Andrew Millis grew up in Brighton where he had “a very free childhood, engaging in typical boyish pursuits such as Sea Scouts and sailing. In those days we rode our bikes everywhere. We’d pack a haversack and ride maybe thirty to forty kilometres into the bush and camp out under the stars. Our push bikes needed quite a bit of pushing. They were heavy framed with thick wheels and no gears. I gained good leg muscles, plus a love of the bush and the sea.
“My first job was as an office boy with a Japanese general merchant firm. I had the good fortune from those early days to have a mentor from whom I learned much. Most importantly, I learned about attention to detail, caution in decision making, about the need to sleep on things, and then to follow through with a firm decision.”
That advice served Andrew well. At the relatively young age of twenty three he decided that it was time to set up his own business. “I was a free spirit. I made a decision that I did not want to work for other people, so I set myself up as a fabric agent. I’ve been working for myself ever since.”
By 1993 Andrew’s group of textile and garment companies employed forty five staff with a turnover in excess of fifteen million dollars a year. “The Button plan had been rolling on for over ten years with tariffs on clothing and footwear decreasing by five percent per annum. This put a lot of pressure on our industry until eventually the industry reduced itself to a skeleton of its former self,” he says.
“Through these years in business I renovated three houses, two of which included walkdown wine cellars. My passion for wine was already well developed. Our wine syndicate ( 12 people ) was the world’s largest private buyer of the shipper Alexis Lichine. We were buying French 1st growths (container loads) for an absolute song when the franc was seven to the Australian dollar.
“I later discovered Heathcote wines from winemakers such as Leonard French of Mt Ida, Ron Laughton of Jasper Hill and David Anderson of Wild Duck Creek. I always liked growing things and I always liked farms and farming. I weighed up the options and, in 1994, I started looking for a place to make wine.
“Deciding on the location was not difficult. Toolleen is right in the middle of what is now the Heathcote wine region. The rich red cambrian clay loam of the Mt Camel range is amazingly good for growing anything. Being on the western side of the hill, we are fanned by the spring and summer prevailing winds which, together with the cool nights, help with the length of the growing season. As a consequence we ripen week later than our neighbours on the eastern slope. We are also above the frost line.
“In 1995 I established the vineyard infrastructure and agricultural systems, graded some roads and planted the first five acres of vines, finishing the planting with another five acres in 1996. I camped in a tent which blew to tatters in three months and then camped in the winery as I built it. Barnadown Run became Toolleen’s first winery and now there are over fourteen vineyards within a five kilometre radius of us.
“Heathcote is a young wine region, and we’ve achieved a number of things in a relatively short period of time. We have formalised the boundaries of the Heathcote wine region in law and we have developed our October Annual Wine and Food festival into one of the most respected events of the wine event calendar. Heathcote as a tourism destination is still evolving. When I first came here in 1994 it was a total backwater. We now have more cellar doors open, more accommodation and more dining experiences to offer visitors. But we need more tourism infrastructure. Our region encompasses four local government shires and I see this as being an advantage for promotional funding.”
The Barnadown Run vineyard sits on the side of a hill with panoramic views. The cellar door is open most days but it is best to ring first. “Our sales are divided between the cellar door, our mailing list, local wholesalers, and a number of export customers.”
What advice would Andrew give to potential new winemakers? “I would advise them to be very cautious about becoming owner winemakers. It’s a tough life if you are trying to acquire assets and raise kids. It is very hard work. I’d also tell them that the best thing about this business is the freedom it gives you, the luxury to choose for yourself what you’ll do each day, to spend much of your time in the open where you can view the sky and the clouds and the scenery and keep a perpetual suntan from the neck up and the elbows down. Mostly, every now and then, you’ll crack it for a wine that is special. It gets some recognition and that makes it all worthwhile.”
Andrew’s wines have won many awards since his first vintage in 1998. “The most special have been four gold medals,” he says. We won two gold ‘Wine for Asia’awards in Singapore in 2002 and 2005, one Robert Parker Gold in 2004, and one Halliday Gold in 2005. The 2005 season was particularly good. When I first bottled the wine it was so austere that I was dreading releasing it. But after one year in the bottle it became bliss on a stick. That’s when you know that the work is all worthwhile.”
Andrew is not concerned about the current wine over-supply. “There were eight hundred wineries in Australia when I started,” he says. “Now there are two thousand six hundred. Just twenty of those wineries make ninety percent of the country’s wine. I think that premium wines have a great future. Right now we are seeing a slowdown in wine exports because of the Australian dollar value. The prime ingredient for quality wine lies within the vineyard that it’s produced from. It is difficult to make bad wine if the vineyard is in balance. Small winemakers in premium wine regions are very resilient and will hang in there until the supply and demand level out.”
Andrew’s flagship wine is his ‘Henry Bennett’s Voluptuary.’ Henry Bennett was an Irishman from Barnadown in County Cork. He was a prison warden before becoming a pastoralist in the Monaro district of NSW. When foot-and-mouth disease struck in the Monaro region he took his sheep south and established the Barnadown Run pastoral lease.
That original pastoral lease encompasses the winery and property of Barnadown Run which is about fifteen minutes north of Heathcote township. Follow the Northern Highway to Toolleen, turn right, and you’ll find Barnadown Run about four kilometres on your right. Don’t miss checking out the view from Chinaman’s Bend on the eastern side of Mt Camel.
Cellar Door hours:
Our cellar door is usually open, but it is better to make an appointment first should you wish to enjoy a tasting of a particular red wine for sale.
$18.00 in any dozen
$20.00 per bottle
Out of stock
Salmon-pink colour, the spicy notes to the fruit, and the mouthfeel suggest barrel fermentation, but none has in fact been used; the technique has worked well to present a rose with good flavour, good balance and good attitude.
Winemaker: Andrew Millis
$36.00 in any dozen
$40.00 per bottle
Out of stock
The flagship wine of the fleet, composed of 60% Shiraz, 25% Cabernet, and 15% Malbec, the Henry Bennett’s was made from late picked fruit with the extra addition of Shiraz and Cabernet pressings.
This robust and elegant wine has been aged and is at peak drinking now.