Fifth generation Rutherglen still delivers flavour

David Morris of Morris Wines, Rutherglen, Victoria

By Louise Johnson
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Morris Wines, Rutherglen, North East Victoria

Morris Wines, Rutherglen, North East Victoria

Morris Wines, Rutherglen, North East Victoria
Morris Wines, Rutherglen, North East Victoria
Autumn in the vineyards, Morris Wines, Rutherglen, North East Victoria
David Morris, Morris Wines, Rutherglen, North East Victoria

 

Five generations of Morris’ have trod the hallowed turf of their Mia Mia winery. Here they have methodically and purposefully maintained an inheritance for future generations based on their respect of generations past.

As David Morris carefully pours measures of 100 year old muscat, the echo of former generations pass through his hands and into his wines. There is something to be said for tried and tested practices, and more so for the pride of history. David reveres his family’s rich history, yet humbly understates his own place within it. It’s an incredible legacy that David Morris has been born into, yet it’s an amazing path that he is paving for himself, and in turn the winemaking families of Rutherglen.

David was the first child of Mick and Roma Morris. He was born in Rutherglen Hospital, and grew up with the “playground” of the winery as a back drop to his local schooling. His childhood included much of the roustabouting of a young, country boy – enjoying golf, tennis, footy and a bit of rabbiting in his spare time. School holidays and weekends often meant working in the winery in some capacity and as David whirled through his teenage years, working in the winery looked like it might be “a pretty good job to do”.

David’s higher education was at the prestigious Scotch College in Melbourne where he kept an active social and sporting life. School holidays he dropped the blazer and got his hands dirty in the family vineyards, helping out with odd jobs beside his father Mick. Following high school, David inevitably went to Roseworthy College to study winemaking, graduating in 1978 and taking time out from the Morris family winery to gain broader experience in the industry.

After Roseworthy, David returned to Rutherglen and worked his first official vintage under the esteemed Colin Glaetzer, then at Seppelt of Rutherglen. Cutting his teeth on familiar varietals, David moved around the region’s wineries over the next few years. Pressing headlong into the broader wine world, he gained further winery and vineyard experience, spending time with other luminaries such as John Brown at Brown Brothers in Milawa.  Here he worked alongside the assistant winemaker of the time, Rick Kinzbrunner, who was soon to create the legendary Giaconda winery. David says unhurriedly  “when you come to a winery like Morris, you have to be up to speed on winery, vineyard and a bit of marketing, so I wanted to learn a bit of everything”.

In the early 1980s David moved to Orlando’s winery in the Barossa Valley to get a feel for the big company wine experience. As an assistant winemaker there, he worked diligently and cites the role as one of his bigger eye openers in his early career. By this stage it was time for his oscillations to bring him closer to home, this time heading to Griffith to work for Orlando again, but, significantly, in a winery that was originally owned by his Grandfather and the Morris family. Here he worked with another Orlando doyen, the now Orlando Chief Winemaker, Bernard Hickin.

It was here that David saw an evolution of style and watched as the wine industry unfurled into a newer, bolder beast. David witnessed the paradigm shift from bulk to bottle products, and his understanding of purer winemaking came to the fore. His philosophy at the time encompassed a more non-interventionist approach, something that is firmly rooted in Morris family winemaking tradition; a credo especially that his father Mick lives by. David, modest as always, says that he learnt very quickly that “if you’re in the right areas, sometimes the wines make themselves…it's much more about getting the grapes in at the right time, making sure you have acid balance, which is more important in the end results”.
 
In 1993 his father Mick retired and David was handed the keys to the winery. Modesty runs deep in the Morris family, an achievement considering the epoch of wine tradition that they come from. David does share that the greatest influence in his winemaking life is his father, and that the main thing he does with his grapes and wine is to keep doing the same things the family has been doing for decades. Echoing throughout David’s winemaking life at Morris is Mick’s credo of “Always Deliver Flavour”.

David believes strongly in an uncomplicated, mediated approach to winemaking. Hold back the oak; rely on the full flavoured, generous Rutherglen fruit. He quips “the flavour and structure are there, you don’t need to do much to the grapes,” something he holds aloft as a proud member of the Rutherglen winemaking community.

He says of his loyal Morris wine drinkers “they are great supporters that stick through thick and thin” and believes his prodigious wine show accolades are purposeful in getting new people to see the wines of the region. David has won more medals and trophies than any other individual winemaker in Australia. Staggering consistency of excellence propels these results, and David self-effacingly suggests that the wines win the medals and not himself. When pushed on his influence in the wine, he insists that they are made by the Morris family and that they are a result of a team effort and that the wines are only as good as “the vineyard fellas, the winery fellas and the family tradition we work within”. David enters wine shows for the “form of benchmarking”, the feedback they get and to see better what the team should be doing with the wines. The trophies are a bonus and for sure, recognition that they continue to get a few things right.

Morris wine under the accomplished care of David continues to receive wide accolade and praise. The Morris fortifieds are legends in their own right, benchmark styles internationally. Consideration must go into the complexity of these fortifieds, made from component parts not dissimilar to top Spanish soleras. David has access to some of the oldest base wines in the country, which are used sparingly to reflect depth and complexity in these heady, potent and deeply intricate wines.

David is perhaps even more enamoured with the cult status the family durif wine has achieved. He is deeply proud of the family heritage with durif, with the Morris’ being one of a few original planters of the variety in Australia.

Originally labelled as claret, it wasn’t until the mid 1950’s when father Mick began to varietally label the still wine that the queues began to form. In the earlier days of the durif, it was released in June and the wine would sell out in less than three weeks! More durif was planted in the late 70s and early 1980s, but the grape, according to David, didn’t really move beyond the boundaries of Rutherglen until the 1990s. He cites the era of drinking bigger, richer styles as intrinsic to the ongoing success of his full flavoured, robust Rutherglen durif, and laconically admires the greater winemaking fraternity for their more recent embracing, across most regions, of similar styles.

David’s ongoing career is all about maintaining the lofty mantle his forefathers have held at the Morris family winery. Always cautious about evolving the brand, David suggests that further down the track there will be some unique parcels of fortified and still wines that will be understandably set aside for their superior quality. He has identified these select wines from 2007 and says that it “will reflect the greater textures, nuances and complexities of structure, richness and texture found in Rutherglen fruit from excellent vintages”.

Although David is at the coal face of the winery in this new century, he suggests that his role is merely as a player in a greater history. “It’s great to have history behind you,” he pauses “It's great to have a story. History is a story”.
“However in terms of a footy analogy, you’re only as good as your last game. Everyone loves history, especially the living history of how things have evolved and changed. It’s great to have that hanging behind you; it gives me a sense of relaxation”.

As David crusades for the Morris family, he says he is looking for table wines that stand up on quality, while working on promoting the Rutherglen style. And how does he want to be remembered among the cavalcade of gold and trophies? As the humble family man in the background behind the wines in the marketplace.

Going forward David hopes that what he has made his life’s work continues to be followed on in a similar style, so that Morris will always be recognisable for itself. One hundred and fifty years down the track from the original Morris winemaker, he may just be onto something.

 

Listen to an interview with David Morris at the Good Food and Wine Show, Melbourne, 2009.

 

 

 

Regions

  • North East Victoria (VIC)
  • Rutherglen (VIC)

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November 01st, 2009
 
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