Australia’s Top 50 Vineyards in 2022

9 December 2022. Words by YGOW.

The 2022 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.

“As thousands of Australian grape growers and winemakers struggle with the most sodden start to the growing season they’ve ever experienced – not to mention the flood devastation suffered by many, and the ongoing fallout from the pandemic – it’s good to be reminded that many vignerons across the country are also looking beyond the here-and-now, to long-term sustainability, regeneration and exciting quality improvements in their vineyards,” said awards panellist Max Allen. “The 50 finalists in this, the third Vineyard of the Year Awards, show that the spirits of resilience and innovation and custodianship are alive and well in our viticultural community, despite all the challenges hurled at it by Mother Nature and world events.”

To judge the awards, a group of leading experts on viticulture were enlisted to personally review all the applicants. Dan Falkenberg, Kerry DeGaris, Kim Chalmers and Melissa Brown 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.

“As thousands of Australian grape growers and winemakers struggle with the most sodden start to the growing season they’ve ever experienced – not to mention the flood devastation suffered by many, and the ongoing fallout from the pandemic – it’s good to be reminded that many vignerons across the country are also looking beyond the here-and-now, to long-term sustainability, regeneration and exciting quality improvements in their vineyards.”

“We all know great wines start in the vineyard, and so do sustainable and regenerative philosophies,” said awards panellist Melissa Brown. “Our soils, and the biodiversity within and surrounding it, we nurture not only for the vines that grow upon it, but also for the improvement of the land for future generations. These awards are important because not only do they highlight our great vineyards and the fruit they produce, but they especially recognise the significance of these vines being farmed sustainably. Congratulations to the Top 50 – all worthy winners!”

The 50 finalists in the 2021 Vineyard of the Year Awards include 26 from South Australia, 10 from Victoria, seven from New South Wales/ACT, one from Tasmania four from Western Australia, one from Tasmania, and – in our third edition of these awards – our first from Queensland.

Over the coming months, ygowstaging.wpengine.com will release a profile of each of these vineyards, and the viticulturists/growers behind them.

Dan Falkenberg was last year’s Vineyard of the Year trophy winner with Eden Hall Vineyard. He joined the panel this year. “The implementation of regenerative and biological farming uptake amongst the entrants is growing across all regions, and the understanding of environmental stewardship to restore landscape function woven into viticulture is truly inspirational.”

We have growers nurturing old vines

We have finalists that are caring for old vines, some are those they planted themselves that have reached significant maturity and are now tended to by two generations of vignerons. Others are picking up the legacy from generations past to care for 19th century vines – some of the oldest in the world.

Historic vineyards are being rescued

We have a grower that is rescuing a mothballed vineyard, saving historic vines and precious genetic material while pursuing the making of wines of both purpose and sense of place.

Rising from the ashes

Savagely affected by the 2019/20 bushfires, Kangaroo Island is unbowed, with one of our vignerons intent on continuing their mission to celebrate it as rare wine-growing territory. And they’re doing that through a regenerative approach, with soil health a priority.

Growers are using technology to reduce their footprint

Technology, once associated with the industrialisation of wine, is now somewhat of a saviour. Ag-tech is being used for precision farming, which reduces diesel use and compaction from unnecessary tractor passes. Targeted water and nutrition applications result in reduced overall inputs, healthier vines and fruit, and better wine. It’s also giving viticulturists at large vineyards the ability to have a small vineyard mentality, fine-tuning the needs of micro-parcels identified through satellite or drone mapping.

Vineyards are being turned into carbon sinks

Regenerative agriculture is seeing many growers move towards carbon neutrality, and in some cases push well into being carbon negative. And it’s not just between the rows, with non-vineyard land receiving just as much focus by replanting native vegetation, increasing fauna populations and reinstating natural waterways.

More and more growers are going off grid

Solar panels are an increasingly common sight at vineyards, with growers working to internalise all their power needs, going off-grid, or drastically reducing their dependence.

Natural pest and weed control take the lead

Growers are banishing chemical pest and weed control, enlisting ducks and chickens to control snails and other pests. Microbat boxes, insects attracted to increased biodiversity and habitat for natural predators are completing the picture. Sheep and other livestock are also being introduced to keep grasses down, minimising the need for mechanised weeding or mowing, which reduces diesel use, soil compaction and minimises labour that could be best allocated to other tasks.

For the birds

A perennial problem for growers pre-harvest is the ripening fruit attracting birds. They’re hanging up the shotgun and leaving cumbersome nets in the shed, instead turning to drones and lasers to scare off aerial pests, while raptor perches are attracting natural predators, which are somewhat more intimidating than scarecrows.

Closing the loop

More and more growers are working to close the loop, relying on ‘waste’ products, from water to compost to packaging, to cycle back into their system, with external inputs drastically reduced, and, in some cases, all but eliminated.

Soil takes the lead

Soil health is in the spotlight, with growers better understanding what is beneath their feet and how it impacts vine health, biodiversity, mycorrhizal activity and wine quality. 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.

Economic diversity

It’s no secret that growing wine grapes is not the easiest way to make a living, and some growers are insulating themselves with practices that also benefit the vines. Rotational grazing provides weed and grass control, adds nutrition back into the soil through droppings and provides an income stream from the grazing animals.

Everything old…

Continuing a theme that we’ve seen over the last few years, growers are planting climate-apt varieties, as well as better matching vine to site, whether they be emerging or established varieties. Of late, though, growers have started to celebrate the old and the almost forgotten, with varieties like pedro ximénez, carignan and cinsault emerging from the shadows.

Legends still breaking new ground

Amongst a slew of names that may be new or only passingly familiar to most, a group of industry legends are also part of the Top 50. They’re some of the most famous names in Australian wine, trailblazers, pioneers… call them what you will, but they’re not taking things easy, continually striving to make better wine through a deep passion for the land and its best-practise stewardship.

Vanya Cullen with harvested cabernet sauvignon grapes during vintage

Dr Kerry DeGaris, with a PhD in grapevines, said, “It’s exciting to read the passion for the rejuvenation of vineyard soils that many entrants were able to relay through their applications. So long the poor cousin to ‘other’ vineyard assets that regularly undergo renovation, it’s pleasing to see the diversity of treatments being trialled and becoming mainstream.”

Falkenberg concluded, “It is truly inspiring to see the great effort and passion that viticulturists relate to producing wines of distinct character and unique complexity. The combination of emerging new and old viticultural practices, innovation, resourcefulness and collaboration are unique characteristics that strengthen and enable grape-growing communities to contribute and play a key role in maintaining a sustainable industry.”

Beside celebrating the achievements of 2022’s Top 50, there are four trophies to be awarded, with the winners announced by June 2023.

The Vineyard of the Year Awards are brought together with support and the shared vision of our partners: Corteva, Netafim, Nutrien Ag Solutions, Roundwood Solutions, Stoller and Wine Guns for Hire.

More information about the 2022 Vineyard of the Year Awards can be seen via this link.

The 2022 Vineyard of the Year Awards Top 50 can be seen via this link.

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