We are Family

After six generations of farming history (spanning dairy cows to viticulture) this family business is reaching for the sky.

When Sheridan Alm, her husband Craig, and her parents Michael and Robyn Mason crack the seal on their new Starrs Reach Pet Nat, the flurry of fizz reflects their excitement. It’s good. Really good.

Pet nat is short for pétillant naturel (French for ‘naturally sparkling’) and is all the rage with bright young drinkers across the country. The Starrs Reach family is on the bandwagon and has stellar estate-grown fruit with which to make it.

Don’t be fooled. This is no ‘flash in the wine fashion pan’. Starrs Reach Vineyard has a long and successful grape growing history behind them and a small but lovely portfolio of wines that reflects it. Look closely at the three multi-coloured parrots on the Starrs Reach Serenade Pet Nat and Serenade Sparkling Blush labels and a heart-warming story unfolds.

“The three birds represent my grandmother Laura and her two sisters Cathy and Mary,” says Sheridan, who co-owns the Starrs Reach Vineyard wine label (and four properties) with her husband Craig Alm. “They were party girls who loved to sing.”

The trio of siblings was particularly partial to ‘The Woodpecker Song’ made famous by The Andrews Sisters in 1940. “My grandmother and her sister are no longer with us but we always try to recreate that song when the family gets together,” Sheridan says. “They were strong women who were connected to earth and the land our family has farmed for six generations.”

Sheridan, Craig and their troupe of five children often camp on the property.

Sheridan’s parents Michael and Robyn (agricultural powerhouses in their own right) sometimes join them. It is a special spot located at Seven Mile Reach, the longest stretch of river in the whole of the Murray Darling Basin. There, they take in Mother Nature’s beauty – just like grandma Laura Mason (nee Starrs) did all those years ago.

“We’d come here with her and talk about what we saw,” Sheridan says. “Things like plants flowering and other environmental cues. It showed us how to recognise when the seasons were changing and what that meant.”

Sheridan went on to complete a degree in environmental management and was named Viticulturalist of the Year in the 2019 Australian Women in Wine Awards. Craig has farming nous of his own after growing up surrounded by Clare Valley and Barossa vines. You could write a book about the family’s collective agricultural history but in a nutshell, the Masons were Riverland pioneers during the 1850s. Back then, the late George Ezekiel Mason served the State Government as a ‘Protector of Aborigines’ and had a connection to the river and the local environment to which the family still holds dear. They take their custodianship seriously. “Connection to the land permeates everything we do,” Sheridan says. “From wetland management to low use of pesticides – which the sun and climate here allows. We have eco tours on the horizon, too.”

The brand name is an ode to Leo and May Starrs (Laura’s parents) who arrived on the Lower Murray as a part of the World War I irrigation settlement project and started what would become a nationally respected Holstein Friesian dairy stud. The stars quite literally collided when Laura Starrs and Des Mason met and married in 1947.

“We’ve been growing grapes for 20 years but fell in to processing our own wine eight years ago,” Sheridan says. “We grow a lot of Grenache – ours is one of the largest plantings in Australia. We sell it to small and large brands and it is used for everything from rosé to fortifieds. That’s the beauty of Grenache; it is so versatile.”

Meeting Master of Wine Giles Cooke in 2014 thanks to the ever-helpful Ashley Ratcliff was a turning point. “We sold more and more fruit to him each year and he gave us confidence in what we could achieve with our own fruit.”

With the help of a contract processor and senior winemaker Armand Lacomme, Starrs reach now makes the good stuff. In addition to a straight Starrs Reach Grenache, the pet nat, Serenade Sparkling Blush (a beautiful example of bubbles), and Rosé is made from it, too.

There’s also a GSM (Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvèdre) and a 2021 Starrs Reach Mataro Durif that turns heads for all the right reasons; it is fresh, bright and balanced. “Mataro often had a reputation as being the base of Grappa – a pretty rough around the edges wine,” Sheridan says. “But this has lots of chocolate and spice. The Durif softens it off.”

On the white front, the new release Starrs Reach Chardonnay Fiano is inspired. “A lot of Chardonnay is grown in the Riverland and that’s not going to change overnight but how do we make it a little bit different? We add Fiano. It is a stepping stone for a lot of people.”

The Starrs Reach team isn’t afraid to push boundaries with their fruit. In fact, it drives them. The wines are made to be approachable. “Wine is there to be shared, just like a song or music,”Sheridan says. “You can relate particular pieces of music to life’s memorable moments and you can do the same with wine.”

Article shared by Riverland Wine.