Calabria family preserves legacy of Australia's Len Evans: Nine Stones, Bulletin Place

As a segment of the Australian wine industry steers away from high-volume production to more premium products, one winemaking family finds the timing just right to emerge as a prime player in the marketplace.

The Calabria family and its Westend Estate Wines never let go of their Italian passion for winemaking or their brick-and-mortar cellar with its cement fermenters that are back in vogue again.

The Calabrias are growing their once-small business at home in Australia, and in the U.K., China and right here in Metro Detroit.

Andrew Calabria promotes his family's wines around the world. (Photo by Vineyard Brands)

Andrew Calabria, shown at Toasted Oak Grill in Novi, promotes his family’s wines around the world. (Photo by Anne Keller-Klumpp/Vineyard Brands)

Andrew Calabria, 30, is director of sales for Westend Estate Wines based in Australia’s New South Wales and has taken the family story on the road.

Maybe you have seen the brands they recently acquired: Nine Stones and Bulletin Place, two lines developed by the late Len Evans and his colleague Denis Power. Evans, who died in 2006, is truly one of the iconic characters in the development of premium Australian wines, and both Nine Stones and Bulletin Place are well-known in the Detroit market.

What a legacy the Calabria family acquired when they took over Nine Stones and Bulletin Place from Evans’ partner, who retired.

“Dad is always trying to think toward the future,” Andrew said on his recent visit to stores in Metro Detroit and Ann Arbor.

There are three region-specific Shiraz wines under the Nine Stones brand — the most noted being the Barossa Valley wine; the other two are Hilltops and McLaren Vale, all retailing for about $14.99. Bulletin Place wines — notably the Shiraz and Unoaked Chardonnay — are in the $10 range and are targeted for restaurant sales by the glass. They are named for the club and wine shop Evans opened in Sydney in what is said to be the oldest commercial building still in use in Australia — no doubt built by convicts that were sent to the British penal colony in the 1800s. In modern times, Len Evans turned Bulletin Place into a mecca for Australian winemakers where he insisted they drink French wines, not their own.

The Calabria family, like so many Italians, moved to Australia — to New South Wales — after World War II because of the food shortages.

Andrew explains that his grandfather’s thirst for red wine led him to make his own and sell it to fellow immigrants.

Andrew’s father and uncle took over the small business when they were young teens. The brothers ran the winery through the 1960s and 1970s, and then in the 1980s faced mounting debts during the economic downturn. They saved the family wine business by buying an old soda-pop washing machine to clean bottles for other wineries in the region.

In subsequent decades the family committed itself to producing premium-quality wines, not cheap bulk wines or as Andrew calls them — “spigot wines,” and today their business is flourishing.

Here’s a taste of Nine Stones and Bulletin Place wines.

Nine Stones Barossa Shiraz 2010, $14.99

If California has Napa Valley and France Bordeaux, then Australia has the Barossa Valley in South Australia — one of the prime wine regions in the world. This Shiraz, a bargain for $15, has big showy flavors — blackberry, boysenberry, espresso, bittersweet chocolate, spice. Tannins are supple, balance is spot-on. It has all the right stuff to age in your cellar if you can resist twisting off the screw cap. The name Nine Stones refers to the Celtic custom of creating circular patterns of standing stones. Think Stonehenge. Len Evans and partner Denis Power, who created this brand, both have Celtic roots.

Nine Stones McLaren Vale Shiraz 2010, $14.99

This Shiraz has plenty of power too. It enjoys the warm summers not far from the ocean and cool night breezes. It’s meaty on the midpalate braced with blackberry, cherry, espresso and bittersweet chocolate; tannins are like velvet.

Nine Stones Hilltops Shiraz 2010, $14.99

This Shiraz is a lighter-bodied, spicy, more restrained style in keeping with the cooler climate of this relatively new wine region about a four-hour drive south of Sydney. Flavors are chocolate, minty, black cherry and white pepper.

I love the Bulletin Place wines — they are pure, palate-cleansing, balanced. And such good buys. No wonder restaurants love to pour them by the glass.

Bulletin Place Unoaked Chardonnay South Eastern Australia 2010, $10

This is the brand named for Len Evan’s iconic restaurant in Sydney. And no wonder the Bulletin Place wines are sold mostly in restaurants. They are great buys and terrific food wines. This baby is bone-dry, and has crisp citrus, zesty white-stone fruit and melon tones. It’s the perfect opener to a nice meal and great pairing with any kind of seafood.

Bulletin Place Shiraz South Eastern Australia 2012, $10

Another winner: Bulletin Place sets itself apart from other inexpensive wines by being balanced — there is acidity to give an edge to the fruit, to make the wine complex and delicious. This wine is crimson fruit — think dark plums and dark berries — and has smooth texture in the mouth. It’s a surprising wine for the price. Ask your local wine merchant to locate this bottle for you. Nine Stones and Bulletin Place are imported by Vineyard Brands — now that’s a a vote of confidence in itself.

FINDING THE WINES

Nine Stones Shiraz is widely available at Metro Detroit stores including Merchant’s Fine Wine, Dearborn; Plum Market; Hiller’s; Red Wagon Wine Shoppe, Rochester Hills; Beverage Warehouse, Beverly Hills; Holiday Market, Royal Oak. Look for it at restaurants as well.

Bulletin Place wines are sold at Stadium Market, Morgan & York, and the Produce Station in Ann Arbor; poured at Bastone, Royal Oak; Champs, Grosse Pointe Woods; 7 Bar & Grill, Southfield; Palermo Pizzeria, Canton; Melting Pot, Novi.

You can reach Sandra Silfven at ssilfven@hotmail.com.