The Fourth Annual Vineyard of the Year Awards Trophy Winners

20 June 2024. Words by YGOW.

The annual Vineyard of the Year Awards have been decided, with the trophy winners for the fourth instalment announced at a trophy presentation in Melbourne. It was a unique gathering of growers from around Australia that included pioneering legends like Brian Freeman and David Paxton alongside emerging viticulturists. There were agricultural college alumni and vintage hands reunited after decades apart, while for all who gathered, new friendships were made. It was an evening to celebrate the work of all the finalists, culminating in the presentation of four trophies.

“Gathering with so many inspiring winegrowers for this year’s awards was truly wonderful,” said Max Allen. “This event is all about forging connections: linking wine enthusiasts with the vineyards where our finest wines are produced; highlighting the dedication that goes into growing grapes and its impact on the flavours and quality of the wine we enjoy; and bringing together passionate, hardworking, and thoughtful viticulturists, vignerons, and vineyard managers to share knowledge, learn from each other, and continually strive for improvement.”

“Making connections is what this event is all about: connecting wine lovers with the places where our top wine are grown; strengthening the link between all the hard work that goes into growing grapes with the flavours and quality of the wine in our glass; and bringing passionate, hard-working, deep-thinking viticulturists, vignerons and vineyard managers together, to talk, learn and encourage each other to continually improve what they do."

The Vineyard of the Year Awards were founded to bring vineyards and their stewards into the limelight, to celebrate the tireless work amongst the vines, the special sites, and the commitment to sustainability on all levels. The judging panel consisted of Max Allen, Dr Colin McBryde (Adelina), Dr Kerry DeGaris, Richard Leask (Hither & Yon) and Prue Henschke (Henschke). They were supported by our vineyard inspectors: John Whiting, Chris Penfold, Andrew Pirie and Penny Flannery.

A rigorous process of analysing all applications, including thorough site visits to shortlisted finalists, was undertaken over the last nine months, with the judging panel reaching a consensus on the winners of the four trophies: New Vineyard of the Year; Old Vineyard of the Year; Innovative Vineyard of the Year, dubbed ‘The Groundbreaker’; and Vineyard of the Year.

While the winners in the four categories have all demonstrated that they’re more than worthy of the accolades, it was a close-run race. Indeed, all the finalists are equally deserving of high praise for the lengths they go to on each of their unique patches of dirt.

Congratulations go to all the finalists – their profiles can be seen here. These are the trophy winners for the fourth annual edition:

New Vineyard of the Year – Syrahmi Home Block Vineyard, Heathcote (Victoria).

Planted in 2017, and set in a north facing amphitheatre amongst giant granite boulders, decomposed granite with no clay, and a light 15 cm to 30cm topsoil, Foster’s dedication to shiraz is reflected in his choice to grow three distinct shiraz clones – PT10, 2626, and Mt Langi – planted just under 3,000 vines in the block – making it somewhere around 9,000 vines per hectare density – aiming to coax the ultimate expression from each vine.

“I told my wife Pip that I never wanted to plant a vineyard or build a winery. It didn’t make economic sense to me at the time,” says Foster, the former chef who turned his hand to winemaking after having been bitten hard by the wine bug. “But then when we stumbled across our property in Tooborac, and planting the home block was a no brainer. The granitic soils love shiraz.”

Foster’s viticultural practices are grounded in environmental sensitivity. A no-till policy preserves soil structure and encourages biodiversity, fostering an environment where mycorrhizal fungi thrive, enhancing vine health and resilience. The strategic use of straw mulch under the vines suppresses weeds naturally, retains moisture, and contributes to the organic matter that nourishes the soil.

“A combination of factors make this vineyard distinctive,” suggests Foster, “but the ones that stand out are the east to west aspect combined with close planting in an amphitheatre and using the poussard method of pruning. We prune and lay down only one arm on the cordon wire and from this we aim to get 4-5 shoots. From these shoots we aim for one bunch per shoot which equates to, on average, 600-800gm per vine of quality fruit.”

Above: Syrahmi Home Block Vineyard in Heathcote is an amphitheatre amongst giant granite boulders. Opposite: Andrew George at Yarra Yering.

Old Vineyard of the Year, Yarra Yering, Yarra Valley (VIC).

Established in 1969 by Dr. Bailey Carrodus, the Yarra Yering vineyard emerged before the modern viticulture industry in Yarra Valley took shape, marking it as a true pioneer of modern Yarra Valley. With Andrew George at the helm of viticulture for more than a decade now, this dry-grown, 28-hectare historic vineyard is evolving with consideration of a changing climate and sustainable practices. It boasts an especially diverse array of grape varieties in the context of the Yarra Valley, from classic chardonnay and pinot noir, through to a number of the more exotic, including alvarelhão, tinta amarela, and sousao, to name a few. The site grows truly iconic wines, made today by Sarah Crowe, such as their Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, their ‘Dry Red Wine’ range, and their ultra-premium ‘Carrodus’ range.

