Up there with Napa Valley, Tuscany and Bordeaux, Australia’s wine regions produce some of the best drops in the world.
Wine lovers pour, cellar and savour bottles of Tassie sparkling, Barossa Shiraz and Hunter Valley Semillon all over the globe. And while the country’s earliest winemakers have cemented Australia’s spot on the world wine stage, a generation of young guns are stepping up to the plate and building a network of boutique wineries that will take that esteemed reputation to the next level.
Each year, the Young Gun of Wine Winemaker Awards celebrates the best of Australia’s emerging wine producers. This year’s top 50 have just been announced and it’s got us clearing our schedules, surrendering our keys and reaching for a glass the size of a fish bowl.
“Over the past 15 years, we’ve seen this forum bring together so many winemakers that have gone on to set a new tone of authenticity in Australian wine that is brazenly modern, brilliantly executed and highly attuned to the tastes of our time,” says Nick Stock, who has been on the judging panel since the very beginning in 2007.
“The Young Gun of Wine Awards trace the leading edge of Australia’s newest winemaking talent and bring together those who seek to bend the needle in the direction of interest while redefining the notion of wine quality in Australia,” he adds.
In search of Australia’s best boutique wineries
To select the top 50, it took two days of extensive judging, conducted by a panel of industry leading wine experts (how does one become a wine expert and where do I sign up?). It wasn’t just a booze-fest, though. The winemakers shared details of their project and aspirations, as well as their place in the region they work and the broader wine landscape.
Of the top 50, we’ve chosen a few of our favourites that we think deserve a visit.
Swan Valley, WA
An ode to the beautiful region in which it is produced, Chouette is a local favourite that is quickly gaining momentum across the country. Focusing primarily of grenache and chenin blanc, winemaker Tom Daniel describes it as “bright, light, textual and moreish.”
Tom is a second generation winemaker in the Swan Valley, following in his father’s footsteps. “My dad planted vines and hand-built his own winery on a parcel of land on the Susannah Brook Stream. The first Vintage of Susannah Brook Wines was 1984 & still continues today,” he says.
The vineyard team hand-picks, hand-works and basket presses all of the fruit that goes into the wine using traditional techniques. Visitors can book in a tasting at the Cellar Door, or opt for a private wine tasting experience hosted by Tom (available upon request).
La Petite Mort
Granite Belt, QLD
Based on a photograph by Ray Cook, a renowned Australian photographer, this experimental wine label is known for delivering surprises when you least expect them. “These small batch wines are produced with minimal wine making intervention and put into bottles without filtering or fining to allow the raw essence of our experimentation to shine through,” says winemaker Andrew Scott.
To taste La Petite Mort at the cellar door, you’ll need to head to Bent Road Wine in Ballandean on Queensland’s Granite Belt. The property is spread across 40 hectares of vines and wilderness perched on the Severn River.
Hunter Valley, NSW
Wine purists, you may want to skip this one because there is nothing conventional about this unique winemaker. According to owner Daniel Payne, Dirt Candy is about as un-Hunter as you can get. His highly innovative approach includes using alternative varieties and experimental methods to make wines that are built for food and fun time.
The school teacher turned winemaker produced four wines in 2017, alongside his wife and has been expanding the range to include sparkling, white, rosé and reds ever since.
The label is currently running a pop-up cellar door at Wine Country Retreat in the Hunter Valley where visitors can come along for a fun, informative tasting (by appointment only).
The woman behind this emerging wine label led a rather different life before her wine career took off. A successful lawyer and business owner, Raquel Jones began studying nutritional bioscience and chemistry, and later viticulture and oenology with the aim of establishing a vineyard of her own.
Jones grew up on a property in East Gippsland where her passion for growing things from scratch began to flourish. Now, her vineyard in Victoria’s Beechworth region produces delightful local specialties including chardonnay, shiraz and cabernet. Her plan is to move into Spanish varieties next.
Wine lovers can visit the vineyard and get to the heart of the wine producing process with a meet-the-maker session. The exclusive wine tasting experience includes a wine flight, cheese board, a private tour of the vineyard and a bottle to take home.
McLaren Vale, SA
Over multiple generations, the Coriole wine label has moved with the times while maintaining the strong ties to tradition. While producing some of the best shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and grenache in the McLaren Vale – the varieties region of which it is known for – Coriole has also developed a reputation as a great innovator. They tried their hand with sangiovese in the 1980s and still experiment with Mediteranean varieties such as fiano, piquepoul and montepulciano.
Founded by Hugh and Molly Lloyd back in the 1960s, the family vineyard is now under the creative control of their son Duncan who has grown up among the vines and has gained a wealth of hands-on experience in France, Germany and Italy, as well as
The cellar door is open seven days a week from 11am to 5pm. Walk-in and pre-booked tasting are welcome.
Alpha Box & Dice
McLaren Vale, SA
Based in the stunning McLaren Vale region of South Australia, the eccentric winemaker behind Alpha Box & Dice is undertaking a huge challenge. The label is embarking on a Alphabet of Wine where each letter embodies an individual winemaking project. Grapes will be sourced from all over the state to deliver a complete collection of bold and bright wines.
The cellar door is open Friday to Monday from 10am to 6pm. Wine lovers can visit the heritage-listed barn in the heart of McLaren vale for a seated premium tasting. Or, go for a more casual experience and down a glass on the lawn with a picnic grazing platter.
Kooyong / Port Phillip Estate
Mornington Peninsula, VIC
Located in one of Australia’s foremost cool-climate wine regions, this wine operation is responsible for some of Victoria’s best Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. Head winemaker Glen Hayley works across multiple locations to source grapes for the range. The Kooyong vineyard spans 40 hectares in Tuerong while the Port Phillip Estate vineyard covers 9 hectares in Red Hill. Another 11-hectare property in Balnarring also supplements the produce.
The cellar door at Port Phillip Estate is a marvel to look at. The imposing limestone rammed earth walls are like a fortress. The restaurant and its outdoor decked area overlooks the vineyard with views out to the Mornington Peninsula. Tasting and tours are on offer daily.
There is a range of boutique luxury accommodation on site, and the property also hosts weddings and special events.
Cast your vote to find the very best of these boutique wineries
Consider yourself a bit of a wine buff? You can have your say on who you think should take home the top prize. Everyone that votes will go into a draw to win a an awesome prize pack; a Liebherr wine cellar and a year’s supply of wines (52 bottles) from the 2021 Top 50 winemakers.
Voting opens May 24th. Cast your votes here.
Looking for more wine-inspired getaways? Start your adventure at these stunning Australian wine regions:
Top 10 Australian wine regions to go tasting
Launceston and the Tamar Valley Wine Route