Co-founded by Paul Vandenbergh and Damien Smith, Munda Wines is bringing Indigenous concepts of Country to the wine world.
Vandenbergh and Smith first met at Port Adelaide Football Club, where Vandenbergh was the General Manager of Community and Aboriginal Programs and Smith was the Commercial Director to China. The pair began their friendship discussing topics over a glass of wine and founded Munda Wines with the importance of sharing and discussion as a central tenet.
“Paul is Indigenous and I’m non-Indigenous, so the leadership of Munda Wines is the coming together of two people from different backgrounds, who have a great love for each other and for the project. Paul has his skill set, and I have my skill set, and we learn from each other. That’s the epitome of what Munda Wines stands for,” Smith said.
The meaning of Munda
Munda Wines is named for the Wirangu and Kokatha (pronounced Go-ga-tha) word munda, meaning land.
“It’s a term that actually predates the French term of terroir by well over 65,000 years,” Smith said.
The Australian wine industry is no stranger to Indigenous names, and Smith would like Munda Wines to encourage drinkers to explore the stories behind these names.
“You look at the Australian wine industry, and you even look at beer brands, and there are a lot of Indigenous words that are used. For example, there’s Coonawarra, which means honeysuckle, or Padthaway, which means good water. There’s plenty of brand names that are actually Indigenous words as well. The question is, do we understand the true history of these words and the Countries that they come from?
“Munda Wines can start the conversation, where people can say, ‘I never knew that McLaren Vale was Kaurna (pronounced Gar-nah) Country. I never knew that Tumbarumba was an Indigenous word.’ Starting the conversation is how you start the learning process,” he said.
For Smith, the understanding of Indigenous land and Country enrichens the concept of terroir by highlighting the impact of millennia of Indigenous land care practices on our Australian wine regions.
“McLaren Vale sits within Kaurna Country. People have been looking after Kaurna Country for over 45,000 years, but McLaren Vale is 193 years old. There’s a disparity there, and it gives us a great opportunity to understand a greater timeline of terroir than that European lens. That’s really the essence of where Munda comes from and that’s why we created it. We wanted people to sit down over a glass of wine and to rethink where these great wines were coming from,” he said.
However, Indigenous Country boundaries do not map perfectly onto Australian wine regions.
“We make a Grenache from Ngadjuri (pronounced Naj-jur-ee) and Peramangk (pronounced Pera-munk) Country, which is the overlap between Barossa Valley and Eden Valley. There’s a blurring of the line there, versus the European lens which has very definitive lines in terms of what is left bank and what is right bank,” Smith said.
Even so, Smith is confident that Australian wine drinkers can understand Country as a complement to terroir.
“I don’t think we should underestimate the IQ of the Australian wine drinker, who is, on a global scale, a very intelligent and well-versed drinker. We’re quite savvy and we have a great understanding of the different wine regions of Australia.
“Munda Wines is certainly a premium wine so we are talking to a consumer who’s probably willing to spend a little bit more on a more defined experience as well,” he said.
The concept of munda influences the winemaking process at Munda Wines, and each new release seeks to reflect the region in which the wines were grown. This is achieved through single variety wines, minimal intervention winemaking, and relatively early bottling.
“We’re very deliberate. I reference the soils that we source our grapes from, and we are working with wines that are often single site wines. That pure sense of place is what munda is all about,” Smith said.
The winery is investigating avenues to increase the connection between wine and the Country on which it is produced, such as experimenting with aging wine in native wood barrels. The brand also expects to expand into other regions.
“Hopefully, halfway through this year, we’ll have wines all the way from Margaret River to Tasmania. It’s a really unique opportunity to look at fine wines from a producer that produces from some of the finest regions across Australia,” Smith said.
Additionally, Munda Wines is inspired by the lesser-known history of traditional fermentation practices that existed in Australia before colonisation, such as the fermented cider gums of Tasmania and the fermented wattles of Western Australia. Smith explains that the brand has only just scratched the surface when it comes to the potential impact of Indigenous knowledges on the wine industry.
“We’re encouraging people to follow us and to come along for the ride because we’re also learning as we go through this,” he said.
One major goal for Munda Wines is to have an Indigenous winemaker on staff, which Smith is confident will come to fruition over the next few years. In line with this goal, Munda Wines is also empowering young Indigenous adults to enter into the wine industry, which Smith believes will benefit the Australian wine industry as a whole.
“Who else can understand land better than people with heritage that dates back 65,000 years? This is a really unique opportunity for the Australian wine industry to look back in order to look forward,” he said.
Though this project is in its early stages, there has already been significant interest from industry bodies.
“We’re at ground zero, but we’ve developed some great partnerships with Wine Australia and with Sarah Andrew at WSET. We want to encourage more Indigenous young people to come into the hospitality industry because that’s where stories are told.
“We’ve secured two scholarships from the University of Adelaide for winemaking, and through our social arm, the Tjindu (pronounced Jin-doo) Foundation that Paul founded several years ago, we’ve got this amazing database of young Indigenous kids who want to have a career in the industry,” Smith said.
Though Munda Wines is inspired by ancient practices, the brand is very much rooted in today’s world.
“We’re really encouraged by the interest in what we’re doing, which is much greater than it might have been 20 years ago. That is really driving us and giving us the energy to build the momentum behind what we’re doing. Australia has changed massively in 20 years. What could the next 20 years deliver? What could Australia look like then? That’s very exciting to think about,” Smith said.