Dylan Lee was at a self-confessed crossroads before he was offered a job at Bird in Hand, in the Adelaide Hills. Coming off seven or eight consecutive vintages, Lee found himself working outside the wine industry, and he was seriously considering deviating further as he struggled to find winemaking work after the 2010 harvest. That offer from Bird in Hand saw him in his first “real job” as a winemaker for the 2011 vintage, and a decade later he is the Senior Winemaker, and took out the 2019 Red Winemaker of the Year award at the London International Wine Challenge. Working across the classic varieties of the Hills, as well as a brace of Italians, Lee crafts wines across four ranges, from the aspirational Nest Egg and Tribute lines down to their accessible Two in the Bush collection.
Lee’s interest in wine started with horticulture, with a high school visit to a vineyard in Porongurup sparking a fascination with viticulture. A degree at the University of Western Australia followed, which Lee changed midstream to focus on oenology, finishing his degree at the University of Adelaide in 2007. He has worked vintages in the Swan Valley and Margaret River, as well as in the Northern Rhône, Niagara Peninsula and McLaren Vale.
That first job at Bird in Hand was well down the ladder, as a cellar hand, but he was promoted to Assistant Winemaker the following year, and took over the senior winemaking role in 2015. Lee works alongside Kym Milne MW (he became Australia’s second Master of Wine a few years after Michael Hill Smith), who he shared the IWC gong with, and credits Milne’s obsessive focus as a pivotal element of his growth as a winemaker.
“Kym has had a profound impact on not only my winemaking but also all the other stuff that comes with it. He is the kind of person that won’t stop until he gets a result and I think that’s helped me be more proactive as that isn’t necessarily in my nature!” he says.
Planted in 1997 on an old dairy farm in Woodside by the Nugent family, Bird in Hand’s first vintage was in 2001. “It’s a dynamic, aspirational winery and some incredible things have happened here in the last 10 years,” says Lee. Today, it has both developed as a winery of significance and a patron of the arts, with an on-site gallery, several collaborations, and a live music calendar that features some of Australia’s biggest acts.
Lee works with fruit from their 23-hectare Woodside estate, as well as from growers in the Mount Lofty Ranges and the Clare Valley, where they source a small parcel of riesling. The wines are very much in a classic mould, reflecting the fragrance and race of their cool climate location. Along with pinot noir (including their emblematic sparkling version), chardonnay, syrah, riesling, pinot gris and sauvignon blanc, nero d’avola, montepulciano and arneis appear in the Bird in Hand range.