Food Drink

15th Annual Young Gun of Wine Awards Winners Announced

South Australia dominates the national awards – claiming three of six trophies, with Charlotte Hardy of Charlotte Dalton Wines taking out the top spot.

Photo credit Jess Purcell

Young Gun of Wine has announced the trophy winners for their 15th annual winemaker awards via a virtual trophy presentation, with winning recipients around the nation surprised with trophies live as they watched the announcement.

In an extraordinary result, South Australia has won three of the six national trophies, including the top title, the 2021 Young Gun of Wine. Sam Berketa of Alpha Box and Dice, Dan Graham of Sigurd, and Charlotte Hardy of Charlotte Dalton Wines have claimed top titles this year…

Since 2007, the awards have provided an opportunity to connect emerging winemaking talent with wine drinkers, and to support creative talent shaking things up and exploring news ideas in wine. In that time, the awards have expanded and grown. Beginning with two trophies, then growing to five, 2021 sees a new accolade added in a natural evolution of the awards.

“In our 15th annual edition, we are adding The Vigneron, which goes to a winemaker who grows the grapes from which the wines come,” said Young Gun founder Rory Kent. “And it’s not a moment too soon. In fact, we should have done it years ago, because provenance and how wine is grown is where it all begins. As winemakers frequently say, ‘Great wine is made in the vineyard.’”

The Vigneron joins the Best New Act, Danger Zone, Winemaker’s Choice, People’s Choice and the 2021 Young Gun of Wine. The 2021 judging panel consisted of wine writer Nick Stock, Crawford River vigneron Belinda Thomson; Leanne Altmann, Beverage Director at Trader House Restaurants (Cutler & Co, Gimlet, Marion, Builders Arms, Supernormal, et al); Master Sommelier Sebastian Crowther; Jeremy Shiell from Winespeake; Olivia Evans of Fleet Restaurant; and Chris Dilworth and Loïque Allain from Dilworth and Allain, the 2020 Young Gun of Wine.

“The 2021 awards cover such a comprehensive collection pf winemakers and wine projects, there really is something here for everyone’s tastes and interests,” said Nick Stock. “The stories behind our winners and all 50 finalists are so individual and so engaging – these are winemakers that really have something to say and a claim to stake on the Australian wine landscape.”

Congratulations goes to all the Top 50 finalists, a deep field of talented and innovative maker who are all playing an important part in shaping the future of Australian wine. Here are the 2021 trophy winners:

Best New Act: Marco Lubiana

Marco Lubiana launched his eponymous label from the 2018 vintage, making a chardonnay and pinot noir, which will remain his focus. Those wines were made from the Lucille Vineyard, one of Tasmania’s oldest. The site had just been bought by his parents who converted the farming to biodynamics, with certification expected this year. Working side by side with his father, Lubiana is passionate about biodynamics and growing the fruit he works with. “I spend ten months of the year in the vineyard, and the remaining two months in the winery. The reason being, 90 per cent of the quality of wine comes from the vineyard.” 

Lubiana’s wines are composed and expressive of place, mature expressions from a youthful maker that reflect his gentle hand in the winery and tireless year-round work amongst the vines.

Danger Zone: Saison Blackcurrant Leaf Vermouth

The Danger Zone is our only award that goes to a single wine, a bottle that encapsulates the spirit of the whole awards: the thrill of adventure and discovery, creative risk and reward.

Dave Verheul’s Saison Vermouth range introduces the concept of seasonally made vermouth. Novel ingredients are built around a theme of a singular flavour, employing organically farmed local produce.  Verheul uses the tools in his chef’s arsenal, including Embla’s wood-burning stove, to build complexity into his vermouth blends, with bell-clear fresh flavours that distinguish them from the classic European styles.

Saison’s Blackcurrant Leaf Vermouth represents a totally new approach to an old-fashioned drink. Inspired by a sensory childhood memory, Verheul’s vermouth is powerfully evocative of picking blackcurrants on a sun-splashed day, with subtle detail from unripe fig, ginger and dried white grapefruit supporting. It’s a landmark statement, dislodging vermouth from a dusty past and snapping it into vivid focus for today’s drinker.

