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Australia’s Top 50 Vineyards in 2021

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2 December 2021. Words by YGOW.

The 2021 Vineyard of the Year Awards Top 50 has just landed.

The Vineyard of the Year Awards were created in 2020 to place vineyards across the nation at the heart of the Australian wine story, and the heart of the Australian wine community.

With over 6,000 grape-growers, picking the top vineyards in Australia is no easy task. Inundated with entries, the judges narrowed the field to the 50 that best exemplified the values of sustainability, innovation, provenance and growing great wine.

“There’s so much great work being done in vineyards across the country,” said awards panellist Max Allen, “and wine drinkers still don’t hear about it often enough – but we’re trying to change that!”

To judge the awards, a group of leading experts on viticulture were enlisted to personally review all the applicants. Dr Catherine Kidman, Mark Walpole, Dr Mary Retallack and Lee Haselgrove joined Max Allen in arriving at a very exciting Top 50.

That we can showcase 50 such diverse and inspiring vineyards is a testament to the strength of Australia’s grape-growing community. These vineyards are the source of some the best wines in Australia.

“In the vineyard is where the magic happens!” said awards panellist Dr Mary Retallack. “This is our opportunity to celebrate the innovative and regenerative approaches being taken to produce exceptional grape quality, which is reflected in stunning wines while nurturing the soil, vines and landscapes with an ecological focus. The wine community relies on the commitment and inspiration that starts in the vineyard. We have a lot to be thankful for and celebrate!”

“The panel were struck again this year by the detailed focus and commitment of so many growers across Australia – whether it’s focusing on capturing subtle terroir differences across a larger block of vines or responding to the challenges of climate change; whether it’s establishing a visionary new vineyard or maintaining the health and viability of century-old vines; whether it’s applying the latest technology or re-introducing ancient grape-farming methods, there are many inspirational stories out there.”

The history of Vineyard of the Year Awards finalists (2020 and 2021) can be seen via this link.

The 50 finalists in the 2021 Vineyard of the Year Awards include 20 from South Australia, 11 from Victoria, eight from New South Wales/ACT, seven from Tasmania and four from Western Australia.

Over the next two months, younggunofwine.com will release a profile of each of these vineyards, and the viticulturists/growers behind them.

“It is possible to grow amazing quality fruit while nurturing the land, and they are mutually compatible processes,” continued Retallack. “Consumers are increasingly interested to learn about ways we are demonstrating environmental stewardship. We are well placed to share these insights and stories with our customers – the proof is in the bottle. The VOTY finalists are leading the way and the future of wine growing is truly exciting!”

Lee Haselgrove was last year’s Vineyard of the Year trophy winner with Swinney Vineyard. He joined the panel this year. “Seeing such a combination of practices being undertaken in the pursuit of producing complex and engaging wines – via diversity in clones, soils, sites, planting densities, etc. – through the energy and efforts of the top growers was truly inspiring,” he said, reflecting on some of his outtakes of the judging. “Organic farming is no longer niche and some of the new vineyards are absolutely inspiring.”

There are finalists from all over the country

We have finalist from right across the country, both from iconic old regions, like the Hunter and Barossa Valleys, to those marquee regions that are a little newer on the scene, like Margaret River and Beechworth. But we’ve also got finalists from those regions less known, like New England, and ones that are yet to be officially declared, such as those of Tasmania, as well as growers defying the bulk wine reputation of places like the Riverland to grow exemplary premium-quality grapes.

Growers are learning about their soil in intricate detail

There are growers learning about their soils at an almost microscopic level. One finalist has sunk over 160 soil pits to map changes in geology across their site, uncovering the reasons for significant changes in fruit and wine flavours across those nuances. There are those taking detailed learnings about their patch to plant varieties most suited, and that’s not just about climate and soil, but they’re drilling down on localised wind conditions.

We have custodians of history

Amongst the finalists, there are custodians of historic sites, some with vines over 160 years old, but there are also custodians of old winegrowing traditions, lessons learnt over many generations – seven, in one instance –about caring for the earth that are being combined with a regenerative approach to make their properties ever better, year on year.

Growers are working with nature

Growers are managing pest populations naturally by installing raptor perches and bat boxes, encouraging beneficial predators. They are also introducing dung beetles to the soil to increase nutrient cycling and open the soil structure, improving aeration and water-holding capacity.

There are finalists closing the loop

We have so many finalists that are working to keep all operations onsite. They are processing their own wastewater, making all their own compost and mulch, going off-grid, and even feeding renewable energy back into the system. There are growers reducing their water use and sequestering more carbon than they produce.

There are growers working with diverse varieties

The Top 50 has pioneers of alternative varieties in this country, working with the climate rather than against it to find the most suitable vines. Those grapes are ones that tolerate heat or are resistant to disease, grapes that better make wine that is naturally balanced without having to tinker in the winery.

Growers are focusing on community and culture

Sustainability isn’t just about the immediate physical environment. We have growers that are connecting with the traditional owners of their lands and learning through a First Nations lens, as well as taking visitors on cultural tours led by senior custodians. We have growers that actively share findings and information with their community to grow together, and we have those that involve their staff in land-care projects in public areas.

Technology is being used to care for the land better

Growers are introducing electric vehicles to reduce diesel use, and they are managing biosecurity risks through digitally monitored boundaries. They are using digital mapping of their sites to establish areas of the vineyards that may require more or less water, targeted compost and mulch applications or tailored vine management.

Retallack added, “I was absolutely inspired by the holistic approach that winegrowers are taking to fully integrate their practices, nurture the soil, vines and surrounding ecology while minimising intervention. Smart decision making saves time and resources, and this demonstrates a confidence in growing wine grapes that comes with experience and observing the land. The sharing of these valuable insights accelerates practice change, celebrates regenerative approaches and everyone benefits.”

Allen concluded, “The panel were struck again this year by the detailed focus and commitment of so many growers across Australia – whether it’s focusing on capturing subtle terroir differences across a larger block of vines or responding to the challenges of climate change; whether it’s establishing a visionary new vineyard or maintaining the health and viability of century-old vines; whether it’s applying the latest technology or re-introducing ancient grape-farming methods, there are many inspirational stories out there.”

Beside celebrating the achievements of 2021’s Top 50, there are four trophies to be awarded, with the winners announced in February 2022.

The Vineyard of the Year Awards are brought together with thanks to partners Corteva, FMR Group, Netafim, Nutrien Ag Solutions, Roundwood Solutions, Stoller and Wine Guns for Hire.

More information about the 2021 Vineyard of the Year Awards can be seen via this link.

The history of Vineyard of the Year Awards finalists (2020 and 2021) can be seen via this link.

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