I’ve been told more than once that I’m too young to remember Preece wines. True enough, as the only exciting things I remember drinking at the height of their popularity in the late 1980s and early 90s were strawberry-flavoured Big M.
So it was at the recent relaunch of the brand under parent winery Mitchelton that I had my first taste of Preece. For those who do remember the wines, bear with me while I catch the rest of us up.
Colin Preece (1903-79) was born in Adelaide and, after originally being destined to inherit the management duties of his family’s flour milling business, fell into winemaking after studying oenology at agricultural school. He joined Seppelt and Sons and eventually undertook the role of vineyard manager at its Great Western winery. He is still considered one of Australia’s greatest and most influential winemakers, a master when it came to blending parcels of fruit and a crafter of sparkling wine that had no equal.
He came out of retirement in 1967 at the request of businessman Ross Shelmerdine and his wife Marigold Myer to help find a site to grow exceptional fruit for winemaking in southeastern Australia. The brief set, Preece came back with a spot in the Nagambie Lakes, Victoria, and it was there that the Mitchelton winery was established. The first vines were planted in 1969 and, under the leadership of winemaker Don Lewis, the winery went from strength to strength, building a reputation for quality, accessible wine. The Preece range was grown out of reverence for one of country’s pioneering winemakers. I’ve been told by people old enough to recall (my parents, my piano teacher, last night’s Uber driver) that they were considered cool, and everyone seems to remember them with a nostalgic smile.
About 20 years ago, their presence in the market began to wane and they faded from memory, to be recalled when some millennial with a notebook asked “Hey, what do you know about Preece?”
But with the recent acquisition of Mitchelton from Lion Nathan by entrepreneur Andrew Ryan and his family, Preece is making a comeback. Ryan has big plans for the Mitchelton brand, not least of which is a new line-up of Preece wines that bridge the gap between past and present.
Mitchelton’s Travis Clydesdale now spearheads the Preece range, nodding respectfully to the traditions and techniques used by his winemaking forefathers while retaining a modern edge. Blending still plays an integral role in crafting the range; Clydesdale meticulously selects from individual barrels of juice to ensure quality and classic Preece fruit-forwardness.
It doesn’t matter if you’re new to Preece or a fan of old: the wines are of undeniable quality and affordability, with a bit of history mixed in.
Preece Chardonnay 2016 ($20)
Moderated lees work has given Preece’s comeback chardonnay an unassuming complexity. Vibrant, fleshy fruit on the nose is given freshness with hints of forest fern and aloe vera. The palate, at first a little oily with a savoury edge, delves into well-defined texture and flavours of pineapple yoghurt, yellow apple and banana skin. Tinges of citrus (grapefruit, pure lemon) pop up through an almost prickly acidity.
Preece Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($20)
Dark fruits are in abundance from the first smell. Couple this with a classic tobacco box and herbal profile, and you begin to see how accomplished the wine is. Sipping reveals a mildly drying top palate along with generous concentration and succulent, mouth-filling fruit. The oak is present but kept in restraint. This is a proud return to Victorian cabernet.
Preece Shiraz 2016 ($20)
Gorgeously glossy and inky purple in the glass, the inaugural shiraz of the relaunched Preece offers up aromas chock-full of plum, earthy underbrush and, strangely but not unpleasantly, the distinctive smell of Vegemite. Australian shiraz to a T, then. The fruit is juicy, the tannin fine, and the length spicy and chocolatey.