Walter Bourke: September 15, 1945 – September 19, 2003
I first met Walter Bourke in 1986, at his legendary Melbourne restaurant, Maria & Walter’s. I had been invited to the ‘Table 8’, an underground group of the most serious wine palates in Australia, which convened regularly in the upstairs private dining room at Maria & Walter’s for extravagant banquets with vertical tastings of some of the most coveted wines in the world.
As a budding young sommelier this was my most important counselling and these formative years and indoctrination by Bourke and friends, and subsequently the chefs, vignerons, wine merchants, wine enthusiasts and gourmands that were nourished by him, are the foundation of one the world’s gastronomic capitals.
Bourke’s growing passion for wine and his previous career as an accomplished ballet dancer and choreographer coalesced in his next venture, Walter’s Wine Bar, in the then new precinct of Southgate, on the banks of Melbourne’s Yarra River. It became the quintessential meeting point pre-and-post theatre besides Melbourne’s touchstone wine bar and staging post for countless tastings, dinners and the cultivator of wine enthusiasts and the highly-developed wine culture in Australia.
Apart from his passion for making goat cheese, those of us who knew Bourke identify most with his obsession for the pinot noir grape; initially a fascination and devotion to Burgundy; however his enthusiasm turned to fostering the local artisan producers and championing Australian and New Zealand pinot noir.
An invitation to Bourke’s annual pie and pinot day and inner circle of the wine and hospitality industry at Tarraford vineyard was a privilege akin to a Masonic gathering. These were the best duck, quail, venison and rabbit pies ever, all washed down with copious quantities of the very best if not eclectic ensemble of pinot noir one could imagine.
Bourke lost his battle with cancer in September, 2003 and I lost a great friend and Australia one of its most passionate, generous and altruistic bon vivant and talented chefs. Two weeks later I was blessed with a baby daughter so 2003 is a vintage of mixed emotions and one that I celebrate every year with remembrance and sanguinity.
Walter is never far from my thoughts, his passion and obsession for pinot noir subliminally infused in the bouquet, triggered whenever I have an excellent pinot. He is the inspiration for annually selecting a winemaker who is truly dedicated to pinot noir and contributed not only with their own exceptional wines and endeavours, but equally devoted to helping other producers achieve greatness and inspiring thirst for this most capricious of grapes amongst wine enthusiasts and average consumer alike.
Walter Bourke Homage – Pinot Noir Producer of the Year
Felton Road Cornish Point Pinot Noir 2011, Central Otago, New Zealand – click here for full artcile