We were greatly encouraged by the enthusiasm with which our introduction of Viticulturist of the Year was received last year, and we are delighted to continue to highlight these unsung heroes of Australian wine. The Viticulturist of the Year category celebrates the individuals whose wines in this year’s Companion most fully exemplify best practice in the vineyard. Meet our finalists below.
Adrian Hoffmann – Dimchurch Vineyards, Barossa ValleyAdrian Hoffmann is a Barossa boy through and through; a fifth-generation grape grower, tireless promoter of the region and current custodian of the stellar Hoffmann property and Dimchurch vineyards in the famous northern Barossa subregion of Ebenezer. The first vines were planted on the Hoffmann property in the 1880s. Today, the 20 hectare Dallwitz block with its gnarled old shiraz vines, planted between 1888 and 1912, is the jewel in the Hoffmann crown. He’s a big unit, with a big, bushy beard, exactly what you’d expect an ace northern Barossa grape grower should look like – and an ace he is, with his highly sought-after grapes making their way into some of the most famous and prized wines of the region, including John Duval, Two Hands, Glaetzer, Sami-Odi, First Drop and the stellar 2013 Chris Ringland Hoffmann Shiraz. With a strong Barossa lineage, great farming, leadership within the wine community and an impeccable vineyard, Adrian continues to strengthen the Hoffmann family legacy in the Barossa and beyond – DB.
Bruce Chalmers – Chalmers, Murray DarlingIn a changing climate, which is destined to be our future, Australian winemakers are benefitting mightily from the work performed by the Chalmers family. Through the importation of varieties, notably from Mediterranean countries where grapes hold their acidity in hot, dry conditions, Chalmers has become a significant supplier of alternative grape varieties through their celebrated Merbein nursery. In winemaking terms, they push boundaries, explore new flavours and textures in a range of wines produced at Merbein (under the viticultural direction of Bruce Chalmers) and Heathcote (under Troy McInnes). Just try pecorino, vermentino, negroamaro and aglianico – among many others – and try not to get excited – JP.
Chris Davies – Windows Estate, Margaret RiverWindows Estate is responsible for wines of precise identity and superlative quality. What makes this achievement all the more impressive, however, is the fact that it is owned and operated solely by husband-and-wife team Jo and Chris Davies. While Jo runs sales and front of house, it is Chris who is responsible for the dirt, the vines and the winemaking. He has taken the vineyards through organic certification and tends them with care and attention to detail. The wines are beautiful, graceful things of balance and life, which show the vineyard in the glass in the most eloquent of ways. The chardonnays particularly are a kaleidoscopic blend of clones and characters, exemplifying what is possible from a small site in a great region. Not only is Chris doing a magnificent job in his own corner of the world, but he is also representative of many of the high-quality family-run vineyards in Australia that have the potential to go under the radar due to their boutique size. Yet here they are, here Windows is: unearthed for you – EL.
Hannah McKay – Pooley Wines, TasmaniaAfter overseeing the rise and rise of Vasse Felix to organic viticulture, Hannah McKay took up her post in the vineyards of Pooley Wines shortly before harvest 2020. Her nomination as Viticulturist of the Year is not only for the wines harvested under her tenure, but for the work that she has initiated in securing the sustainable future of this family estate. Progress to toward organic certification is well underway across new and existing plantings, biological farming has been put in place, biodiversity zones and insectariums established, and green waste has been upcycled as vineyard nourishment. Watch this space – TS.
Michael Lane – Yangarra Estate Vineyard, McLaren ValeFrom a European perspective we Australians talk a lot about winemakers and their arts, be they of the light or dark side. Even Americans have long spoken of site and viticulture far more than us. After all, without quality fruit we have lousy wine. Without grapes inflected with a sense of place, wine is little but a manufactured commodity rather than a vessel of time, regional patrimony and culture. Put succinctly, once we begin to speak more about viticulture we will be responsible for far more world-class wine. After all, when under the guise of somebody like Michael Lane, viticulture is a conduit of superlative wine and the moments that define it. Yangarra’s biodynamic weave of freshness, tannic refinement and incorrigible depth across the range would simply not exist were it not for Lane’s deft touch. A touch that somehow meets the lenticular sweet spot of involvement without intervention – NG.
Tom Carson – Serrat, Yarra Valley | 2023 Viticulturist of the YearIn 2001, Tom and Nadège Carson planted a hectare of pinot noir, chardonnay, viognier and a handful of grenache vines on the Yarra Valley floor, 3km from Yarra Glen. Tom describes the site as ideal, "in the central part of the valley and a lovely little amphitheatre of north- and east-facing slopes." Inspired by the great vineyards of Europe, vines were planted at a density of 8800 vines/ha, more than four times the Australian average, yielding just one bottle per vine. Today they have 3.6 hectares planted, with 1.2 hectares of pinot noir, 0.85 hectares of shiraz, 0.6 hectares of chardonnay, 0.4 hectares of grenache, 0.28 hectares of nebbiolo and 0.3 hectares in total of barbera, grenache blanc and malbec. They planted varieties for which the Valley is noted, but also took a punt on what might work well for the future. The decision to plant grenache, based partly on Nadège’s family’s long history with the variety in Banyuls and the warm site’s suitability for the variety, has been fortuitous. The 2021 is a superb wine, that while more elegant and different in style to McLaren Vale, is equally good – PR.
*This is an edited extract from the 2023 Halliday Wine Companion, with reviews by Dave Brookes, Jane Faulkner, James Halliday, Erin Larkin, Ned Goodwin MW, Jeni Port, Philip Rich and chief editor Tyson Stelzer. Cover illustration by David Lancashire.
The winner of each category will be announced at the 2023 Halliday Wine Companion Awards. Save the date to watch the live stream on Wednesday August 3, 2022.
The 2023 Halliday Wine Companion is available from August 4. You can pre-order your copy of Australia's most comprehensive wine guide here.