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Australia’s 50 Best Young Wine Labels & Winemakers in 2021

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31 March 2021. Words by YGOW.

This year marks the 15th annual edition of the Young Gun of Wine Awards – created for young wine labels and winemakers on the rise. Since 2007, we’ve scoured the country for the best emerging talent, always looking for new ideas, for creative mavericks, and for those unwilling to compromise. That’s what sets these winemakers apart – they’re changemakers. The annual list has become the go-to guide for drinkers looking for cutting-edge wines. And now, the time has come to reveal our Top 50 winemakers for 2021.

“Over the past 15 years, we’ve seen this forum bring together and promote so many winemakers that have gone on to set a new tone of authenticity in Australian wine that is brazenly modern, brilliantly executed and highly attuned to the tastes of our time,” said Nick Stock, who has been on the judging panel since the very beginning.

“The Young Gun of Wine Awards trace the leading edge of Australia’s newest winemaking talent and bring together those who seek to bend the needle in the direction of interest while redefining the notion of wine quality in Australia.”

The Top 50 finalists in this year’s awards was arrived at over two days of intensive judging, with a panel of leading industry figures from across the country.

Stock was joined on the 2021 judging panel by Crawford River vigneron Belinda Thomson; Leanne Altmann, Beverage Director at Trader House Restaurants (Cutler & Co, Gimlet, Marion, Builders Arms, Supernormal, et al); Master Sommelier Sebastian Crowther; Jeremy Shiell from Winespeake; Olivia Evans of Fleet Restaurant; and Chris Dilworth and Loïque Allain from Dilworth and Allain, the 2020 Young Gun of Wine.

Opposite: the panel gathered Prince Dining Room. Above: (L-R) Chris Dilworth, Loique Allain and Leanne Altmann. Photos by James Morgan.
“I walked away from the tasting feeling inspired... The finalists represent some of this country’s most impressive growers and producers of innovative, thoughtful and delicious wines.”

Wines from every maker in the long list were tasted, then their project and its aspirations were discussed, as was their place in the region they work in, as well as the broader wine landscape.

“We want to know how the makers are advancing the conversation on wine,” said Stock. “We want to know what contribution they are making to their community, to the wine landscape, to the future. Are they pushing boundaries, innovating, being bold? Are they putting back, working with others and caring about the bigger picture? And yes, are their wines engaging, thoughtful and lovingly made? It all matters to us.”

With two days of swirling and spitting and vigorous debate, a consensus was reached.

“For winemakers, making the annual Young Gun of Wine Awards list is an accomplishment that represents the best young wine labels and winemakers on the rise in Australia,” said Dilworth, “each year, it’s always great to look out for the list – to see who is on it and what they’re doing, as well as discovering exciting new wine producers.”

“For winemakers, making the annual Young Gun of Wine Awards list is an accomplishment that represents the best young wine labels and winemakers on the rise in Australia. Each year, it’s always great to look out for the list – to see who is on it and what they’re doing, as well as discovering exciting new wine producers.”
Opposite: Leanne Altmann said the tasting left her feeling inspired. Above: the panel gathered Prince Dining Room. Photos by James Morgan.

“I walked away from the tasting feeling inspired,” said Altmann. “Not only was there a very strong line-up of wines from great young wine labels, but there was plenty of lively discussion about diversity of grape varieties and climates, farming and winemaking philosophies, and how this impacted the consumer. The finalists represent some of this country’s most impressive growers and producers of innovative, thoughtful and delicious wines.”

We now have our Top 50. And, like every year, the finalists are a diverse lot. “Our 50 finalists in 2021 span a wide variety of origins, styles and attitudes,” said Stock, “and all are united by a fierce determination to collectively drive the conversation of Australian wine forward to greater heights of diversity and distinction.”

