North-east Victoria in Australia is famous for fortified wines and one of the family firms at the forefront of production there is Stanton & Killeen. The Stanton family are originally from Suffolk and had their beginnings in the wine trade, like many others, during the gold rush of the mid-18th century. In 1864 Timothy Stanton established a business supplying victuals to the miners and in 1875 sold the first vintage of his fortified wine. They have been producing their vinous gold ever since, through seven generations, and 2015 sees their 150th anniversary as winemakers.
In 1925 Jack Stanton built a new winery, in true pioneering spirit employing re-used materials, and in 1948 the Killeens joined the family when Norman Killeen married Joan Stanton. Until the 1960s the family produced nothing but fortified wines. That decade saw a brief pull back from wine as wool prices soared around the world and some of the vines were grubbed up, but the 1970s saw a renewed optimism in the Australian wine industry and the family were not slow to recognise it. These days red wines are also made but it is the fortifieds, which represent 70% of Stanton & Killeen's production, which are the flagship wines, and they are increasingly prized around the world.
Grapes come from some 86 hectares divided between eight vineyards, and the oldest vines are nearing a hundred years of age, basking in the hot continental climate of this region. In the area around the town of Rutherglen it is easy to partly raisin the grapes on the vine, intensifying the sugars and flavours. To make their wonderful Liqueur Muscat, aromatic muscat blanc à petits grain grapes (known in Australia, with characteristic bluntness, as 'brown muscat') are harvested, crushed and fermented on the skins for just a day before the fermentation is stopped in its tracks with pure grape spirit. After clarification the wines spend two or three years in large old oak barrels until the best parcels are selected to spend a considerably longer time in smaller oak barrels until the desired style of wine is achieved. The process shares some similarities with madeira production in that heat plays a part in the maturation process by helping to concentrate the wines, and the Spanish solera system whereby older wines are blended with younger versions.
These rich, sweet and silky wines are unique to Australia, indeed to this corner of Australia, and they are one of the wine world's great treasures.