This year marks the 17th 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 approaches to wine, for mavericks, and for those whose commitment to their vision helps lead the way. These winemakers are forming a new fabric in Australia’s wine culture and community. The annual list has become the go-to guide for drinkers looking for cutting-edge wines and the stories behind them. And now, the time has come to reveal our Top winemakers for 2023.
“When we first started the Young Gun of Wine Awards in 2007, the premise was about making wine more relevant to young adults,” said founder Rory Kent. “Then it quickly became about providing a platform for young winemaking projects. While it’s always fascinating to spot the new trends that emerge each year, I think what’s really striking now is to see the immense depth and diversity of the projects – people’s journeys into and through wine – and how the layers in the community and culture continue to build.
“Australian wine today looks nothing like it did in 2007 – be it the grape varieties grown, or the winemaking techniques used, or the fashion in which wine is presented and engaged with. Reading through the profiles of this year’s winemakers shows just that.”
The finalists in this year’s awards were selected from a long list of entrants. Over two days of intensive judging, a panel of leading industry figures from across the country tasted their way through the wines to select who was in the running for the six trophies: Young Gun of Wine, Best New Act, People’s Choice, Winemaker’s Choice, Danger Zone, and the Vigneron.
Rory Kent was joined on the 2023 judging panel by Ben Ranken of Wilimee (the inaugural YGOWA Vigneron trophy winner); Jeremy Shiell from Winespeake; Meg Brodtmann MW; wine critic Nick Stock; Abby Moret of Atlas Vinifera; Sophie Carbonneau, National Sales Manager Bibendum Wine Co.; and Ryan Ponsford from Entropy Wines, the 2022 Young Gun of Wine.
“We are now seeing sophisticated and considered projects that are so well executed. We have here wines that are shaping the leading edge of Australian wine and enhancing its perception and reputation.”
All applicants submitted wines that were all tasted and discussed at length, but their project and its achievements and aspirations as well as their place in their region and the broader wine landscape were given equal airtime.
“With winemakers submitting two wines that are tasted side by side, and not blind, the YGOW judging process is totally unique,” said Master of Wine, Meg Brodtmann. “It was my first time on this panel, and I loved how assessing the wine takes everything into consideration. Obviously, the wine in the glass needs to be delicious, but the conversation about the maker and their place in the Australian wine story and all the context around that, is so beneficial. At times, the panel challenged one another’s thinking about wine – it was quite a forum for fostering creative projects.”
“I was really impressed by the high quality of the submissions; there are some really exciting things happening here in a global context,” said Moret. “One of my favourite themes was makers just having a go with varieties that may have an uncool reputation – like semillon, viognier, gewürztraminer, sauvignon blanc – without inhibitions. They’re crafting great products with under-utilised grapes. It’s a chance for revival for these varieties, and an opportunity to see their potential in the hands of enterprising and bold producers.”
“At times, the panel challenged one another’s thinking about wine – it was a quite a forum for fostering creative projects.”
“This has always been a highly competitive field but what we are seeing now is a shift in the quality and resonance of this emerging winemaker group,” concluded Stock. “We are now seeing sophisticated and considered projects that are so well executed. Through these makers, we not only see a greater bandwidth of possibility being explored, but at the same time, the styles and concepts are being explored with such focus and precision. It’s so inspiring. We have here wines that are shaping the leading edge of Australian wine and enhancing its perception and reputation.”
We have career winemakers and others abandoning careers for winemaking
We have career makers who fell in love with wine from early on, to those that had the lights switched on and tumbled headlong into the world of wine, abandoning more lucrative paths. The finalists include a Collins Street lawyer, a corporate accountant gone rogue and an established artist that returned to the family vineyard, while there are also makers taking the baton from established stars and rewriting the narrative.
Makers are honouring the past
We have a finalist honouring the garage winemaking of the parents, celebrating the lo-fi methods and harking back to their heritage, including a new take on Retsina (traditional Greek method of infusing wine with pine resin), while also exploring new territory. We have makers with multi-generational legacies sensitively reshaping the image of hero varieties of their region, and we have those that are bringing long grape-growing histories to the foreground, fashioning wines that break the regional norms.
We have sommeliers jumping the fence
It’s not unusual that sommeliers dabble in making wine, but the story is shifting, with fine dining somms embracing everyday expressions, chasing immediacy and pure engagement, pushing against elitism. They’re championing ‘unfashionable’ varieties and delivering democratic value.
Makers are shrinking their carbon footprint
We have makers going all in on alt-packaging, embracing bag-in-the-box options and cans, eschewing glass entirely. In the process, fossil fuel use, volume of waste and CO2 emissions are squashed. We also have vignerons turning their land into carbon sinks, while also switching off the mains power and water and going totally off grid.
We have makers narrowing in and those casting the net
There are makers taking single varieties and testing their limits, while others riff on a roster of the classics. There are others dabbling in emerging stars or making eclectic blends to fashion new styles that fit better with the way we eat, drink and make merry.
They’re making wine from the ground up
Whether leased or owned outright, we have more makers farming the land to make better wine. They’re crafting wines from the ground up, investing in soil health, biodiversity and kicking inorganic chemicals to the curb. And for those that don’t lease or own the sites they work from, they’re working hand in glove with growers to farm better.
Emerging varieties are taking centre stage
While established varieties are still strong, emerging grapes are taking big strides, making wines of distinctly individual character. Those grapes are also finding pockets where they thrive, matching the changing climate to flourish in the heat and rely less on irrigation and other inputs.
There are new labels and those reimagined
We have makers going out on their own, risking it all. And we have others reshaping established brands as employees, taking on a legacy and shaping a new future.
Try the wines, People’s Choice voting and prizes
If you want to have your say on who is Australia’s best winemaker, you can purchase the winemakers’ wines via the Finestro cellar door platform.
People’s Choice online voting is 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 2023 finalists.
People’s Choice voting will be open until Monday 19 June.
In 2023, 24 winemakers are new to the list of finalists. Here is the complete list:
On Tuesday October 13th, Taras Ochota (2013 Young Gun of Wine) parted with this world after a long illness, leaving behind Amber, his beloved partner in wine and life, and his adored children, Sage and Anouk.
These awards are a celebration of viticulture, and it is through the championing of all the top vineyards and their growers, that we can elevate the awareness of the grower in the wines we love. This collective industry benefit is the great outcome of these awards, and the path forward is through participation. So, we’re calling all winegrowers to step forward.
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