Monday, April 10, 2017
One of the Strathbogie Shire’s most prominent winemakers has sadly passed away but Don Lewis’ 40 year legacy lives on.
Don was born with wine in his blood, hailing from Red Cliffs but spending his weekends as a teenager pruning, picking and doing tractor work.
For the past 40 years, however, Don has dedicated his professional life to the art of growing grapes and making wine, winning countless accolades during that time.
He first joined the ranks at Nagambie’s Mitchelton Wines in 1973, starting as assistant winemaker to Colin Preece the same year the winery’s cellar door and iconic tower was opened.
Considered a great mentor to viticulturalist John Beresford and Mitchelton’s winery manager Travis Clydesdale, Don left Mitchelton in 2004 and moved into a consultancy position, enabling him to pursue his own interests.
"A lot of Don’s skills were self-taught and at the same time, ground-breaking," John Beresford said.
"He had a great understanding of grape flavours and I believe it showed, considering he had been around since Mitchelton’s first vintage. He was fastidious about wine-making and was one to see the importance of sourcing wine from local vineyards."
John explained he would go to extraordinary lengths to get the best fruit possible, which showed in his unwavering respect of the region’s wine history.
"He treasured the Nagambie Lakes very much and was passionate about the Mitchelton estate," he said.
Whilst at Mitchelton, Don met Narelle King, a woman who would become his close friend and protégé for the next few years.
Together, the duo embarked on a trip to Spain to work as ‘fly-in winemakers’ and further study their craft focusing on Mediterranean varietals.
Don and Narelle built Tar & Roses (also in Nagambie) into an enviable brand and one that is clearly hand-crafted from beginning to end.
For Narelle, it’s been a unique opportunity to learn and work with ‘the master’.
One of the first labels that they created was simply named ‘Trust’, exemplifying all aspects of their partnership over the past 10 years.
The classic Rhone varietals, championed by Don over so many years now had new stablemates including Tempranillo, Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese at a time where Australian consumers were showing a willingness to explore new flavours and broaden their palate.
"Don and Narelle focused on exploring exciting new Mediterranean red varietals while continuing to search for the best quality fruits, as well as still being mindful of fruit available in their own backyard," John said.
"From this expertise, Don planted his own vineyard in Nagambie called Crystal Hill, which was styled from Spain and was all hand-pruned – he was uncompromising in his approach to winemaking and viticulture."
Don and his wife Jenny established Crystal Hill on a hungry, ironstone outcrop with minimal irrigation and without the use of trellising.
These hand-nurtured, individually staked vines are now producing highly expressive fruit that is reflective of this unique site.
Don is survived by Jenny, three children and three grandchildren.