They come from far and wide

Hailing from all corners of the country, from Tasmania to the Swan Valley, from the Barossa to the Granite Belt, from the sprawling expanse of the Great Southern to the Adelaide Hills on the doorstep of the state capital, from the still largely unknown region of Kangaroo Island to the Hunter Valley with its storied history. McLaren Vale, Mornington Peninsula, Gippsland, Mount Benson, Canberra District, Orange… they come from far and wide.

Opposite: Dave Verheul of Saison is a chef that has successfully turned his hands to making vermouth. Above: Koen Janssens of Bink believes in hard manual work in the vineyard and minimal intervention winemaking.

They come from all backgrounds

We have growers who have become makers and makers who have become growers, too. We have next-generation winemakers from established families – one who launched his label while still in school – and we have new makers helping to drive change in established brands. We have corporate refugees, saved by wine, and restaurateurs, sommeliers and maîtres d’ who have turned in their aprons and crossed over. We have a celebrated chef turning his skills to making vermouth, an assistant school principal who makes time to run a game-changing project in a conservative region, and a successful artist who was lured by wine’s capacity to record a story of time and place.

Above: Cavedon Wines were grape-growers that have turned their hands successfully to making wine. Opposite: Ryan O'Meara is managing his vineyards in order to pursue organic farming, and has radically matured a riesling under a veil of flor yeast.

Makers are embracing different varieties

Less-familiar varieties are making a big impact. We have finalists that are diving deep into emerging varieties, from working with drought-tolerant vines that are finding ideal new homes in some of our hotter regions, to those hunting out obscure grapes that are carving out niches in varying climates and geologies. And we have makers reigniting interest in varieties somewhat forgotten, lost for a time to the ebbs of fashion.

Opposite: Andrew Wardlaw makes a range of eccentric blends for Edenflo. Above: Lauren Hanson of Penley Estate is helping reframe possibilities of an established winery through their project wines.

There are those that are getting their hands dirty in the vineyard

It’s tough for an emerging brand to get any viticultural control, let alone own their own plot of vines. But more than ever, we’re seeing emerging makers finding a way of making it happen, whether that means leasing a site or even a small block, or scraping together the funds to go all in, buying their own slice of vititcultural heaven. Then there are those blessed with family vineyards, but they’re distinguished by working tirelessly in the vines, exploring their own ideas of farming, and making wine from the ground up. It’s long been said that great wine is made in the vineyard, and this crop of vignerons is taking that mantra very, very seriously.

Above: Jayden Ong's Moonlit Forest range presents unusual blends and unconventional techniques. Opposite: Sven Joschke is a corporate refugee, saved by wine.

They’re pushing winemaking boundaries

The Top 50 are never just following the existing playbook, towing the line, and this year’s no different. We have makers raising red wines under flor yeast; blending varieties that don’t normally share a bottle, including red grapes with white; there’s skin contact aplenty, from a gentle kiss to a full-body embrace; barrels in all shapes and sizes are used, from modest barriques to imposing foudres, and alternative vessels, from ceramic eggs to terracotta amphora, are getting plenty of airplay; one maker has even matured a wine underwater for five years; there’s a whole lot more freshness and drive, with lots of crunchy mid-weight reds and textural but vibrant whites; and there are makers redefining the classics with subtle turns of the screw, finessing the familiar into new and exciting territory.

Above: After travelling as a winemaker, Tillie Johnston always dreamed of returning home to the Yarra Valley and starting her own wine label, where she controls her wine from soil to bottle. Opposite: Tom Daniel's Chouette ruins the "old school" image of Swan Valley.

People’s Choice voting and prizes

If you want to have your say on who is Australia’s best winemaker, the People’s Choice voting is live online via this link. Everyone that votes will go into a draw to win a Liebherr wine cellar and a year’s supply of wines (52 bottles) from the 2021 Top 50 winemakers.

People’s Choice voting will be open until Monday 24 May. Go to this link.

