An Angora Buck called Titanic, three treble clefs and The Scales of Justice. What do these entirely unrelated subjects have in common? And how did they come to be protagonists in the Riversdale Estate story?
In 2015 the College of Arms captured this unique family history. A sophisticated picture book (for want of a better word) that cites the family’s heritage and culture from past to present. Whilst no expert in heraldry, I was fortunate enough to be guided by the narration of head winemaker Jasper Marais. Riversdale’s own Morgan Freeman, the two share enthralling storytelling skills, as well as an impressive dexterity in their range of roles. Freeman in Bruce Almighty was able to add cameo appearances as a homeless man and janitor to his lead role as ‘God’. And whilst God turned water to wine, by definition, a winemaker is no different. Marais, is not only head winemaker but procurement, pruning and public relations (as well as many others not listed for alliterative purposes).
Each field in the aforementioned coat of arms acts like the chapters of a book. Truth to the trope, a picture speaks a thousand words, the story of Riversdale starting with an angora called Titanic. Located on the crest’s apex, Titanic is fittingly dubbed by Rainier, the youngest Roberts son, as the G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time).
Turn back the clock to 1978, a 26-year-old law graduate by the name of Ian Roberts decides to purchase an Angora stud in the basin of the Coal River Valley. Not the standard post university acquisition, yet one that has paved the succession of a dynasty and brings into question my own investments at a similar age. In hindsight I should not have taken ‘liquid shares’ so literally. Alas not all have such financial prowess.
Bookended by ascending grapevines, the top of the crest symbolises Riversdale’s evolution from its past to present, and the bearing fruit an inference to its future. Each juncture is met with gratitude, as origins are commemorated, and the future is respected. Committed to investing and implementing sustainable practices, one only needs to spend a night at the property to witness their environmental foresight. Over 250 geese, chicken, guinea fowl and bobtail quail inhabit the property, their purpose not only to rouse guests but turn soil, target pests, and add manure. For some, a sharp contrast to their former life as the sons’ show birds. Add 500 sheep that roam the vineyards from May to September and then limit tractor passes by 90%, Riversdale Estate is clearly a menagerie of mitigation.
All of which would be futile without the hand of Wendy Roberts, from changing cottage bed linen to driving her sons and their birds to agricultural shows. Wendy’s story is acknowledged by its own field, three R’s to denote each son at the fore and music bars to honour her personal feats. There are few people you encounter in life that you wish to emulate. But garbed in a pink boucle jacket, paisley printed loafers and a chic, silk neck scarf, Wendy may be an exception. However, not for the pearls that adorn her neck, but her humility – the dustpan hastily collected to clean a broken glass, the bowl of wedges offered to guests like family and the degree she holds from University of Tasmania’s (UTAS) Conservatorium of Music in classical piano. UTAS holds an instrumental (pardon the pun) place in the Roberts family lineage, with each member an alumnus and Rainier currently enrolled.
Through a ripple of blue, the Estate’s “saving grace”, Pittwater is also represented on the coat of arm. The sole vineyard to front the basin, Pittwater provides not only a picturesque outlook but the source of a unique microclimate. This natural barrier to frost during Winter and Spring provides warmth off the water in the early hours, whilst afternoon sea breezes during the growing season help moderate temperature and maintain acidity.
Aged below the surface, Riversdale’s Ocean Aged Sparkling takes on a new definition of terroir. The gentle motion of ocean current acts like a pendulum, with lees oscillating in bottle. As autolytic flavours impart at varying rates, each bottle forms a unique fingerprint. Sunflower gold in hue, the first bottle is decadent – like brioche con gelato filled with scoops of pistachio and hazelnut, its creaminess swept up by fine bead of effervescence (95 points). In contrast, the second is an echo of the Estate’s estuary, a stream of freshness and arresting acidity met by an appealing brackish note like salted pretzels (94 points). Two golden performances in a stellar career- it would be remiss of me not to suggest the new moniker…. Brad Pitt-water.
Fittingly, the ‘Stellar Collection’ is Riversdale Estate’s purest expression of site, balancing terroir and deft winemaking skill; a found equilibrium like the scales of justice incumbent on the coat of arms. Beyond ‘fairness and truth’ the symbol is a reference to the family’s background in law. Eldest sons, Christiaan and Anton continue the family law practice in Sydney, whilst Rainier is in the thick of a law & viticulture double degree. Between you and me, I get the impression that said balancing scale is out of kilter with the vineyard weighing heavily on the youngest’s heart.
Evident too is a brotherly rivalry. Tormented by access to live video footage from their laptops, the eldest two are provoked by Rainier’s smug waves when the outlook is exceptionally breathtaking. I imagine it is not dissimilar to the envy felt when met by a Getty screensaver on your desktop.
An Angora Buck called Titanic, three treble clefs and The Scales of Justice. Three entirely unrelated subjects connected by a story of heritage and the land. With depth, captivation, and vigour, it can be said that a great narrative shares the makings of a great wine. It is Jasper Marais’ technical adroitness coupled with his empathy that sees him as both winemaker and storyteller. One of Tasmania’s ones to watch, I wait with anticipation to drink the next chapter of the Riversdale Estate story.