Daniel Payne Dirt Candy

Top Winemakers

Although Daniel Payne dabbled in the wine industry in the early 2000s, while studying to be a primary school teacher in Newcastle, it took until 2017 for him to launch his own label. That initial experience was in the Hunter Valley, with Payne growing up just outside the region. A love for wine was well and truly enshrined then, but a career as a primary teacher stood in the way for several years, before the lure became too great, and Daniel enrolled at Charles Sturt University to study winemaking.

That degree took six years, and with several more vintages and three children under his belt, Payne and his wife, Jenni, produced four wines under their Dirt Candy brand in 2017. The following vintage saw a few more wines added, with sparkling, white, rosé and red wines made. And given Payne’s love for experimenting, there are ever unfurling tentacles for Dirt Candy going forward, with a couple of pét-nats, amongst other experiments, waiting in the wings. While it is essentially a Hunter brand, the Paynes also source fruit from Orange.

Payne has a deep appreciation for tradition, but he doesn’t see this as any reason to be boxed in: “Traditional winemaking methods have stood the test of time and we want to combine them with other methods: minimal intervention, alternative varieties, wild ferments – whatever takes our fancy when the fruit comes in.”

Working with classic Hunter varieties, as well as less familiar ones, Payne makes straight varietal bottlings, as well as fashioning some quite idiosyncratic vinous mosaics: “The Little Circus’, best defines what I am about. It is a field blend of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, merlot, tempranillo, touriga and a handful of traminer skins. This blend was hand-picked, hand-crushed, co-fermented and great fun to make. I’m really interested in pushing the boundaries with my wine making, while trying to craft the best wines I can from the best gapes I can get my hands on that still are fun and easy to drink.”

And Payne’s managed to push the boundaries in convincing manner – his 2018 Dirty Candy ‘The Little Circus’ took out the First Drop DANGER ZONE at the 2019 YGOW Awards. Chief Panellist, Nick Stock, said of the wine, “The threading together of no less than six different red grapes and glazing them with the skins of the white traminer grape is brave, evocative and just the right kind of crazy. And to do all this in the Hunter Valley, Australian wine’s poster child of conservative, stoic and traditional winemaking is straight up nuts. Then again the wine is so fucking delicious the back label probably won’t even get a look. So they won’t notice – genius!”