16th Annual Young Gun of Wine Awards Winners

8 June 2022. Words by YGOW.

Young Gun of Wine has announced the trophy winners for their 16th annual winemaker awards.

Since 2007, the awards have provided an opportunity to connect emerging winemaking talent with wine drinkers, and to support creative talent shaking things up and exploring news ideas in wine. In that time, the awards have expanded and grown.

The trophies are the Best New Act, Danger Zone, the Vigneron, Winemaker’s Choice, People’s Choice and the 2022 Young Gun of Wine.

The 2022 judging panel consisted of Young Gun of Wine’s Rory Kent, Ravensworth vigneron Bryan Martin; Jeremy Shiell from Winespeake; Kate McIntyre MW, Moorooduc Estate; wine critic Nick Stock; Penny Vine of Marion and Cutler & Co; Rani Parish, Group Sommelier for Agnes, Honto, Bianca and Same Same; and Charlotte Hardy from Charlotte Dalton Wines, the 2021 Young Gun of Wine.

Finalists gathered in Melbourne for the first in-person trophy presentation since 2019.

“After two years of COVID pivots to virtual events, it was magical to once again get together to forge new friendships with emerging winemakers from all over Australia,” said Kent.

Above: the Young Gun of Wine Awards trophies. Opposite: Finalists Alex Beckett from Briar Ridge and Anita Goode from Wangolina at the event.

Congratulations goes to all the finalists, a deep field of talented and innovative makers who are all playing an important part in shaping the future of Australian wine. Here are the 2022 trophy winners:

Above: Nick Stock, Lauren Langfield and Rory Kent. Opposite: Lauren Langfield with the Best New Act trophy.

Best New Act: Lauren Langfield

Lauren Langfield’s approach to wine has always been vineyard first. Indeed, so has been her career, with a deep focus on organic and biodynamic viticulture taking her from New Zealand to Gippsland (Victoria), then to South Australia. Langfield’s eponymous label kicked off with 2021 vintage wines, a merlot and a sauvignon blanc from the Hills made in the natural spirit but with broad appeal.

Commenting on starting her own thing, Langfield said, “It was high time I gave it a go. I finally felt ready to make wines under my own label, having spent nearly 12 years working for other people’s wine brands.”

Wine, like most things, falls victim to the whims of fashion. One minute a grape variety is riding a seemingly unstoppable wave of success, and the next minute growers can’t give the fruit away. Starting her label with arguably Australia’s two most unfashionable grapes was a bold move, but the wines were show stoppingly delicious.

“In such a competitive market I wanted to be sure that I was making wines with a point of difference, but also wines which I would be really proud to put my name to,” said Langfield.

Above: Luke Tocaciu’s Patrick of Coonawarra ‘Méthode Eucalypt’ won the Danger Zone trophy for its beautiful and bold celebration of the controversial minty influence of eucalypt trees growing in proximity to grape vines. Opposite: Peta Kotz and her Sabi Wabi label was the ‘Winemaker’s Choice’.

Danger Zone: 2021 Patrick of Coonawarra ‘Méthode Eucalypt’ Cabernet Sauvignon

Luke Tocaciu set out to push the boundaries of perhaps Australia’s most traditional wine region with his Méthode range, which celebrates different sides of cabernet sauvignon. Eucalypt character is a controversial one in Australian wine. But Tocaciu has celebrated this character with his Méthode Eucalypt.

This could not come from any other country, with the distinct signature of Australian bush scenting the classic cabernet characters. Layers of sappy gum and mint blend in neatly with the leafy cabernet notes, with lithe fruit coming up to greet them. This is a bright and fresh expression of the grape, with currant, mulberry and blackcurrant notes in a cooler vein, fine tannins and zippy acidity marshalling the palate down a linear route.

“At first I wasn’t sure how it would be received as it’s always a hot topic of discussion at tastings. But everyone loved it. The taste, the story, the package was all very well received. Some locals and industry have also reached out and commended me for embracing a character that would be typically seen as a flavour they want to keep out of the wine,” says Tocaciu.

“For me it’s a great ‘Aussie inspired’ wine that shines a spotlight on Coonawarra and Cabernet Sauvignon. Starting a fun conversation with drinkers and telling stories, which is what our industry is all about.”

Winemaker’s Choice: Peta Kotz, Sabi Wabi

Peta Kotz’s Sabi Wabi is her homage to reworking the traditions of the Hunter, of searching for “beauty amongst imperfection”. Semillon is the foundation of the brand she founded in 2019 while working for biodynamic Hunter winery Krinklewood, and she steadfastly says it will remain that way, although her lo-fi making, with no subtractions and no adds, bar a fraction of sulphur, and employment of a raft of alternative vessels is also applied to red wine and rosé.

“I am Hunter Valley born and bred, and I am proud to be surrounded by such rich history and tradition of wine in the Valley, but there is a new wave of like-minded people here doing different things, and I am stoked to be a part of it,” said Kotz.

The winemaker finalists in this year’s awards voted on should wine the award after meeting one another across events in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne and assessing one another’s projects. “The whole experience has been a blast! Meeting winemakers from across the country, sharing each other’s wines and stories has been great. I feel so honoured and proud to have been chosen by fellow winemaker’s for this award,” said Kotz.

Above: Rowly Milhinch at the moment of being announced as the People's Choice. Opposite: with his trophy.

People’s Choice: Rowly Milhinch, Scion

Some 20 years ago, Rowly Milhinch left a career in visual communication to set up a vineyard and a family life in Rutherglen. It’s territory that his family have lived in for generations, and he was intent on honouring the traditions of the region but recasting them through his own lens. Under his Scion label, he makes fortifieds, a staple of Rutherglen, but they are twists on the classics, including a ‘Muscat Nouveau’, as well as making dry red from syrah, grenache and durif, with the later also getting the light red treatment, built to chill.

