This is a wonderful award - initiated the year that Sue Hodder won Gourmet Traveller Winemaker award to acknowledge the inputs of Allen Jenkins to the rejuvenation of the Wynn’s vineyards and resulting beautiful wines in Coonawarra. Allen is a really worthy first winner, he is a great leader who has had such a positive impact on his region and local work culture and in my opinion has built one of the strongest Viticultural teams in the country, and the subsequent wines look fantastic.
So imagine my pride that not one but now two of my growers have won this award. The first the Chalmers family who grow our Vermentino in Heathcote. The Chalmers are smart and visionary, the work they have done on bringing varieties and clones to Australia has changed the way we are thinking about the future of Australian winemaking. So who better to buy Vermentino from, especially on the stunning site they chose in Heathcote, viticulture site selection 101 with regards to soils and aspect. They sell to many little producers and make their own wine, all worth trying.
The second grower Ashley Ratcliff from Ricca Terra farms has just won this award, he is a grower from the Riverland in SA. A region famous as the backbone and workhorse of the Australian wine industry. But times have been tough on the communities in the Riverland, people who are multiple generation grape growers have been questioning their future as grape prices have fallen and climate change throws increasingly early, warm seasons our way. Add to this the eternal optimist Ashley. He loves the Riverland and recognises the potential. He has approached it with some key differences though. Firstly he is focused on quality, he has planted varieties that suit the climate, he crops low, and reduced the water (to improve quality and because these varieties have lower water demand), he even hand picks. The result is stunning. I would never have sought Riverland fruit if it wasn’t for Ashley and now I am proud to have three wines that will be from Ricca Terra Farms. It just goes to show that if you plant appropriate varieties in the right place with your focus on great wine, anything is possible, it isn’t rocket science, but it is attracting attention to the Riverland for all the right reasons, better wines and environmental stewardship, and get this financial stability! Most of all it is fun, one of our core business rules, ‘it has to be fun!’.
So well done Gourmet Traveller and the journalists that decide who gets this award - as someone who would not exist without my growers I applaud you for acknowledging their efforts and championing people who help make Australian wine better.