In 2021, 30 winemakers are new to the list of Top 50 finalists. Here is the complete list of 50 finalists:

South Australia

Sam Berketa, Alpha Box & Dice (McLaren Vale / Adelaide Hills)
David Caporaletti, Architects of Wine (Adelaide Hills)
Sam Dunlevy, Berg Herring (McLaren Vale)
Koen Janssens, Bink (Barossa Valley / Clare Valley)
Charlotte Hardy, Charlotte Dalton (Kangaroo Island / Langhorne Creek)
Aaron Fenwick, Chateau Comme Ci Comme Ca (Adelaide Hills)
Duncan Lloyd, Coriole (McLaren Vale)
Andrew Wardlaw, Edenflo (Eden Valley)
Riley Harrison, Harrison (McLaren Vale / Barossa Valley)
Lauren Hansen, Penley Estate (Coonawarra)
Jack Weedon, Rollick (Barossa Valley / Riverland)
Daniel Graham, Sigurd Wines (Adelaide Hills / Barossa Valley)
Charlie O’Brien, Silent Noise (McLaren Vale)
Benjamin Caldwell & Mauricio Ruiz Cantu, Somos (McLaren Vale / Adelaide Hills)
Sven Joschke, Sven Joschke (Adelaide Hills / Barossa Valley)
Nick & Rebecca Dugmore, The Stoke Wines (Kangaroo Island)
Turon White, Turon (Adelaide Hills)
Anita Goode, Wangolina (Mount Benson)
Chad Connolly, White Gate Wine Co (Barossa Valley)
Louis Schofield, Worlds Apart Wines (McLaren Vale / Eden Valley)
Luke Growden, Year Wines (McLaren Vale)

Victoria

James & Jessica Audas, A.R.C Wines (Gippsland)
Stuart Dudine, Alkimi (Yarra Valley)
Hadyn Black, Black & Ginger (Great Western)
Gabriel O’Brien, Cavedon Wines (King Valley)
Ryan Ponsford, Entropy (Gippsland)
Jean-Paul Trijsburg, Jean-Paul (Heathcote)
Glen Hayley, Kooyong & Port Phillip Estate (Mornington Peninsula)
Oliver Rapson & Renata Morello, Lyons Will Estate (Macedon Ranges)
Matthew Purbrick, Minimum (Central Victoria)
Jayden Ong, Moonlit Forest (Yarra Valley / Gippsland / Mornington Peninsula)
Ben Mullen, Mulline (Geelong)
Etienne Mangier, North (Macedon Ranges)
David Verheul, Saison (Victoria)
Natillie Johnston, Tillie J (Yarra Valley)
James Scarcebrook, Vino Intrepido (Heathcote / Mornington Peninsula)
Raquel Jones, Weathercraft (Beechworth)
Ben Ranken, Wilimee (Macedon Ranges)

NSW/ACT

Daniel Payne, Dirt Candy Wine (Hunter Valley)
Will Gilbert, Gilbert (Orange)
Nathan Brown, Linear Wines (Canberra District)
Jacob Carter, Sholto (Canberra District)

Tasmania

Max Marriott, Anim
Luke Monks, Made by Monks
Marco Lubiana, Marco Lubiana
Greer Carland, Quiet Mutiny

Western Australia

Natasha Arthur, Arthur Wines (Margaret River)
Tom Daniel, Chouette (Swan Valley)
Ryan O’Meara, Express Winemakers (Great Southern)

Queensland

Andrew Scott, La Petite Mort (Granite Belt)

 

This year, joining the trophies – Young Gun of Wine, Best New Act, People’s Choice, Winemaker’s Choice and Danger Zone – is a new trophy which celebrates makers that also lovingly tend to the land and the vines that they make wine from. Trophy winners will be announced Monday 24 May.

The Young Gun of Wine Awards is presented with thanks to Amorim Cork, James Morgan, Liebherr, MCC, Parallax, Portavin, Riedel, WBM and Vintrace.

The 2021 Top 50 finalists can also be seen as a group via this page.