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.
“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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Designed to place vineyards and growers across the nation at the heart of the Australian wine story, and the heart of the Australian wine community, the 2022 Vineyard of the Year Awards – the third annual edition – is now open for registrations.
The Young Gun of Wine Awards – designed to celebrate and showcase both young wine labels and winemakers on the rise – is now open for registrations. Held every year since its inception in 2007, the Awards is now into its 15th consecutive year, with not even COVID interrupting the annual event.
In Vignette: Stories of Life & Wine in 100 Bottles, Jane Lopes takes the reader on a very personal journey through wine. In his foreword for Lopes’ book, Ben Shewry, the legendary chef-owner of Attica, talks about the awkwardness that he often felt around wine, as well as the talents of Lopes to quell that anxiety and allow him to finally “learn to love wine.” Shewry nicely captures, through his own lens, what it feels like to be a wine ‘outsider’ and how with the right guidance a new and sometimes magical world can be opened for us all.