The good stuff

Winemaker Matt Burton of Gundog Estate aims to make the world a better place with great wine and a focus on positive social and environmental action.

A fortunate upbringing, a good education and a supportive family have offered Matt Burton every opportunity to succeed. With two busy cellar doors, an award-winning range of wines, a produce store, a gin line and a beer line, he certainly has it all going on. He has surrounded himself with a great team and has worked hard to develop strong relationships with his growers. He could justifiably sit back and enjoy the fruits of his labour. But a recent shift in values lit a fire within. A subsequent redirection of his business model has created a values-based enterprise that puts environmental concerns and the plight of those less privileged front and centre.

Matt’s interest in wine was sparked early on, when his filmmaker dad’s friendship with the Davern family lead to a Year 10 work experience stint at Wandin Valley in Lovedale. “I was excited by the mix of science, creativity, and hard physical labour,” he reminisces. After studying wine science and working vintages in France, the US and the Yarra Valley, Matt settled back in the Hunter in 2003, returning to Wandin where he remained for eight years as winemaker and eventually general manager.

In 2006 his mother’s academic career saw the family move to the Canberra region, a small emerging wine district back then. Matt started experimenting with grapes from his folks’ Canberra property whilst still at Wandin Valley. The wines were branded Gundog after the family’s much-loved spaniel, Karl Marx, and the 2009 Shiraz made it to the NSW Wine Awards Top 40. Matt’s confidence grew, and about the time Wandin was sold in 2011, the perfect cellar door location serendipitously came up for lease. Matt set up shop in the charming old Pokolbin schoolhouse in front of Ben Ean and Gundog Estate was on its way.

With his Pokolbin operation humming along nicely, Gundog opened a second cellar door in 2017, this time in the centre of Gunaroo near Canberra. Cork St Cellar is located in a characterful 19th century stone stable and gives Matt a foot in this exciting “new” wine district and the chance to play further with the high-quality Riesling produced there.

Matt is clearly a creative soul, driven by the need to constantly innovate and challenge. “My wines are all about thoughtful experimentation and pushing winemaking boundaries,” says Matt. “I love history and tradition, but like to overlay it with new ideas.” As a result, his range features classic Semillon, Shiraz and Riesling from the Hunter, Canberra, and the Hilltops district near Young.

But there are many side hustles, such as a Yarra Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay collaboration with pal Dylan McMahon, his Indomitus range, which allows for maximum experimentation and minimal intervention, his popular wild-ferment Hunter Semillon and the flagship M Burton Shiraz, which challenges norms as a multi-vintage wine, made with extended skin contact.

More than money

“The business was going well, then a few years ago, I felt my values shift,” recalls Matt. His two young daughters were getting older, and this sharpened Matt’s concerns about the worsening state of the environment and the global increase in social disadvantage. He had spent some years trying to lobby government about the effects of climate change on grape growers, with little satisfaction. So he took matters into his own hands.

A partnership with Fifteen Trees has since seen 2000 trees planted, improving wildlife corridors and reducing carbon emissions. His business is now totally carbon neutral and highly committed to green energy, careful water management and waste minimisation. The next step related to his interest in social equity, with over $30,000 raised for Path2Change, a Novocastrian charity that supports homeless and vulnerable youth through education and employment opportunities, such as work experience at Gundog’s cellar door.

The wine industry is inherently generous and philanthropic. It is also consistently at the forefront of environmental innovation. But Matt’s commitment to putting his values at the core of his business makes him stand out, as does his focus on quality in everything he does. This was recognised in his nomination as one of only eight national finalists in the prestigious Gourmet Traveller Wine Winemaker of the Year awards last year.

But the real reward is the sense of meaning he has created for himself and for his staff. No small achievement at all.

In addition to fundraising through events, sales and wine club donations, Gundog Estate has released a 2019 Hunter Shiraz in support of Path2Change, with 100% of sales proceeds going to the charity. Described as “a beacon of hope, empathy, and kindness at a time that has tested us all” the label artwork for The Lived Experience was designed by a Path2Change client. Matt plans to follow up with another release in the near future.,,

Story by Sally Evans, photography courtesy of Gundog Estate

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