Meet the Grower: Bob McNamara
It was winemaker Jo Marsh’s incredible attitude that drew Alpine Valleys grapegrower Bob McNamara of Bush Track Wines into collaboration with Jo, her Billy Button Wines, and their shared cellar door at Myrtleford. Though Bob met Jo when she was working as a winemaker at Feathertop winery, it wasn’t until she decided to start her own business, Billy Button Wines, that he got to know her well.
A Spirit of Collaboration
“You could see early on that she had the region at heart, and she was really keen to work with everybody,” Bob says. “In addition to building her own brand, she wanted to grow the reputation of the Alpine Valleys region and its wine and grape producers, and that was something that resonated with me … She came across as a very genuine person who was prepared to work hard and bring people along with her, as well as being a very good winemaker who from the very start was going to have a big impact on our region. I jumped onboard because I believed in what she was trying to do and the type of person that she was.”
Theirs is a symbiotic relationship. Bob supplies some of the fruit that goes into Jo’s Billy Button wines, and in turn, Jo is the winemaker behind Bob’s Bush Track wines. “Jo first made wine for me in 2015, and our wines and our relationship have been getting stronger every year – so much so that we now operate a cellar door together in the main street of Myrtleford,” he says. “She is constantly coming up with ideas to strengthen and add to my range of wines, which is something I never would have been able to do on my own.”
For example, Jo gives Bob advice on wine styles and when he wants to add another product to our range of wines. “She suggested a Sparkling Shiraz, which we now sell, and with the Chardonnay, we also do a bubbles, which was released for Christmas.”
Growing Grapes in the Alpine Valleys
Bob and his wife Helen first planted 2 acres of Shiraz in 1987, followed by Chardonnay in 1990 and Cabernet Sauvignon in 1991. Sangiovese was the latecomer – planted in about 2014. “We started with traditional varieties, and they seemed to work well at our site,” says Bob. “We have worked with these grapes over the years to continually improve our vineyard practices and our clonal mix of those varieties. Shiraz is our stand-out.”
Jo also sources Bob’s Shiraz fruit for her Billy Button Shiraz wines. “We have 10 or more clones of Shiraz, and each clone has a slightly different style and flavour profile,” says Bob. “So, we pick most of the clones separately, and it’s then the job of Jo and her winemaking team to blend the individual clones into a wine that suits the Billy Button style and a wine that suits the Bush Track style.”
The varied terrain of the region is what makes grapegrowing in the Alpine Valleys unique, according to Bob. “With its valleys, ridges and hidden places that each seem to have a microclimate all their own, you can grow grapes for high-quality sparkling wine at the top of the valley and varieties such as Shiraz lower down,” he says. “Cool airflow coming off the mountains at night also helps moderate the temperature in the region, giving a lovely even ripening over the growing season.”
Bob also tries to use sustainable practices among the grapevines. “We haven’t used insecticides for about 10 years now, which we believe has allowed us to build up a good number of beneficial insects in the vineyard,” he says. “Keeping the grass and weeds in the midrows at a reasonable height also keeps the temperature in the vineyard more even, allows insects to survive and assists with carbon storage.”
The best part of being a grapegrower, he says, is being part of an industry that is always striving to do great things and has many wonderful people you get to meet and befriend. “Also, the farming lifestyle – although physically hard – is very rewarding.” On the rare occasions he’s not working, Bob likes to catch up with family and friends – having barbecues, waterskiing at Lake Buffalo, and fishing with mates.
Plus, he gets to try a lot of delicious wines. So, what’s his favourite Bush Track wine? “We have been making a Reserve Shiraz in our Conmara Range since 2017, which is a remarkable wine that is getting better with each year,” he says. “And coming into Summer, it’s still hard to go past our Chardonnay, which has been really consistent and a great drink.”
As for his favourite Billy Button wines? “The Billy Button range of wines are all so good and uniquely varietal,” says Bob. “I had the Saperavi with tea last night and it was delicious, and coming into summer, the Fiano is hard to beat.”
We’re All in This Together
Like Jo, Bob believes that everything you do should aim to help the region as well as your own business. “It’s not ‘them against us’ – it’s about everybody working together and lifting the standard of what we’ve got,” he says. “And I think Jo has definitely done that since she’s been here. She’s lifted the standard of wine production and even the standard of grape production. She’s had a major impact in the region … she’s been a major influencer in getting the quality of what people are producing to a much higher standard than what it was before.”
Enjoy the fruits of Bob’s labour in many of the Billy Button wines. Alternatively you can find out more about Bush Track and purchase from the Billy Button website.