Bays and Beaches – Brian Kewley

Art and life between Port Phillip and Westernport Bays, Victoria

By Robyn Lewis
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Bays and Beaches: Port Phillip and Westernport Bay

Bays and Beaches: Port Phillip and Westernport Bay [©Brian Kewley]


A bird's flight from Nazaaray Vineyard, near Flinders at the south-eastern tip of the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, lies one of the Peninsula's oldest, and perhaps now its smallest, vineyard.

Hidden behind thick bush, it remains largely a secret - it's not open to the public and you won't find it on any map (including ours). But it's been producing good wines for over thirty years.

Established by former lawyer and now artist Brian Kewley and his wife Gretchen in 1975, well before grape-growing and wine making became fashionable pursuits, the sheltered north-facing slope was planted to then trial varieties: pinot noir, chardonnay, shiraz, sylvaner, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot.

Since the first vintage in 1978, the sylvaner has been grafted over, the latter three make an Antipodean Bordeaux blend, and time has reduced the remaining vines to a manageable 300 - only half an acre. The wines bear the name of and evocative illustration by the makers: Kewleys - grown and made in the hills above Flinders, Victoria.

I first met Brian on the now infamous Black Saturday, whilst we and 160 others from wine circles were attempting to taste some of the world's best pinot noirs in 44C heat, a task which was as difficult for us and the wines as it was for the over-burdened airconditioner. Walking outside at lunchtime was like strolling into the mouth of a blast furnace.

Was it random chance that divided participants into awaiting minibuses - with varying degrees of operational cooling - and thence to our lunch venues? Good chance indeed when we soon both found ourselves in the genial company of Brian Stonier at his namesake winery and cellar-door, where the industrial-strength airconditioning, shady blinds and well-insulated walls provided a welcome, cool oasis.

The food was excellent, the wines even more so - Brian Stonier regaled us with his seriously sophisticated pinot noirs and delicious and cooling chardonnays (it was a hot day, after all), which are as good as or better than many in the world. Conversation flowed amidst the smooth service and soon turned to other creative pursuits: architecture and art.

Wine and art are more closely connected than may be immediately apparent. Brian S talked of the art of making good wine and capturing terroir in a bottle, Brian K of capturing it with a brush - his brush, it transpired. As if by divine magic a book appeared from the tasting room's coffee table - Bays and Beaches: Port Phillip and Westernport Bay - by Brian K, no less. I was entranced. The thought of returning to serious wine tasting was beginning to pall, especially with the outside air taking on an ominous reddish-grey hue....

Page after page of paintings that faintly echo of Streeton, Brett Whitely and some early 20th century French artists followed - a sort of Australian fauve x impressionist. I wondered how it was that I'd never heard of Kewley or seen his art before.

There are many similarities with Raoul Dufy, not only in style but of subject - light sparking on water, views captured through windows or from rooftops, beachside promenades. These are not of the French Riviera, but of more local scenes.

However Kewley is far from a local phenomenon, even though much of his subject matter is drawn from the various coastlines of the Peninsula, from the urban west, to the wild south, to the calmer, more introspective east.

He has had over 25 solo exhibitions, around Australia and as far afield as Malta. I was astounded; his capturing of the sparkle of sunlight on bay, so typical of a hot Australian summer - and perhaps more difficult than good winemaking - is masterful.

Some weeks later we were invited to visit his studio. Here is a man who paints almost every day, to whom the brush is an extension of his mind's eye. We were shown a collection that spans over fives decades of local and world travels, most recently to Antarctica and from the harsh landscapes of Kakadu and Coopers Creek to bucolic Italy and Prague.

Vineyards are a recurring, if not a frequent, theme.

Kewley views the world like a bird; a gull floating above beaches, seaside suburbs and coastal hills, hovering in the wind. His paintings are not of modern social concerns or intent on capturing some human agony, but instead speak of the truth of light and beauty that exist in largely man-modified landscapes.

It is fitting that the label of Kewleys wines bears such a view - combining ocean, bay, islands, trees and vines in an aerial vista that captures the essence of the Mornington Peninsula as perfectly as does its wines.


Bays and Beaches is published by Macmillan Art Publishing (Melbourne, 2007) and is available for A$66 from bookstores, Manyung Gallery in Mt Eliza (see link below) and other outlets on the Mornington Peninsula, or via the artist's website




  • Melbourne Surrounds (VIC)
  • Mornington Peninsula (VIC)

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March 15th, 2009
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