FAMILY side-projects earned two Yarra Valley winemakers Australia-wide acclaim last night, when they took out two of the top awards at the annual James Halliday Wine Companion Awards.
Yarra Glen’s Serrat winery took out the Wine of the Year award at the event on Tuesday 28 July at the Melbourne Museum for its 2014 Shiraz Viognier, which earned a score of 99.
The Best New Winery award was handed out to Gladysdale’s Bicknell FC, giving the Yarra Valley two of the six top awards on the night.
Serrat winemaker Tom Carson said he was “astounded” when he heard he had won the award for his winery, which he described as “micro”.
“We’ve been very honoured,” he said.
“I never imagined our place could produce something like that.”
The Shiraz Viognier, he explained, is 95 per cent red wine grapes, with a small amount of white wine fermented in it.
“It’s a wine that I’ve always loved, always thought was well suited to the valley,” Mr Carson said.
The winery itself is based on seven acres, but has a high density of vines – four times as many as regular vineyards, a typical layout of vineyards in France.
Mr Carson and Nadege Sune, a fifth generation French winemaker, first planted vines on the property in 2001, and hand-make the wines on-site, with the help of Kate Thurgood.
“It’s called ‘close planted’ in Australia – in France, it’s just normal,” Mr Carson said.
“The vines are much smaller, the crop load per vine is smaller, it’s more labour intensive … but we think it produces the best out of the site.
“Each vine produces less than a bottle of wine – it’s a concentration of the fruit, and less fruit on each plant means you get more flavour, more concentration in the wine.”
Bicknell FC’s winemaker David Bicknell said that he and Mr Carson ran similar operations, in that they both work for wineries full-time, and run their own smaller vineyards in their spare time.
“It’s a labour of love on weekends, the small vineyard we look after up at Gladysdale,” he said.
He said he felt “smug” about winning the Best New Winery award, and attributed the winery’s success to patience – and good wine.
“I guess, perhaps the reason it’s come to the attention of the big man is that we haven’t hurried to put the wines out on the market,” Mr Bicknell said.
“When we first made the wines, they were fairly obtuse, difficult to understand for a lot of people.
“We haven’t rushed at it – we’ve been making wine under the Bicknell FC label for about four years, but it wasn’t until last year that we put any wine into the market.”
Mr Bicknell said the adage of ‘find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life’ rang true when it came to making wines, most of the time at least.
“Well, it’s a product that people love – they truly, deeply love it – which is why you get people stupid enough to spend their entire weekends doing what they do for the rest of the week,” he said.
“There are days you’re out working in the vineyard, where you just love the solitude of working by yourself, and thinking about other stuff – it’s pretty nourishing, but not when it’s raining and not when it’s minus four degrees.”
Mr Carson said that, while winemaking had artistic and creative flair, calling the job an art was “hyperbole”.
“People describe it like that, but I don’t know if it’s really art, because we don’t really create anything,” he said.
“It’s sort of created by nature itself – it’s more the crafting of it … there’s an artistic element to it, but I think that’s hyperbole-ing it a little bit.”
The Best Pinot Noir varietal award at the awards night was given to the 2013 Mount Mary Yarra Valley Pinot Noir, which achieved 98 points, while the Shiraz award went to Serrat’s 2014 Shiraz Viognier.
For the awards and the associated Halliday Wine Companion 2016, 8863 bottles of wine were tasted – some 398,835 millilitres or 6.5 bathtubs full of wine.
For more information on the awards, and a full list of winners, visit www.winecompanion.com.au/awards