Winemaker’s Choice: Dan Graham, Sigurd

Dan Graham’s Sigurd has been helping to redefine the Barossa Valley since 2012, with fruit picked earlier to capture freshness, then made with a minimal-intervention approach and no additions bar sulphur at bottling. Now also working with grapes from the Riverland, Adelaide Hills and Clare Valley, Graham makes varietal wines – chardonnay, riesling, chenin blanc, carignan and syrah – as well as complex white, rosé and red blends, with judicious amounts of whole bunch and skin contact employed to create complex, complete wines that are as focused on elegant flavour as they are on texture and structural detail. 

The Vigneron: Ben Ranken, Wilimee

In 2013, Ben Ranken bought his Wilimee vineyard, which is one of the Macedon Ranges oldest, and tirelessly set about resurrecting it through regenerative agricultural practices. Converting the vines to being dry grown, while implementing organic practices (not yet certified), his focus is on chardonnay and pinot noir planted to two distinct soil types – granite and Cambrian. Ranken’s work amongst the vines is focused as much on improving the expression of his fruit to make ever-better wine as it is to restore a natural balance for broader environmental goals. That has seen the amount of his organic matter rocket to over six times the average, with that figure constantly growing. Ranken is laboriously resurrecting vines with eutypa, while he’s also grafting pinot onto chardonnay and vice versa to eventually have bottlings of each variety off each soil type.

“Wilimee really excited the judges both in terms of what was there on the judging table,” said Stock, “as well as the commitment that Ben Ranken has made to a region that is poised to be a major voice in the future of great Australian wine. Wilimee is such an astute project.”

People’s Choice: Sam Berketa, Alpha Box & Dice

Sam Berketa has been at the helm of McLaren Vale’s Alpha Box & Dice since 2015, making a flotilla of eccentric wines, from deep investigations into skin contact on white grapes to unusual blends, alternative varieties – and lots of them – to a ‘reverse ripasso’ produced from a perpetual master blend that has seen every variety and every vintage added to it. Those wines are part of the Alphabet of Wine, an ongoing exploration of the possibilities that South Australian vineyards can offer, and Berketa is constantly pushing those possibilities to inspiring extremes. Alpha Box & Dice’s success is a striking snapshot of where Australian wine is right now: exciting, dynamic and relentlessly creative.

2021 Young Gun of Wine: Charlotte Hardy, Charlotte Dalton Wines

Charlotte Hardy’s Charlotte Dalton wines were launched from the 2015 vintage, a semillon and a shiraz made in an unfussed lo-fi way. But these weren’t your classic new wave wines from Basket Range (Adelaide Hills). They were certainly a pivot from the norm, unbound though not wild, essentially personal expressions. Hardy’s wines are like that, made with technical understanding, but intuitively, a reflection of mood and moment. 

Hardy upped stakes in 2019 to the Fleurieu Peninsula, where she shares a winery and cellar door with her husband. Hardy had very much became wrapped up in what has been the locus for natural wines in this country, and her wines were often seen as part and parcel of that movement. And while it’s no judgement on the makers of Basket Range, she wanted to be seen for what she did, and the personal styles she made.

“There is change with the wines every year – all of my experiences and growth change the wines, which I always marvel at because they are really left to their own devices. I don’t really make any stylistic choices, rather the grapes do. It’s tiny things I do differently that I am not conscious of that changes the wines. These things fascinate me, as I am quite interested in the science, but the numbers don’t give an indication of how the wine feels. Hard to explain. Wine has soul.”

And though Hardy is physically removed from the Hills, her connection to the wine community and importantly the network of like-minded growers that she is so passionate about has never been stronger. And that network has grown even larger, working with Bec and Nick Dugmore on their Guroo project to raise the profile of Kangaroo Island as a region, while she also collaborates with the Langhorne Creek 5255 project to similar ends.

“Charlotte has blazed an individual, considered and popular path to success,” said Stock. “She leads by example in terms of the wines she makes and the way she has established her label. But she also has the kind of self-belief and work ethic that is crucial to be successful in the modern world of wine. Her story is a great one for all young winemakers to study.”

The judging, held over two days, was a robust forum that began with the quality of the wines, but also factored in the commitment of each maker to their own project, their region, their community and the environment. 

“There were so many deserving drinks amongst the finalists that it was difficult to narrow down the field,” said Leanne Altmann. “The trophy winners really captured the imagination of all of the judges.”

[Watch the replay here.]

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