Drinking Victoria: Belinda Thomson

Published on 2 April 2020

Photo: Crawford River's chief winemaker and viticulturalist Belinda Thomson

Your guide to what’s in the glass from the people in the trade.

Belinda Thomson is chief winemaker and viticulturist at her family’s winery, Crawford River Wines, in southwest Victoria. Before making wine she completed both a Bachelor of Arts and a teaching diploma, dabbled in some journalism and spent time in the food world. But she thinks her attempt to live in Sydney was the thing that drove her back to the land. Completing oenology and viticulture studies in New Zealand in 2002, she returned to Crawford River for the end of the 2004 season. Between 2004 and 2011 she worked with her father in the winery and influenced its future direction; in 2012 she became the creative force behind the vineyard and wines. Belinda’s time at Crawford River has been complemented by stints at Emrich Shoenleber in Germany, Tenuta di Valgiano in Tuscany and New Zealand’s Huia Vineyards, plus a decade as a head winemaker and technical director in Spain working across several regions and varieties.

When someone hands me a wine list in a restaurant, I find out what my fellow imbibers feel like drinking (often definitive) or try something different and/or seductive by the glass. If I’m with my husband, I often defer to him as his knowledge and palate are simply extraordinary.

The last delicious thing I drank was Egly-Ouriet brut rosé Grand Cru from magnum, disgorged in July 2018. This wine is utter pleasure in a glass. I first tried it a year ago and decided to put some in my cellar as a treat.

As far as I’m concerned, the defining place to get a drink in Victoria is… it’s hard to choose if I’m honest, because we are completely spoiled for choice. Stalwarts such as City Wine Shop and Gerald’s Bar are always go-to places for me. I also love Merrijig Inn in my local seaside town of Port Fairy. The team always has a delicious drop of something exciting and new to share. Friendly, generous hospitality always makes for good times and these places have it in spades.

The Victorian spirit I’m loving most right now is Balcombe Gin. I went off gin and tonic a while ago; I much prefer gin and soda. The nuances of the local botanicals really shine when you take the tonic out of the equation.

There’s no better value on wine list or in a bottle-shop in this state than Craiglee chardonnay. Underrated and undervalued, this wine is an absolute gem.

My favourite place to buy booze is – I can’t answer this as I’m married to someone who runs a place!

My guilty pleasure at the bar is very good mezcal and tequila. I love it. We don’t have a tradition for it in Australia and it’s hard to find the really good stuff, but I rate it very highly. Thankfully in the last few years there’s been an increase in availability.

The best or most important change to the way we drink in Victoria in recent years has been choice and variety. From "traditional" to "natural" and everything in between, the goal posts have moved somewhat which has encouraged more diversity of style and a wider acceptance, planting and promotion of alternative varieties.

For me, the most inspiring people in the Victorian drinks world are the growers and makers because they’re responding to the changing demands of both drinkers and climate. Many are challenging their own preconceptions and those of consumers to evolve and create outside the box. While I’m all for tradition, I think new ideas and challenges can only encourage better, smarter evolution of production both in the vineyard and the winery, resulting in a win for everyone including consumers.

Crawford River Wines is located in the far southwest corner of Victoria and is open by appointment seven days: (03) 5578 2267, crawfordriverwines.com.au, @crawford_river_wines. You can keep up with Belinda’s adventures in wine at @b_e_e_thomson.

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