Mallee Estate Wines
We are family
Diving headfirst toward a bold new organic future is easier when you’ve got your brother by your side.
When brothers Jim and Arthur Markeas turn grapes into wine at their Mallee Estate winery and cellar door, a healthy flow of banter accompanies the hard work. When they’re not talking about their wines (including a new organic range – set for release in late 2022), they’re usually reminiscing about their childhood amongst the vines.
“Mum and Dad purchased a eight-hectare block of land here in the Riverland 1968,” Jim says. “It was a great place to grow up. We spent a lot of time at the river; swimming, fishing and hunting.” It was all hands-on deck. “I remember playing with toys while sitting in picking bins.” Jim laughs. “Our parents did everything and we were along for the ride.”
The siblings come from strong Greek stock. Their parents Peter and Eleni worked hard to get the business to where it is today. When the young couple migrated from Greece to Australia, neither of them spoke English but they had big vineyard dreams. They found their new home and community in Renmark, where they raised their sons Jim, Arthur and Sam.
Jim’s eyes fill with tears when he talks about losing their dad to leukemia in September 2021. “Dad was gutsy,” he says. “He wasn’t afraid to take risks to value add to the business. Mum was the backbone and had the patience and persistence to get us here. We got those qualities from our parents… we’re not afraid to give things a go and see things through.”
When Peter and Eleni purchased the property, they kicked things off with Shiraz plantings, the variety on which the brand was built.
As years passed, the family invested in neighbouring blocks and as their vineyards grew, so too did Peter’s long-time dream of owning a winery. When Peter bought his first wine tank in 1994, the 20,000-litre beast sat in a paddock – waiting. “People thought he was crazy,” Jim says. “But by 1998, he proved them wrong.”
The purchase of what was a fruit packing shed (now home to Mallee Estate’s large winery) in 1996 launched Jim into the world of winemaking. “I was going to be a cabinet maker,” he says with a grin. Instead, he studied oenology (via long distance) and now makes the estate-grown portfolio which includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc. There’s also a Rose, Moscato, Sparkling Brut Cuvée, Rosé, Sparkling Shiraz, Grenache, Muscat and a Reserve Tawny.
They brothers are extremely proud of their alternate varieties, particularly their Tempranillo. When they planted 1.5 hectares of the variety in 2000, it was the first Tempranillo vineyard in the region. “I got the idea when Dr Richard Smart gave a talk to us at Charles Sturt University,” Jim says. “He said it was the number one grape variety in Spain. I knew we have a dry Mediterranean climate here, so I connected the dots.” When a large wine brand told Jim that Tempranillo would never be anything but a blender and certainly not premium, he planted it anyway. Fortunately, they were wrong.
The flagship Mallee Estate P&E Markeas Shiraz is named after their parents. Jim will never forget the moment it won platinum gold at the Wine Style Asia Award (WSAA) in 2009. “I called my parents from the gala dinner in Singapore,” he says. “They were proud as punch.”
International recognition and the 2015 to 2019 Riverland Winery of the Year award at the New York International Wine Competition were highlights.
Through all the highs and lows Jim and Arthur draw strength from the lessons Peter instilled in them. “Mum and Dad were always such honest, hardworking, fair people who loved to have fun with friends and family.”
Greek conviviality is epitomised in the cellar door which opened in 2005. The onsite restaurant (Eleni’s) is named after the family matriarch who can often be spotted telling jokes and chatting to visitors. The Greek dishes are inspired by family recipes, passed down through generations. Make sure you try the Loukaniko (smoked pork sausage spiced with orange and fennel) – a recipe perfected by Peter.
A genuine, family-friendly welcome has always been part of the Mallee Estate offering; whether it’s a game of giant Connect 4 on the lawns for the kids, a guided winery tour (with a bird’s-eye-view of the vineyards) or a meal with pals.
Jim and Arthur are excited about the future. Everything in the winery is made batch by batch, with unwavering focus on fruit quality.
“When we started it was all about grape production but we decided to grow the winery so that we could crush all our own grapes,” Jim says. “We reached that point in 2012 and since then we’ve crushed everything ourselves.” Now, it’s all about growing better grapes. “All our vineyards are in conversion to organic,” Jim says. “The plan is to be certified organic by 2024. There’s a demand and a push for it.”
There’s no doubt Peter would be proud. “We’ve still got the first wine tank Dad bought,” Jim says. “It reminds us that you can take your destiny into your own hands here. The Riverland is going through a revolution and its core strength is access to water. If you want to feed the world, this is the place to do it.”