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The Top 50 Finalists in the Inaugural Vineyard of the Year Awards

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8 December 2020. Words by YGOW.

Vineyard of the Year is a national initiative of Young Gun of Wine, shining a light on our best vineyards and giving voice to the finest grape growers from right across the country.

The top 50 finalists have been selected based on the pursuit of fruit and wine quality, vine health, innovation, and sustainability – encompassing environmental, social and economic sustainability.

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 and criteria of these awards.

“It was super exciting and really encouraging to receive such a strong batch of entries,” said awards panellist Max Allen. “It’s so heartening, in a year when our lives have been mired in challenges, setbacks and uncertainty, to celebrate the resilience and long-term thinking and optimism demonstrated by this group of winegrowers.

“By focusing on the vineyards, on the places where wine comes from, and on the practices of sustainable grape growing, these awards can help recalibrate how we think about wine, shifting our perception of it from a liquid commodity in a glass to a cultural product of the country it’s from.”

“By focusing on the vineyards, on the places where wine comes from, and on the practices of sustainable grape growing, these awards can help recalibrate how we think about wine, shifting our perception of it from a liquid commodity in a glass to a cultural product of the country it’s from.”

To judge the awards, a group of leading experts on viticulture, agronomy and sustainability were enlisted to personally review all the applicants. Dr Mary Cole, Dr Mardi Longbottom, Mark Walpole, Dr Irina Santiago-Brown, Dr Peter Dry AM joined Max Allen in arriving at a very exciting Top 50.

“It was thrilling to visit each of these vineyards, albeit vicariously,” continued Allen, “and learn about all the hard work going into looking after the land, nurturing the health of the vines, and – most importantly – continually improving wine quality.”

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.

“Among the group of 50,” said Dr Santiago-Brown, “there is a trend of going away from scheduled sprays and many of them are choosing to use less harmful chemicals to try to create a healthier environment for a more ‘self-balanced’ vineyard, with beneficial insects, healthier and more alive soil, as well as being healthier for the people who work there. Many innovations are being used to reach this end… from more suitable grape varieties, to state-of-the-art technology to measure vine and soil status in order to make better decisions.”

Drone technology in use at Cape Mentelle.
Basket woven vines at Cirillo vineyard.

There are finalists going beyond organic

There are finalists going beyond organic, trying to eliminate the use even of copper and sulphur in their vineyards, while others are creating sanctuaries for microbats, which helps protect a dwindling native species, as well as naturally controlling invasive insect populations. There are growers using ducks to control endemic snail issues, while others have introduced beehives to help increase natural biodiversity and improve flowering. And one entrant even has the largest private planting of mallee eucalypts in their state.

Growers are also embracing innovation

Growers are also embracing innovation, with some using lasers to scare birds, leaving cumbersome nets in the shed and the shotgun on its rack. Air sampling technology is being employed to detect disease spores and direct action, rather than acting routinely. Some vineyards are powered solely by the sun’s energy, while others can remotely control vineyard irrigation from anywhere in the world.

Some are custodians of history

But the awards are as much about history as they are innovation, with some of our entrants caring for the oldest vines in Australia, and in the case of two growers, the oldest vines of their type anywhere in the world.

They represent all shapes and sizes

And the finalists are both large and small, from household names taking sustainability seriously on a scale that many thought impossible, to small growers who know the twist of every vine on their land. There are growers that supply grapes to many of our best cutting-edge makers, with one supplying over 50 winemakers, while others that make everything in-house. There is even one producer who has planted a vineyard at a jaw-dropping density of 33,000 vines per hectare in the pursuit of perfection.

They are adapting to a changing climate

We have many finalists adapting to a changing climate by planting grapes that suit their sites and conditions, and we have the pioneer in the field of sourcing, importing and propagating many of those vines, not to mention making industry-leading wines from them as well.

Ducks on pest patrol at Angove's Warboys Vineyard in McLaren Vale.
Four of the six generations of Hoffman family winegrowers.

It’s an incredibly exciting field, and it’s time the growers – whether they’re making their own wine or selling the fruit – were recognised.

“The appropriate recognition of our finest grapegrowers is well overdue,” said Dr Peter Dry, “and these awards address this situation. The significant advances in vineyard management over recent decades is highlighted in these finalists. The foundation has been laid for our industry to face, with modest confidence, the many challenges of the future.”

Here they are, the 50 finalists in the inaugural Vineyard of the Year. We have 22 from South Australia, 15 from Victoria, five from Western Australia, and four each from New South Wales/ACT and Tasmania.

The list of 50 can be seen via this link. Over the next two months, we will publish a profile of each of these vineyards, and the viticulturists/growers behind them.

Beside celebrating the achievements of the 2020’s Top 50, there are four trophies to be awarded, with the winners announced in March 2021.

The inaugural Vineyard of the Year Awards are brought together with thanks to partners FMR Group, Netafim, Nutrien, Roundwood Solutions, Stoller and Syngenta.

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