Perfection bottled: Winemaker awards

Huon Hooke
Great pedigree: Winemaker of the Year Tim Kirk, of Clonakilla, has produced a stunning succession of shiraz viognier wines.
Great pedigree: Winemaker of the Year Tim Kirk, of Clonakilla, has produced a stunning succession of shiraz viognier wines. 

Tim Kirk, of Clonakilla, won the Winemaker of the Year award at the 16th annual Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine 2013 awards, while a new award, Viticulturist of the Year, was won by Ray Guerin, of Shaw+Smith.

Guerin, a veteran with enormous cool-climate experience who worked with Hardy's for 18 years before joining Shaw+Smith two years ago, specialised in southern Victoria and Tasmanian viticulture with special influence on Hardy's Arras sparkling wines, where he worked with chief sparkling winemaker Ed Carr.

Carr, who won the big award, Winemaker of the Year in 2011, believes there are few in Australia with Guerin's knowledge of cool-climate viticulture.

Skill acknowledged: Ray Guerin (left) of Shaw+Smith, with winemaker Ed Carr, won Viticulturist of the Year.
Skill acknowledged: Ray Guerin (left) of Shaw+Smith, with winemaker Ed Carr, won Viticulturist of the Year. 

It was very much ''in the family'' at the awards night on Tuesday, as Guerin was accompanied by Martin Shaw, who, with cousin Michael Hill Smith, is a former Winemaker of the Year finalist, and their winemaker, Adam Wadewitz, also a finalist while working at Best's Great Western.

For Shaw+Smith to snap up Guerin in 2011 was a coup. The company had just bought the established Tolpuddle vineyard in southern Tasmania to add to its Adelaide Hills holdings. Guerin had been buying Tolpuddle grapes for 20 years, mainly for sparkling wine, and knew the vineyard as well as anyone.

Shaw+Smith will launch its first wines from this vineyard, a chardonnay and a pinot noir from the celebrated 2012 vintage, later in October.

Early in his career, Guerin left his family's vineyards in McLaren Vale and moved to the Yarra Valley to establish the Hoddles Creek vineyard, later bought by Hardy's, which made the Bastard Hill wines from its grapes. Much later, Guerin established his own Yarra Valley vineyard, Applejack.

A fortnight ago Giant Steps, which leases the vineyard, won four trophies, including champion wine of the Yarra Valley Wine Show with its 2012 Applejack Vineyard pinot noir. Oakridge also made an outstanding pinot from this vineyard in the 2012 vintage.

The Winemaker of the Year Awards now consist of four awards: the Young Winemaker Medal, the Winemaker of the Year, the Len Evans Award for leadership and the Perpetual Viticulturist of the Year that is sponsored by Perpetual.

As one of the six judges, I can safely say that in previous years there has been an inclination towards recognising viticulture as well as winemaking, with dual winners twice for a winemaking and viticulture team (Sue Hodder and Allen Jenkins, of Wynns, and Stephen and Prue Henschke, of Henschke Wines), as well as nominating people who are what the French call vignerons, a term that encompasses both winery and vineyard realms.

People like Jeffrey Grosset, of Grosset Wines, Gary Farr, of By Farr (and formerly Bannockburn), Vanya Cullen, of Cullen Wines and Rick Kinzbrunner, of Giaconda, are examples of that.

This year's Winemaker of the Year, Tim Kirk, of Clonakilla, has produced a stunning succession of shiraz viognier wines since taking the reins at the family vineyard from his father, John Kirk, who established it at Murrumbateman in 1971.

Last year, a 20-year retrospective tasting confirmed the wine's great pedigree. Kirk is a perfectionist and does not rest on his laurels. He also makes a superbly delicate riesling, a powerful syrah and one of Australia's best viognier dry whites.

In recent times, he has released a chardonnay, a pinot noir and a remarkable grenache shiraz mourvedre blend, adding excitement to the portfolio.

The latter is brand-named Ceoltoiri, which means a gathering of musicians - one of several proudly Irish names that adorn Clonakilla labels. The Kirks are a musical family: Tim plays the guitar and composes, and his father plays the Irish flute.

In his acceptance speech, Kirk acknowledged his father's pioneering work and the contribution of long-standing winery staff, including his friend and co-winemaker Bryan Martin.

He emphasised his belief that wine is a beverage that connects mankind with the earth and nature, and, like all beautiful things, is a source of mystery and fascination that enriches our lives.

Tom Barry is the youthful scion of the Barry family, who has recently taken over the winemaking role at Jim Barry Wines. Roseworthy-educated like his father Peter, and his grandfather Jim, the winery's founder, Tom seems set to continue the tradition. He will marry in a few weeks and settle in the Clare Valley.

He has shown great promise in his early career and an aptitude for improving and embellishing the breed, as well as cherishing the traditions he inherits.

One of those traditions is riesling and Tom has worked in riesling wineries in Austria and Germany, and implemented techniques at home to further refine the already excellent Jim Barry rieslings.

The Len Evans Award had a particular resonance this year, as winner Iain Riggs, of Brokenwood, was very close to the late Evans, both being Hunter Valley-based winemen and keen golfers.

Riggs has been pivotal in the annual Len Evans Tutorial, which aims to educate and encourage talented younger members of the wine trade. He is a community-spirited man who has helped unite Hunter winemakers and inspire the younger ones. The roll call of young winemakers who have come under his influence while working at Brokenwood and gone on to distinguish themselves is extraordinary.

Riggs has been active in wine-industry affairs and has served as vice-president of the Winemakers Federation of Australia.

His palate is in big demand for wine show judging and he is chairman of the Sydney Royal Wine Show and Shanghai International Wine Challenge.

As Brokenwood's chief winemaker and manager since 1983, he has created many wines.

The Len Evans Award is presented each year by Len's eldest daughter, Sally Evans, who conducts an options game, as her father would have done. The mystery wine is usually connected with the winner, whose identity is yet to be announced. The winner is not only ignorant of the wine's identity, but also unaware that he or she is about to receive the award.

The game is a great leveller, and, indeed, Riggs got the first question of this options game wrong: he thought the Brokenwood ILR Semillon was a riesling, as did Jeffrey Grosset!