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Check out some highlights from Mark and Paul’s trip from South Australia!

First, I would like to thank the members of The Wine and Food Foundation of Texas. Being a member of WFFT not only means that you love wine and food and attending our events, but that you also directly support the community of wine professionals and sommeliers that make Austin a dynamic wine scene. I am writing this post on an airplane returning to Austin from Australia where I have just spent seven days in an immersion program designed to build awareness of South Australian wine in Texas. Paul Ozbirn, of Vino Vino, and I were the first beneficiaries of a new partnership between WFFT and PIRSA, the branch of South Australian government that oversees the wine industry. I can’t possibly capture in words the feeling of gratitude and disbelief for how much I have learned over the past week and the extent to which my impressions have been flipped on their head.

There was something special about this tour, which I can’t quite put my finger on. Both Paul and I have been lucky to have visited numerous wine regions around the world, but over the past week, we were given the context to form a deep appreciation and respect for a wine culture that is mainly misunderstood in the US. Perhaps it was the government pulling out all the stops and highlighting the best of the best of South Australia. Maybe it was the evidence of much experimentation and a tangible drive to make truly unique and exciting wines. Or that Australians are so much fun to hang out with! Surely all of the above. I’m already excited for the next round of Austin wine professionals to experience all the Aussie generosity and have their lives and careers enriched as we did.

Paul and I took the charge of learning the wines, regions, and people very seriously; we were on the road by 7 am, back at the hotel past 11pm, with only 30 minutes of down-time per day. We were representing Austin and WFFT, and this meant researching the itinerary the night prior, so we had the basis to then ask insightful questions and get the most out of the experience. We met more than forty winemakers and growers, and loved learning the stories of each and every one of them.

Over the next several months, I will be writing and teaching in more depth on the wines we tasted and the regions we visited. However, as an overview, we focused on the wines of South Australia, given the nature of the partnership. South Australia is the political state that makes more than 60% of Australia’s “premium” wine, which includes the famous regions of the Barossa, McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, Coonawarra, the Clare, and so many more underappreciated regions. There are over 350 tasting rooms within a short drive of the capital city of Adelaide (called Cellar Doors in Australia). The other wine producing states that you may recognize are New South Wales (containing Sydney and the historic Hunter Valley); Victoria (home to Melbourne and the Yarra Valley); and finally, Western Australia (containing the city of Perth and the Margaret River region).

None of the South Australian wine regions have been affected by phylloxera, the root louse that killed nearly every vineyard in the late 1800s, and today results in vines grafted on resistant root stock. There is strict protocol at the airport that not only includes prohibiting fresh fruits and veggies, but also cleaning your dirty boots if you declare you’ve been knocking around vineyards in neighboring Victoria. Due to these precautions, the region contains some of the oldest vineyards in the world. We saw the historic Cirilo Grenache vineyard planted in 1850, and it was amazing to see that history and taste the delicious wine!

Another amazing visit was to the Yalumba cooperage. Yalumba is the only winery in the southern hemisphere to have a cooperage on-site, and it gives the winemaking team the advantage of achieving the perfect toast and matching the barrel to the desired style of wine. Gibo, the cooper, showed us how barrels are made – wood bent, interior toasted, and heads attached. He started as an apprentice over twenty years ago when he was only seventeen years old, and he is now training the next generation of barrel makers. Boy, he had some stories, and some large hammers that we gladly posed with.

The experiences are too vast to list them all: we did pump-overs staining our hands deep purple, flew a helicopter over the McLaren Vale, poked around the secret cellars of the Victory Hotel, smashed bottles of Riesling overlooking beautiful vineyards, and so much more. You can see most of the photos on WFFT’s Facebook page and Instagram account. Stay tuned for more amazing stories and opportunities to taste the great wines of South Australia. And, again infinite thanks to each WFFT member, Peggy, Hillary, and Lindsey for allowing me to represent the organization, and the wonderful people of PIRSA: Jo, David, Becky, Tim, and Scott!

Paul Ozbirn, Advanced Sommelier

Paul has served as Manager at both Paggi House and Olive & June. After a year managing Olive & June, Paul was promoted to Beverage Director of Shawn Cirkiel’s Parkside Projects.

Paul has been recognized with multiple Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence for both the Parkside and Olive & June beverage programs along with a feature article in the lauded Somm Journal magazine. He succeeded in passin the Advanced Exam on his first try in 2015, all while opening two consecutive restaurants: Chavez and Bullfight.

He has since left Parkside Projects to focus on completing his journey to becoming a Master Sommelier while also participating more deeply in the local Austin somm community. Paul is now a limited partner in Vino Vino, an 11 year old wine bar located in Austin’s historic Hyde Park neighborhood. Having spent countless hours at Vino Vino over the last few years, his intentions as partner are simple: carry on the tradition of Austin’s second oldest wine bar (second only to Wink) by offering an outstanding selection of the world’s finest beverages and maintain exceptional service standards in an environment that’s both casual and welcoming.

Paul has given his time and talent to support the success of The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas for many years including volunteering multiple times for the Rare & Fine Wine Auction and, most recently, speaking at Austin Wine Experience.

Follow Paul and Vino Vino on Instragram: @paultozbirn and @vino_tx.

Mark Rashap, CWE

Mark Rashap is a Certified Wine Educator (CWE), serves as Director of Wine Education for The Wine and Food Foundation of Texas, and hosts the radio show and podcast, Another Bottle Down on KOOP 91.7FM. Additionally, he consults and teaches privately for various distributors, brokers, and restaurant chains.

Coming from a varied background, starting in Argentina studying wine business, Mark moved to making and brokering wine in Washington State and working as a staff educator for a large Texas retailer. Most recently, he worked for the certifying body, The Society of Wine Educators. Continuously writing, giving classes and webinars, and having his finger on the pulse of the international wine scene, he believes that teaching the curious and thirsty public is the most gratifying aspect of the industry.

Mark has helped adapt the work of The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas in Austin. In addition to teaching WFFT’s monthly educational wine tastings, he was instrumental in the creation of the inaugural Austin Wine Experience, connecting WFFT with expert and dynamic speakers for each session and shaping the curriculum for an afternoon of spectacular wine education for our members and guests.

Click here to learn more about Mark’s background.

Follow Mark on Facebook @anotherbottledownradio and Instagram @illuminated_bottle.