The past 12 months has thrown many challenges at the wineries in the Rutherglen region in north-east Victoria.

Key points:

  • A Rutherglen winery is seeing a resurgence in muscat sales
  • Whiskey distilleries in Scotland are wanting Rutherglen’s fortified barrels
  • Stanton and Killeen Wines celebrate a vineyard’s 100-year anniversary

Lock down restrictions, China closing its doors to Australian imports, major events cancelled, worker shortages, and smoke taint are just a few of the curve balls.

Despite all this, the general manager of Stanton and Killeen, Natasha Killeen said there was still lots of things to be excited about — including a revival of fortified wines.

“A few years ago people were saying that fortifieds were dead, but that’s certainly not what we are experiencing,” she said.

Two women lean on a shed holding wine glasses

Wendy and Natasha Killeen are mother and daughter team from Stanton and Killeen Wines in Rutherglen. (

Supplied: Chloe Smith Photography

)

Natasha is in partnership with her mother Wendy Killeen, who leads the sales and marketing of the family winery. 

Wendy said they are also seeing a new generation of fortified drinkers.  

“Years ago, people thought it was really old fashioned and it was a drink for old people,” she said.

“Now we are seeing people in their 20s and 30s who are interested in fortifieds because they are interested in different drinks, and especially handcrafted drinks.

Wendy Killeen said their winery has seen a 15 to 20 per cent growth in fortified sales from 10 years ago.

According to data from Wine Australia, fortified wine sales grew by 14 per cent in value and 7 per cent in volume from the year 2020-2021.

Scotland wants Rutherglen muscat barrels

It is not just consumers who are suddenly interested in fortifieds.

Natasha said there was an increased demand for their fortified barrels from international distilleries.

Wine barrels

Jack Stanton planted a shiraz and muscat vineyard in 1921 that still remains today. (

Supplied: Chloe Smith Photograpy

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“The gin and whiskey industry are really interested in our Rutherglen muscat oak barrels,” she said.

Robbie Tucknott  is the managing director of Barrel Brokers Australasia, a company based in Corowa, NSW, that buys and sells barrels. 

He said barrels can cost anywhere between $350-$2,000 depending on the quality and size. 

“I’ve sent Rutherglen barrels to Scotland and into China as well. There is a real demand,” Mr Tucknott said.

“Rutherglen has such a great name in producing fortified wines in the old style, so with the trade overseas there is demand for their end products.”

A person peeks out from the inside of a large barrel.

Cleaning out the old barrels can sometimes mean getting inside. (

Supplied: Stanton and Killeen Wines 

)

Natasha Killeen said she was too sentimentally attached to sell the wineries fortified barrels, despite the overseas demand.

Some of the winery’s barrels date back to the 1860s and have been used by Natasha’s great grandfather, grandfather, and father.

“Winter is a great time to look after our old oak,” she said.

“At the moment we are emptying out the casks and doing some maintenance. We are currently doing two casks a week.”

a woman climbs inside a wine barrel with a small door

During winter the winery cleans out its 100-year-old oak barrels. (

Supplied: Stanton and Killeen Wines

)

Older the vine the better the wine?

This year the winery also celebrated a milestone anniversary with a muscat and shiraz vineyard planted by Natasha’s great grandfather turning 100 years old.

“It was planted in 1921 by my great grandfather Jack Stanton,” Natasha said.

“Wine can be the victim of fashion sometimes but these are two varieties that have really stood the test of time.”

gnarly grape vines

Planted by Jack Stanton in 1921, a shiraz and muscat vineyard turns 100 years old this year. (

ABC Rural: Annie Brown 

)

The centurion gnarly vines are pruned and picked by hand to avoid any damage.

“As they get older, the yield reduces but you get this really amazing intense fruit. We had a really great vintage this year and we’re very excited for the 100th anniversary of Jack’s Block shiraz.”

Natasha said looking at her great grandfather’s vineyards has been grounding as the business and the region goes through a pandemic.

“It certainly gives you that sense of time. No matter what is happening in the outside world — there’s been wet years, dry years, we’re currently going through a pandemic — but these vines are still here,” she said.

Once considered ‘an old person’s drink’ younger drinkers lead a resurgence in muscat
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