“Milne-ifique”, Kym Milne MW’s Magnifique Contribution

Bird in Hand winery based in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia did well at the 2014 Beijing Yanqing International Top Wine competition. Owned by the Nugent family, who have carefully tended the vineyard and winery reputation, especially by having Kym Milne MW, as their winemaker, one of the world’s most experienced winemakers.

Bird In Hand has enjoyed a good run in shows recently with their 2010 Nest Egg Shiraz winning the Winestate Magazine’s “World’s Greatest Shiraz” title in 2012 and again in 2014. It is the first time the same wine has won it twice. This comes as no surprise to industry watchers given the trans-continental stellar reputation of Kym Milne and the high quality of the Adelaide Hills wine region, being small and relatively young.

Although Adelaide Hills based, the wine is sold under the bigger geographic indicator or wine regional name of Mt Lofty Ranges encompassing the long line of elevated high quality but smaller regions stretching north from Adelaide including Adelaide Hills, Adelaide plains and the Clare Valley. This larger region houses some of Australia’s most experienced grape growers and winemakers and founding fathers of the modern Australian wine industry, Henschke, Grant Burge and Leo Buring.

While Kym is now living in the Adelaide Hills Australia, his reputation extends far beyond its shores. He has dirt under his fingernails in the way that the habit of hard work and farm boys do. Like many Australian winemakers, he loves a beer but his career has been made by doing the tough jobs well. Chosen by his employer Berri Estates Winery in the Riverland’s of South Australia, to be helped though Roseworthy College (now called Adelaide University) in oenology. He cut his teeth at the winery, which at the time was one of the largest single site wineries in Australia. Kym was given the chance to organize an entire 42,000 ton vintage crush in his second year. Responsibilities like this require a decisive personality, a quick mind and a good palate.

Kym was one of the earliest Australian winemakers to leave for New Zealand, where he landed a pivotal job in 1984 with Villa Maria, owned by the then George Fistonich. Kym and George went through many ups and downs which have ended well for both Sir George received the countries first knighthood in 2009 for his services to the wine industry. Kym helped lead this company through many adventures and an era of great change where only tiny quantities of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon were available, to Villa Maria dominating retailers’ shelves with.

The wine industry watched as Villa Maria increasingly gathered the trophies and medals at local New Zealand and then international wine competitions. Kym’s habit of industry led him to undertake and become one of the earliest Masters of Wine 1991 while working as Villa Maria’s chief winemaker. He held this position until 1992 when Europe called and he wanted to spread his wings with a consultancy in Hungary at Balaton Boglar Winery and a vintage in Bordeaux with the legendary Hugh Ryman who coined the term ‘flying winemaker’. This was an exciting time for Kym. His knowledge of wine technology and his range of experience in hot, warm and cool climates, and with large and small wineries, means he understood the issues, winemaking techniques and human skills required for a well trained winemaker to walk into sometimes rustic wineries with sometimes poorly trained teams with strong traditional values and implement change to produce wines that would satisfy the growing global thirst for varietal wines. These wines, often destined for British supermarkets, had to meet high standards for large volume quality varietal wines that were ripe, clean, fault free and fresh.

From his first years of European experience, Kym joined “International Wine Services” to set up a “flying winemaker” program for the company which at its peak was overseeing winemakers in fourteen wineries in Europe including Italy, France, Spain, Bulgaria and Hungary and six in the Southern Hemisphere including Argentina, Chile, New Zealand and South Africa. Producing 2 million cases of wine annually from the winemaker projects for sale in the English market they were a force to be reckoned with.

Back in Australia in 2003, Kym has been a vital part of Bird in Hand Winery, and is now chief winemaker looking after the fruit from their 45 acre Adelaide Hills vineyard plus a smaller amount from the long standing famous Clare Valley.

Since his arrival, Bird in Hand has become one of the top 5 wineries in the region and enjoyed a run of good vintages that mean the wines today are in great demand both here and overseas.

In Clare he produces both a typical dry “Australian” styled Riesling and a more Germanic semi sweet style with less alcohol. One of Australia’s best kept secrets is under his control: a sparkling pinot noir wine, not on the high acid vigorous model of champagne but a more creaming softly sparkling ripe raspberry fruit driven style that finds great success in restaurants as an aperitif.

Kym describes his style as supple reds at the riper end of the Adelaide Hills spectrum, around 14.0% with the Shiraz carring red and black fruit flavours with subtle spice and the Cabernet black currant with a leafy note. He is a huge believer in Chardonnay from the Adelaide Hills which he believes has proven itself as the region’s best white varietal with stone fruit flavors and a rich generous middle palate, with structure through to the finish. His New Zealand experience with Sauvignon Blanc has not been forgotten and he picks at the riper end of the spectrum around 13% looking for tropical and passion fruit flavors rather than at 12% alcohol which gives snow pea or green grass aromas and flavors.

The company wines are offered on a “ladder brand” concept with the top end wines called Nest Egg, Bird in Hand make the middle tier, and Two in the Bush the affordable tier. The top wines are priced accordingly and represent excellent examples of the Adelaide Hills at a decent price compared to many other top end reds in Australia.

The Bird in Hand winery is on the site of an1850’s Gold Mine, called the Bird in Hand mine, and the names “Nest Egg” and “ Two in the Bush” are taken from two of their mine shafts’.

All of their small volume wines are on offer from their Cellar Door boutique in the Adelaide Hills as a reward for visiting. Kym, like so many of us in Australia, is enthusiastic about the rise of the Italian varieties; Arneis, Nero d’ Avola and Montepulciano which have found a home away from home. Bird in Hand has risen fast, like its name sake with a talented winemaker and good vineyards in quality regions.

Rob Geddes MW

Rob Geddes MW has been immersed in every aspect of the wine industry for more than 30 years as reviewer, author, consultant, presenter, judge, educator and entertainer. He was the 3rd Australian to become a Master of Wine and is part of judging panels at numerous national and international wine shows. He is the author of “Australian Wine Vintages” book and app as well as “A Good Nose And Great Legs: The Art Of Wine From The Vine To The Table”.

Through all his work, he aims to turn the complex science of wine simple-to-grasp concepts. He educats and entertains with an affable, raconteur style that makes people laugh.