Sydney Times

CONNOISSEUR MAGAZINE WINE COUNTRY ESCAPES

Helm Wines-Canberra District

Written by Aksel Ritenis

Helm Wines-Canberra District

Ken and Judith Helm started the vineyard, winery, and cellar door in 1973, and Helm Wines is known for producing award-winning Rieslings and Cabernet Sauvignons. They have built it into one of the leading wineries in the Canberra District. Ken Helm has a scientific background and as a former CSIRO scientist, he recognized the potential of the Riesling variety in the Canberra district. As well as being a pioneer of the variety. Ken was instrumental in creating the ‘Canberra International Riesling Challenge’ in the early 2000’s,..and turned it into a serious globally recognized event. Ken stepped down as Chairman several years ago year. A respected winemaker and show judge  Ken rubbed shoulders with some of the greats of the Australian wine industry whilst judging in Wine Shows  ..,…including Wolf Blass, Max Schubert, and Len Evans,…as evidenced by the historic Photo Gallery on the wall of the Tasting room. He has an international following,..regularly supplies some of the Canberra Embassies with his wines as well as many other Riesling aficionados through his Cellar Door wine club. ..Today Helm Wines is known primarily for producing award-winning Rieslings and Cabernet Sauvignons.

Ken is of German descent, his great-great-grandparents came from Germany in the 1850s, they planted vines in Rutherglen,  he grew up in the Albury /Rutherglen region. Ken worked as an insect ecologist with the CSIRO and found himself in Canberra in 1967 where together with other CSIRO scientists, they formed a wine club. Three of them decided to plant some vines. Helm Wines planted their first vines at Murrumbateman, north of Canberra in 1973.

Interestingly the Helm’s offspring are also in the Wine or Hospitality trade,..with their daughter Stephanie now a winemaker in her own right. Stephanie Helm started making wine when she was 9 years old and produced Trophy, Gold, Silver, and Bronze award wines under her own label – The Stephanie Collection. She now owns and operates, (along with her husband Ben Osborne), her own winery and cellar door at The Vintner’s Daughter, also in Murrumbateman. Their son is a top Hotel Food and Beverage manager in Macau at the Galaxy Casino,.. their oldest son Matthew helped in the winery early on, l but then took on an apprenticeship as a chef and has practiced his craft all over the world,.. in major hotels and resorts like the Gleneagles in Scotland and Raffles in Singapore.

Helm Wines tasting room is the 1888 Toual Public School House which is listed by the National Trust and was the inspiration for the “school bell featured on their label”. Ironically it was once used for meetings of the Temperance League, where locals signed the pledge against alcohol.

Located approximately 30 kilometers north of Canberra, the rural setting is the perfect backdrop for tasting quality wines and learning about the art of winemaking.

The philosophy at Helm Wines is that winemaking is an art, not a science.

“The winemaker is the custodian of the grape and has the potential to create a masterpiece. Helm Wines  strive to produce premium quality wines that reflect the true characteristics of the grape and the land or ‘terroir’ in which they have been grown.”

Interestingly Ken reckons the vineyard gets cooled by the coastal sea breezes only 140 km the coast, and in summer after a hot day of  38 degrees, between 6 and 8 o’clock at night they get a sea breeze that is called, the “Batemans Breath” and locals insist you can actually smell the salt in it,.. and it provides the cool nights,..ideal for the vines to recover from the heat of the day.

To this extent, Ken maintains “it is similar to Coonawarra, and it’s one of the great positives of our region and the reason we specialize in Cabernet sauvignon”

 

The winery sells all its produce by its  Private Club mail-order system,..and the only wine export goes to the famous Ledbury Restaurant in Notting Hill, London,.., run by an Australian chef.

The annual release of Ken Helm’s stunning Classic Dry Riesling,.. benchmark Murrumbateman region (previously part of the Yass Valley areas grazing land ) is all about fruit purity and concentration, this is a benchmark for the Canberra Riesling style which has become so famous. For Riesling fans Helm known as one of the icons.

 Helm Premium Riesling is only released in the best vintages, this is the very pinnacle of Ken Helm’s Riesling obsession. It has received 96 points from Wine Front’s Mike Bennie. Considered “Canberra’s best producer of riesling” by James Halliday he was one of the pioneers for this variety in the region and has been one of the big players in the cool climate wine revolution.

2018 Helm Classic Riesling

“The Helm Riesling is all about fruit purity and concentration, this is a benchmark for the Canberra Riesling style which has become so famous. Show judges loved the style. And the love spread to wine waiters and consumers in Canberra, Sydney, and Melbourne. Although the absolute volumes remain small on a national scale, Canberra riesling is achieving demand matched by few producers of the variety in other regions, Tasmania excepted.”

 

A respected winemaker and show judge  Ken rubbed shoulders with some of the greats of the Australian wine industry whilst judging in Wine Shows  ..,…including Wolf Blass, Max Schubert, and Len Evans,…as evidenced by the historic Photo Gallery on the wall of the Tasting room.

 

“The Helm Riesling is all about fruit purity and concentration, this is a benchmark for the Canberra Riesling style which has become so famous. Show judges loved the style. And the love spread to wine waiters and consumers in Canberra, Sydney, and Melbourne. Although the absolute volumes remain small on a national scale, Canberra riesling is achieving demand matched by few producers of the variety in other regions, Tasmania excepted.”

 

Expert Wine Reviews

 

2019 Helm Classic Riesling

“The 2019 Classic Dry release is one of four rieslings released under the label. It’s a delicious, young, and crisp wine. Lemon essence aromatics with grapefruit, white flowers, and wild honey – alluring and complex. Intense lemon and lime drives the palate, fleshy and juicy, remarkably balanced at this early stage of its journey. A wine of drive and persistence. Perfect as the weather warms.”

The Real Review –Huon Hooke

 

Cellar Door Details:

*Open Weekends ONLY 10 am to 4 pm

ADDRESS: 19 Butts Rd, Murrumbateman NSW 2582

Phone: (02) 6227 5953

Hours:10am to 4 pm SATURDAY AND SUNDAY

 

About the author

Aksel Ritenis

Publisher and Custodian of the Sydney Times

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