt’s idea – goes much deeper. “I’m a keen hunter and eater of game meats,” he tells me. “The texture and flavour is so different from farmed animals, and we are trying to recreate that difference, and something of the textures and flavours, in the range.” The key idea seems to be to produce wines with the texture and intensity of flavour that will match with game meats, and drunk after the more formal tasting with some rabbit and then guinea fowl, the wines certainly showed well. Poster-sized versions of the iconic Art Deco-inspired labels designed by Matt’s wife have also become highly collectible, raising considerable sums at charity auctions.
The wines reviewed are available from Naked Wines or Oddbins, priced around £16.99.
Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch, Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2009
At only 12.5% the restraint is stated from the outset in a Chardonnay where a small proportion of Gewürztraminer is added to the blend. Sam says the winemaking intention is not to challenge the meat, and it has a lovely nose, with nutty, oatmeally character and nice toast with a citrus core of lemon and orange. The palate has a wonderfully tight concentration, with a great swirling texture and lovely layering. The palate is beautifully pitched, with a certain waxiness and body, that Brazil nut fatness and slippery texture adding up to a complex, quite voluptuous mouthful of wine, yet crisp and tight through the finish. Delightful stuff. 92/100. 500 cases produced.
Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch, Shiraz 2008
In screwcap as are all of these wines this is mostly aged in 100-year-old large casks. It is very meaty and dense on the nose, with a smokiness and herbal, peppery quality, which Sam says is a Strathbogie Ranges signature. The slick black fruit core stays there though. The palate has a real liquoricy intensity, with deep-set red fruits and a certain sweetness. Very savoury and grippy, but can absolutely see this working with game (and delicious with a rabbit terrine). 92/100.
Stone Dwellers, Shiraz 2006
Only 10 – 20% new oak is used here so it is not a dominating influence. Seems a little creamier and darker in nature than the ‘Ladies’, with a spiciness and pepper quality, meaty again and there’s a broader, deeper, more muscular feel to it, but it still has that elegance and sweetness and the herby quality comes though. A more grainy, more robust style, but deliciously fresh too. 92/100.
Stone Dwellers, Merlot 2008
With 15% alcohol this is certainly a ripe style from the ‘freak’ 2008 vintage with a heatwave just before harvest. It has a lovely chocolaty nose, with lots of depth and real meatiness. Quite delicate fragrant note of cedar and a touch of cherryish and floral lift adds complexity. The palate has a weight and a richness. Once again there’s a sweetness here, more dry extract but lovely length, firmness and balance. 91/100.