“To take out the People’s Choice in the 2022 YGOW Awards is really special. A huge thanks to the people who’ve nominated me for this award. This is just amazing,” said Milhinch.

“My Scion journey represents 17 years of hard work, yet also represents Rutherglen and the amazing community of North-East Victoria. It’s a real privilege to take this bloody heavy trophy home to our region. The creative outcomes of our work in the vineyard and winery will continue to evolve, and this award has stoked my passion even more! I remember attending the very first YGOW Awards as a guest back in 2007 – at the start of my journey into wine – and being energised by the winemakers I met that night. What a trip to have come full circle as a Young Gun of Wine!”

Marco Lubiana.

The Vigneron: Marco Lubiana

The Vigneron goes to a winemaker who grows the grapes from which the wines come. “Provenance and how wine is grown is where it all begins,” said Young Gun founder Rory Kent. “As winemakers frequently say, ‘Great wine is made in the vineyard.’”

Marco Lubiana is a fifth-generation vigneron, working on his family property, Stefano Lubiana, in the Derwent Valley. The Lubianas also farm one of Tasmania’s oldest vineyards in the Huon Valley (it is the Huon’s oldest vineyard), which is now called the Lucille Vineyard. Both sites are certified biodynamic, with only one other Tasmanian vineyard having just received biodynamic certification in 2022.

Lubiana is passionate about biodynamics and growing the fruit he works with. “I spend ten months of the year in the vineyard, and the remaining two months in the winery. The reason being, 90 per cent of the quality of wine comes from the vineyard.”

Lubiana’s wines are composed and expressive of place, mature expressions from a youthful maker that reflect his gentle hand in the winery and tireless year-round work amongst the vines.

Opposite: Ryan Ponsford of Entropy Wines and Lauren Langfield with their trophies. Above: Ryan Ponsford working in one of the vineyards he manages.

2022 Young Gun of Wine: Ryan Ponsford, Entropy Wines

Ryan Ponsford’s Entropy label is the result of him being diverted from a successful artistic career to making syrah, pinot noir, semillon and sauvignon blanc in Gippsland’s Baw Baw Shire. With a focus on organic growing and minimal-intervention winemaking, learnt working alongside Bill Downie, Ponsford is also in the process of resurrecting a derelict vineyard, which will form the future core of the Entropy wines.

“I make wine in a way that would probably be considered quite traditional. Old barrels, wild ferments, simple winemaking. I don’t make any orange wine or pét-nats or anything trendy like that. I generally try to avoid making anything that’s fashionable because these things come and go. I just want to make well-farmed wines that speak of the incredible place we live.”

Ponsford already had a career when he got sucked into the world of wine, and it was a successful and satisfying one at that. Working with the wet-plate collodion process, one of the oldest photographic mediums, Ponsford was an established artist based in Melbourne, when a chance moment sent him down a different road.

“What drew me to wine was the idea that a grape vine can act as this kind of receptor to everything around it,” he says. “It pulls information in from all around and that information can be extracted, bottled and potentially be stored for decades, holding in it the time and place it recorded.”

Ponsford describes having dinner at Tonka, in Melbourne’s City, where he came across one of William Downie‘s pinot noirs. “The Sommelier explained that Bill was interested in making an expression of the Australian landscape through wine, which mirrored what I was doing in photography, so I emailed Bill and went out to his farm to meet him. I started working with him the next vintage.”

In 2018, Downie gave him some grapes to play with. That fruit made up the first Entropy wine, released in 2019. “I never planned on starting my own wine label,” says Ponsford. “It just kind of happened. I came to Gippsland based on the idea that one could make an expression of the landscape through wine. I came to help see that idea manifest. When Bill gifted me a tonne of pinot noir one year, it gave me no choice but to start a wine label.”

Above: Finalist James Scarcebrook of Vino Intrepido congratulates Ryan Ponsford. Opposite: Finalist Riley Harrison, Adelaide based wineslinger Wilson Shawyer of Good Gilbert, Anita Goode (Wangolina) and Gabe O'Brien (Cavedon).

From the 2021 Vintage, all the wines Ponsford makes are grown on two vineyards that he farms in the Baw Baw Shire of Gippsland. In addition to the current sites, he has a nursery block on his own farm, which he plans to start planting a high-density vineyard next spring.

Commenting on the trophy win, Ponsford said, “This is something I genuinely did not believe I had even a chance of winning. It’s wild because working on my own in the vineyard day in, day out and you can forget that anyone even knows you exist let alone gives a shit how much work goes into growing grapes. So it was incredibly humbling and exciting to be recognized, not just because of the wines themselves but because the judges understood the work, the intent and the dreams.”

“An award like this goes a long way in promoting our wines and will no doubt help us setup and plant vines on our farm,” concluded Ponsford. “My focus is to design the vineyard properly, care for it from the beginning and make the best wines I can, without compromise.”

The judging, held over two days, was a robust forum that began with the quality of the wines, but also factored in the commitment of each maker to their own project, their region, their community and the environment.

“It was a real treat to discover so many interesting and delicious wines this year judging YGOW,” said Kate McIntyre MW. “Picking the finalists, was comparatively straight forward. But then choosing who of the finalists to give each trophy to was very difficult and took much discussion – they all had something special and tasty to offer. Congratulations again and bravo to all of the finalists. What a wealth of young winemaking talent Australia has on offer!”

The Young Gun of Wine Awards is presented with thanks to Amorim Cork, Cornershop design, Liebherr wine cabinets, MCC Label, Nexia Australia accountants, Sanector, WBM magazine, Vintrace software and Wine Guns for Hire.

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