“Dr Bailey Carrodus, Yarra Yering founder, started planting along the gentle slopes of the Yarra Valley in 1969”, says Andrew George. “He was a visionary and an incredibly talented vigneron. He had spent time travelling in France, Spain, Portugal and Italy prior to finding the now Yarra Yering site, and was searching for a piece of land that would be suitable for the wines he had grown to love.”

Yarra Yering is renowned for its dry-grown philosophy, eschewing irrigation to tap into the deep, natural resilience and quality of the vines. “We’ve been trialling the use of composts and mulch in the vineyard for a while now and have absolutely seen the benefits of water retention. Water is left in the soil, available to the vines, rather than evaporating from the soil surface. For a dry-grown vineyard, this has been really successful. We’ve seen a huge difference in the vines since employing this program, in both increased water retention and improved soil health.”

Innovative Vineyard of the Year, dubbed ‘The Groundbreaker’, Starrs Reach Vineyard, Riverland (SA).

The Riverland has long been the bulk wine heart of South Australia, with growers churning out cheap fruit pumped up with irrigation. And while the region will likely always serve this function, the script is being rewritten by players like Starrs Reach, who both sell premium fruit and make wine under their own label. Sheridan Alm runs the operation with a focus on minimal inputs, sustainability and restoring non-vineyard land, including Mallee scrub, wetlands and floodplains. With grenache and mataro core varieties, Alm is intent on proving that the Riverland can focus on quality on a large scale, growing grapes that suit modern wine styles that focus on bright fruit flavours and freshness.

The irrigation system is the lifeblood of Starrs Reach, with live data from weather stations, digital imaging and soil probes combined with live analysis of current usage, water budgets and market information to direct the best timing and quantity of applications. “Irrigation is completely automated and soil moisture monitoring and smart scheduling technology allow water inputs to be micro-managed to allow optimal productivity and enhanced fruit flavour and composition,” says Alm.

Aside from vines across the vineyard, the family care for 80 hectares of Murray River floodplain and heritage-listed Mallee Highland vegetation across their holdings. The 50 hectares of floodplain, 30 hectares of Mallee Highland vegetation and kilometre of river frontage at Starrs Reach are being restored under the EcoVineyard program through revegetation, restoration of waterways, removal of grazing and control of animal and insect pests.

Above: Sheridan Alm at Starrs Reach Vineyard. Opposite: Erinn Klein and his wife, Janet, planted the Summit Vineyard at a density of 6,600 vines per hectare on their biodynamic certified property in the Adelaide Hills.

Vineyard of the Year, Ngeringa – Summit Vineyard, Adelaide Hills (SA).

Erinn Klein and his wife, Janet, planted the Summit Vineyard at a density of 6,600 vines per hectare on his family’s property in 2001–02. Aside from being a site of excellent potential, biodynamic farming principles had been in place for over a decade, with certification coming in 1993. That property houses the herb farm at the core of the family’s Jurlique skin-care brand, providing botanicals for their products. The approach that underscores the herb farm was always going to be central to the Kleins’ vision, who run the Ngeringa brand together from the ground up, making wine on site as well as running livestock, growing vegetables and tirelessly revegetating the native environment.

The 2-hectare Summit Vineyard, which sits at around 360 metres, is planted to chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah, fiano, gamay and pink semillon.

“Ngeringa is at the base of the Mount Barker Summit, an ancient place steeped in culture and lore,” says Klein. “The tops of our slopes look out over the Murray Mouth in the distance, and in return, the afternoon ocean breezes cool the vineyard, preserving flavour, acids and complementing the warmer, ripening mornings.”

The pair manage three vineyards across two properties – two kilometres apart – in the Adelaide Hills, along with running Scottish Highland cattle, sheep and chickens, along with extensive biodynamic vegetable gardens, with the produce sold to top Adelaide restaurants and the public. The holistic approach also sees 80 per cent of their power needs coming via solar, while they have an ongoing program to return clear-felled parts to native bushland, having planted up to 1,500 trees every year since 2008.

Above: together, the four vineyard trophies form a sculpture of the soil horizons underneath the surface of a vineyard. Opposite: Adam Foster (Syrahmi), Andrew George (Yarra Yering), Sheridan Alm (Starrs Reach) and Erinn Klein (Ngeringa).

Once again, the awards process was a tightly contested affair, with so many worthy contenders in each category. And that’s what’s at the core of these awards, a celebration of the innovative, progressive and environmentally conscious practices employed in every aspect of managing a vineyard, from the soil right to the glass of wine in your hand. These are the people that are farming better to make great wine reflective of place, and they’re farming better to contribute to a better, more sustainable future.

Applications for the next edition, the 2024 Vineyard of the Year Awards, will open by July 2024.

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