It’s with great pride that we share this year’s Halliday Wine Companion Award Winners with you. In doing so, we celebrate Australia’s winemakers, their environmental stewardship, their commitment through hardship, and their devotion to their craft. With the announcement, we take a moment to appreciate all things wine, to uncover the stories behind the bottle, discover new favourites, and cherish old ones.
This year’s award winners all deserve a place on your dinner tables and cellars. We hope you enjoy discovering them as much as we will.
The Henschkes are one of Australia’s 11 First Families of Wine, and their exceptional drops included in this year’s wine awards prove their expertise. On 27 October 1841, Johann Christian Henschke – one of 213 immigrants escaping unrest in German Silesia – arrived at Port Misery in South Australia. During the 98-day voyage his wife and two of his children died. From a tragic beginning, Henschke recovered, settling in the Barossa Valley where he remarried and purchased land in Keyneton where he planted a small vineyard with riesling and shiraz.
More than 150 years later the winery is still family owned – fifth-generation winemaker Stephen and his viticulturalist wife Prue took over running of the winery in 1979. Together with their three adult children they have taken the business to new heights, building a suite of estate-owned and local-grower supplied wines and championing organic and biodynamic practices.
While they’ve added two further vineyards to their holdings, some things haven’t much changed. The Henschkes still maintain a holistic, minimal intervention approach to winemaking – gentle handling, minimal racking, low sulphur and gentle fining and filtration – that has been passed down through the generations.
The label is best known for its single-vineyard wines Hill of Grace and Mount Edelstone, brought to fruition in the 1950s by Cyril Henschke who turned these quietly produced shiraz wines into the intensely perfumed, concentrated and velvet-textured cult drops they are today.
“Hill of Grace is a rare wine made from a tiny four hectares of shiraz from the Hill of Grace vineyard in the Eden Valley,” says Stephen. “The oldest vines, ‘The Grandfathers’, are ancient shiraz vines planted by my ancestor Nicolaus Stanitzki around 1860, producing a wine with authenticity of site and history.”
Henschke’s inclusion in this year’s awards encompasses 29 wines with more than 90 points, and an incredible six wines scoring 97-99 points. “We are thrilled with the recognition,” says Stephen. “Our philosophy is to be the best rather than the biggest.”
The winemaker of the year almost doesn’t call himself one. “I see myself far more as a farmer than a winemaker,” says Brett Grocke, of Eperosa. “This award is so humbling.” Brett is a sixth generation Barossan from grape-growing stock but only saw wine as his future when studying viticulture showed him how he could do it his way.
“I love the detail in viticulture, in running your vines so the fruit is of a quality and depth of flavour that means you really don’t have to us many techniques in the winery to improve it,” says Brett. “We can do just basic open fermentation, basket pressing. There’s no fining, no filtration – we use only gravity and time to let the wine make itself.”
It’s also organic. “Soil health, microbes, mycorrhizal fungi all talk to the vine and they release nutrients,” he says. Eperosa’s underground (for natural cooling) winery is off-grid and two vineyards are rainwater-run and took Brett “10 years to find”. And the dirt’s really paying off – he’s made 56 wines since 2005 and 33 have scored 95 or more points from James Halliday. Pretty good for a farmer.
Shop Eperosa wines in-store and online.
It’s extraordinary what can end up inside a bottle. So, to talk about wine that’s great value is not really to talk about spend. Value is about exceptional ﬂavour, feel and the story that ﬁlls your glass, whether you’re an aﬁcionado building a cellar or a host after an easy but impressive pour for the table. Best’s Wines nails both. Rich, plush Great Western Cabernet Sauvignon (95 points) and the Great Western Bin No.1 Shiraz (95 points), a standout even in shiraz country, are cases in point.
Vintner and wine legend (with an OAM for services to industry) Viv Thomson says the Grampians region’s cool climate, acclaimed shiraz and riesling country has a lot to do with it. The winery’s vineyards – including Concongella at Great Western, established in 1866 in powdery loam and deep clay, and Salvation Hills at Rhymney, with its duplex silty soils – turn out consistently good fruit.
“Quality is also about the tenacity of the people making our wine. Founder Henry Best planted in a boom, when there were more than a hundred vineyards and small wineries in the area but around the Depression that dropped to probably two,” says Viv, whose grape-growing family bought Best’s in 1920 after Henry’s death. “Thomsons still run the vines and our knowledge has attracted very good winemakers. Even in bad years, we can produce good wines together.” Take the 2011 Bin 1 Shiraz, born in “a bloody horrible year of rain” but which lived to lift the JC Watson Memorial Trophy.
Old Vine Pinot Meunier vintages now have a cult following – heritage, rarity, wonderfulness for $100 is incredible value. Got $25? Thomson recommends the velvety pinot noir or zesty, mineral riesling. “Our 2019 Riesling is fantastic and the 2020 [due later this year] is something else,” says Viv.
Shop Best’s Great Western in-store and online.
Unapologetic “vintage junkie” Alan Varney has lived and worked vintages on both sides of the vinous globe, here at home in South Australia and in the US in California and New York State. But it was perhaps his stint in Portugal in 2017 that left the most lasting impression. He set up Varney Wines at Old Noarlunga in McLaren Vale upon his return later that year.
“The Entrada range is inspired by the vintage I lived in (in Portugal),” says Alan. “The range encompasses our Rosé of Grenache, Verdelho and Grenache Mourvèdre Touriga. They’re all fun, approachable, modern wines, much like the great value and cheerful wines I encountered in Portugal. In the winery, the range allows me to go with my intuition and use a bit of creative, playful spirit when vinifying and blending.”
Alan credits the success of Varney Wines to his relationships with local growers, and his subsequent ability to source some of the best fruit in the region. All the grapes – grenache, mourvèdre, shiraz, touriga, nebbiolo, cabernet sauvignon, ﬁano, semillon and chardonnay – come from vineyards in McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills, plus one small parcel from Langhorne Creek.
The common theme of Varney wines lies in their brightness and freshness of varietal fruit expression, combined with effortless balance and length.
“The culmination of our launch last year, and now this award, makes the hard work and sacriﬁce worthwhile,” says Alan.
Winemaker Sam Brewer describes himself as a “shiraz fanatic gone wild”. He travelled the world working in places from the US to China before returning home in 2009 to join the family business.
Yarran Wines is in Yenda, part of the NSW Riverina region. Although perhaps not as well-known as some others, Riverina is the state’s largest wine producing region and within its borders lies this gem, growing grapes and making excellent wines since its ﬁrst batch of shiraz in 1998.
That connection between the vineyards and the ﬁnished wines is at the forefront of Sam’s winemaking style. He has been able to indulge his love of shiraz in many guises, including the traditional full-bodied Block Series Shiraz and A Few Words Shiraz, an aromatic, fresh, silky and approachable wine.
“Over many years we’ve put all our efforts into creating wines we are truly proud of,” says Sam. “To achieve a ﬁve-star rating has been a goal of mine for many years as it shows we have been having a decent crack and ﬁnally came through with the goods!”
But that’s not the end of this story. “The next chapter is converting some of the vineyard over to organics,” says Sam. “There is so much opportunity with the resources we have in the region – beautiful soils, clean water and low disease are big advantages.”
Shop Yarran Wines in-store and online.