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Meet Ian McKenzie.  A passion for wine led Ian to a career change into wine-making in the 80's and the formation of Blackjack Wines with business partner Ken Pollock.  They humbly produce some of the best red wines in the Bendigo region — winning many awards for their Shiraz — and have just opened a new cellar door to make the wine tasting experience as enjoyable as the wines themselves. Be sure to pop in and say G'day to Ian, Ken and their team next time you're in the Harcourt region, or buy their wine online so you can try it for yourself. 

For more information on their wines, visit their website here. Read more about Ian.....

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Tell us about yourself and how you got into the wine making industry

I was born half way through the last century and grew up in the grape growing district of Mildura, and hated picking sultana grapes in the heat and dust of a Mildura summer!  I qualified as a Pharmacist a lifetime ago and eventually ended owning a pharmacy in Castlemaine. However, before Castlemaine, I worked and lived in Bendigo, where, over many glasses of wine with the next door neighbour, Ken Pollock - who would become a founding partner in the winery - a plan was hatched to plant a vineyard and make wine. To that end Ken and I, in 1984, enrolled in the Graduate Diploma Course at Roseworthy Agricultural College in South Australia, which gave us enough knowledge to know when ”we didn’t know what we were talking about”, and access to a great network of people who might. In 1987, after around 18 months of searching, we purchased a property at Harcourt which was to become Blackjack Vineyards. The first vines were planted in 1988 and the first wine was released six years later in 1994.

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Tell us about the cellar door experience at Blackjack Wines

Blackjack offers a friendly welcome, a chance to taste some excellent award winning wines and chat about the ups and the downs of grape growing and wine making in the Harcourt Valley.  Last year we finally decided to give the Blackjack “tin shed” tasting room — which has served us well for around 25 years — a significant upgrade.  Now visitors can sit and taste the Blackjack range and look out over the vineyard and the beautiful Harcourt Valley; it is even much more enjoyable being behind the counter!  And fortuitously, we expanded the Cellar door tasting area as well, which has allowed us to accommodate more visitors under the social distancing Covid19 restrictions than would have been possible in the old tasting room.

(pictured here - Ken Pollock at the cellar door)

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Describe your favourite wine

My favourite wine is the one you drink with good friends and good food. What I call the Holy Trinity of Wine, where the experience is greater than the sum of the parts. But I do love a Harcourt Shiraz.

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Is there a rich wine making history in this region?

After gold there was liquid gold, wine. Grapevines for winemaking were planted In Bendigo and surrounding districts from the late 1850’s increasing to a recorded 972 acres by the 1890’s. Unfortunately, due to the threat of the grapevine pest Phylloxera (still an issue even today) most, if not all, were pulled out during the 1890’s. It was not until 1969 that the grapevines were again planted in Maiden Gully at Balgownie Estate. The first vines to be planted in the Bendigo district for 80 years. 

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What’s the most flattering comment someone can make about your wine?

Just that they enjoyed the wine is enough, better still, enjoyed it enough to purchase. That is even more flattering!

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What do you do when you're not wine making?

Apart from wine and food, travelling and reading about history of religion and philosophy are my keen interests. Of course, my interest in the history of religion and philosophy has influenced my travel destinations. Walking the Camino trail in Spain with my eldest daughter in 2014 — although challenging for someone who is the high risk Covid19 group — was one of the great experiences of my life.  Followed closely by a ten day visit with my wife to Jerusalem in 2017. Both trips have left wonderful, indelible memories and helped me to understand a little more the culture and topography of these historic places.