Wine Royalty



Many years ago, at an industry dinner where the wine flowed freely, my father Chris Killeen theatrically recited a poem about the local vignerons. Guests were treated to witty descriptions such as the Baron of Burgundy, the Duke of Durif and the Prince of Port. The evening was spoken about for many years to come and as Chris’ passion and talent for making Vintage Fortified grew, so did his reputation as “the Prince of Port”. Shortly before his passing in 2007 from Multiple Myeloma, wine writer Jeni Port described him “as the man who almost single-handedly holds the future of Australian vintage port in this country” (Port, 2006).

During his life, he never made any table wines from the Portuguese varieties he planted. It wasn’t until after he passed away that we made the first table wine, The Prince Reserva, in his honour in 2008. Due to EU naming restrictions, we were instructed to remove the words “Reserva” and the reference to “the Prince of Port” on the back label. Since 2018, it has been known as The Prince Iberian Blend.

The wine is medium-bodied and savoury with velvety tannins. When we first released it, I remember people weren’t quite sure about it – it was so different from what we had traditionally made in Rutherglen.

However, over the last decade, more and more people became interested in emerging varieties and different wine styles. Rutherglen has always been known for big reds and luscious fortifieds, yet The Prince was one of the first wines to start challenging the status quo.

We started to experiment with his varieties as table wines, with single variety releases of the Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional and Souzão in 2012. Along the way, we have introduced a Sparkling Tempranillo, a Rosé made from Portuguese varieties, various Tempranillo releases and most recently the new Terra Mãe.

The success of these varieties in both the vineyard and with our customers got us excited to plant white varieties, Arinto, Alvarinho and Antão Vaz. We’re the first winery in Australia to plant the Antão Vaz – we’re still not sure if we’ll make a white wine or a sparkling from it. I can’t wait to find out!

Jeni Port (such an appropriate last name!) also wrote Dad’s obituary in 2007. I really love the way she described his passion and generosity, and the story behind our Portuguese varieties. I am often asked why do we have these varieties – is it because we have Portuguese heritage? No, it was the love of the wine style that started it all. She tells the tale so well that I contacted Jeni for permission to reprint most of it here in our Autumn Quinta Quarterly.


Chris Killeen was born in 1954, a very good year for Rutherglen vintage port. Lindemans made a stunner and it was probably the centrepiece of a vast collection of vintage ports, many from Portugal, that Killeen would acquire during his short, brilliant career.

Every month, at the now legendary Rutherglen winemakers' dinners, he would delve into his collection and emerge with a wine with which to finish the night.

Before a cork was pulled, the wine was masked. Drinkers would have to identify it, express their tasting emotions and think about the fruit flavours they were experiencing, the tannins, liquorice, chocolate and spice and the effect of ageing; then they could relax and enjoy the wine.

Vintage port was serious business to Killeen and at his family's winery, Stanton and Killeen in Rutherglen, he made some of the best in Australia. That he may now be viewed as one of the last great vintage port makers in this country is almost criminal but it's the truth. The traditional style no longer carries much cachet with drinkers and is rarely made. His was a dying art.

In the past few years he had been mentoring the next generation of Rutherglen "young bloods" in the fortified arts but at the end of vintage last year he was diagnosed with cancer. Now he has died, at 52.

Stanton and Killeen - S&K - is one of the great pioneering wine families of Rutherglen, along with the Morris, Campbell, Chambers, Bullers and Gehrig families.

Timothy Stanton had left his mechanic's job in Suffolk to seek gold in Victoria, ending up with a red gum-slab winery in the 1870s. When the old winery was torn down in the 1920s, nothing could destroy five open fermenting vats and six huge storage tanks, so Jack Stanton built a new winery around them, propping up the roof with massive tree trunks planted in the earthen floor.

The winery took the double-barrelled moniker about 1967, the first vintage for Norman Killeen, who had married Joan Stanton and stepped into the winemaking shoes of his famous father-in-law, Jack. Jack Stanton made only fortifieds, for which the area is world famous - muscat, tokay, port. Norm introduced the first reds.

Norm's son Chris was educated in Rutherglen, at Wesley College, Melbourne, the Marcus Oldham farm management college, Geelong, and the Riverina College of Advanced Education. He planted white grape varieties in 1981, which were eventually made into white wines in 1987. This formidable trio - grandfather, father and son - worked together in the winery well into the 1980s. A good 150 years of tradition is what makes Rutherglen wines sacred to wine drinkers. Fortified wine production is not something to be tampered with lightly but Chris Killeen did see a reason with vintage port, a wine made from a single year that usually needs 10 years or more bottle age.

His father's greatest vintage port, from the 1972 vintage, was a wine of the old school, a reflection of a time when vintage port was sweeter against a background of plum pudding and rich raisiny flavours. Ripe Rutherglen shiraz was the perennial and prime ingredient.

But Killeen liked the drier Portuguese style made from different grape varieties - often five or six - with names beginning with the letter T: tinta cao, tinta roriz, tinta barroca and touriga.

Shiraz was used as the base and Portuguese varieties were introduced into the blend after being picked at a lower ripeness for more elegant fruit flavours. He regarded his 1997 vintage port as among his best. It should be drinking beautifully right now.

Killeen helped revolutionise vintage port production in Australia, transforming the traditional sweet style into something much drier, more fragrant and complex, and ultimately, profound. He was a maker of the strong classical style of Rutherglen shiraz and durif but he inherited Jack Stanton's touch with the fortifieds.

"He dedicated his life to a passion in wine," says his neighbour and fellow winemaker, Colin Campbell, who remembers Killeen's busy out-of-hours work chairing or working on committees trying to establish Rutherglen's tourism and wine name. These endeavours included the annual Winery Walkabout, the Rutherglen Wine Experience, the Winemakers of Rutherglen, his stewardship of the Rutherglen Wine Show - one of the biggest wine shows in Australia - and his work as a wine judge.

Port, Jeni. 2006, ‘Vintage crop getting younger every year’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 July.

Port, Jeni. 2007, ‘He preferred it rich and red', The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 June.