The Second Annual Vineyard of the Year Awards Winners

1 March 2022. Words by YGOW.

The second instalment of the annual Vineyard of the Year Awards has been decided, with the trophy winners announced in a virtual trophy presentation on Monday night.

A rigorous process of analysing all applications, including thorough site visits to shortlisted finalists, was undertaken over the last six months, with the judging panel reaching a consensus on the winner 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.

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, Lee Haselgrove, Dr Catherine Kidman, Dr Mary Retallack and Mark Walpole. They were supported by our vineyard inspectors: Rhys Fitzgerald, Kellie Graham, Liz Riley, Nigel Squire, John Whiting and Michael Zerk.

“Once again, judging the Vineyard of the Year Awards was a frustrating joy: there were so many worthy, exciting, inspiring entries it was very hard to limit ourselves to just four,” said Max Allen. “At a time when the wine community is facing so many immediate challenges, from the pressures of vintage to the pandemic fallout to the shifting sands of global export markets, it’s great to be reminded of the long view – all the hard work being done in vineyards across Australia to build resilience, amplify terroir and foster diversity.”

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.

“The most inspiring thing I observed was the contagious passion and in-depth knowledge the growers have for their sites,” said vineyard inspector Kellie Graham. “They have a truly heartfelt responsibility and custodianship for the land and their communities. After years of nurturing and understanding their vineyards, growing exceptional fruit seems like the perfect icing on the cake. They continue to seek knowledge and understanding of their vineyard’s capacity, and this is what makes them continually produce uniquely distinctive wines…”

Congratulations goes to all the Top 50 finalists – their profiles can be seen here. These are the trophy winners for the 2021 edition:

New Vineyard of the Year – Mewstone, D’Entrecasteaux Channel (Tasmania), managed by viticulturist Luke Andree.

In Tasmania’s cool deep south, Jonny and Matthew Hughes’ Mewstone is just a decade old, but it’s made quite the impression in its short life, with the wines receiving plaudits from all corners. The core of the Mewstone operation is a vineyard-first philosophy, with the site part way through its organic conversion. That transition is important, but the vineyard has always been farmed with a deep focus on soil health and microbial life, while non-vineyard land has been progressively regenerated, with the biodiversity significantly enhanced since the brothers took over the old cherry orchard. Managed by Luke Andree, the site is well on the way to being a closed-loop operation, and the pursuit of wine quality and terroir reflection is an ongoing project. Plantings of different varieties and clones are arrayed across a range of aspects, orientations and soil variations to uncover the most compelling expressions. It’s a unique, isolated site with a team that has vision and determination in equal measure.

Opposite: Mewstone vineyard on the banks of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. Above: Prue and Stephen Henschke at Hill of Grace vineyard with their Grandfather vines dating back to 1860..

Old Vineyard of the Year – Henschke’s Hill of Grace vineyard, Eden Valley (SA), under the stewardship of viticulturist Prue Henschke.

Henschke’s Hill of Grace vineyard is arguably Australia’s most famous and most revered, with an enviable resource of ancient and very old vines, and a signature of site that threads though the wines that is undeniable. It’s not an operation solely resting on the past, though, with Prue Henschke planning decades in advance by propagating vine material from the “Grandfathers” to one day make the top grade for the ‘Hill of Grace’ bottling. It’s an investment to not just preserve this iconic site for future generations, but also to maintain everything that makes it so special – from soil to vines. Add in tireless manual farming that employs some biodynamic practices with a focus in soil health and biodiversity – both in the vineyard and on the surrounding land – and Henscke are worthy winners of the Old Vineyard of the Year trophy.

Innovative Vineyard of the Year, dubbed ‘The Groundbreaker’ – Alkina, Barossa Valley (SA), managed by Johnny Schuster and Amelia Nolan.

With the oldest vines dating back to 1955, Barossa Valley’s Alkina embarked on an extraordinary project in 2015 after Argentinian vigneron Alejandro Bulgheroni bought the property. That endeavour was to map the vineyard’s geology with Chilean terroir specialist Dr Pedro Parra by digging 160 soil pits. The findings were combined with electromagnetic conductivity scanning to provide a detailed three-dimensional map of the site. Individual micro-parcels were identified, and these ‘Polygons’ are both bottled separately and employed as building blocks for blends. That five-year project has yielded extraordinary results, with the wines further elevated by certified biodynamic farming and an approach in the winery that favours transparency over artefact. Alkina is a project built on both tradition and innovation, and it promises to be one of the Barossa’s brightest stars.

Opposite: One of the 160 pits dug at Alkina as part of their groundbreaking Polygon project. Above: viticulturist Dan Falkenberg at Eden Hall vineyard.

Vineyard of the Year – Eden Hall, Eden Valley (SA), managed by viticulturist Dan Falkenberg.

Eden Hall takes sustainability very seriously. The property is totally off grid, with power from a solar array, battery storage and no external water source. In fact, they even ensure that water flows from their dam into the local catchment to maintain local habitat. Some 20 species of native grasses thrive in the midrows, while waterways have been restored and bushland has been re-established through a native planting program. Extensive soil cores have been taken across the site, with viticulturist Dan Falkenberg working closely with winemaker Phil Lehmann to curate parcels with tailored pruning and nutrition programs to make the most expressive wines possible, which has seen the already lauded wines reaching even greater heights. Eden Hall is an incredibly thoughtful and meticulously run operation, with an ongoing quest to better care for their land and for the broader environment, while always striving to make site-reflective wines of the highest order.

While the four trophy winners have been announced, every finalist was a worthy contender, with the depth of special sites, innovative approaches, sustainability initiatives and peerless best-practice farming a testament to the incredibly high standard of viticulture in this country.

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

Applications for the next edition, the 2022 Vineyard of the Year Awards, will open in June 2022.

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