Turning 19: The Boutique Wine Awards. Photo: James Alcock
Brown Magpie was the star at this year's Boutique Wine Awards, winning the trophy for ''top wine of show'' with its 2013 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir.
It's a name most wine-lovers would not have heard, but the vineyard is in the Geelong region of southern Victoria - a region whose fame with pinot noir is well established. It's the region of Bannockburn winery, the Farr family, Lethbridge, Oakdene, Provenance, Bellarine Estate, Austin's, Curlewis and numerous other small wineries that have all had major success with pinot noir.
Brown Magpie is near Moriac in the hinterland of the evocatively named Surf Coast - the part of the Geelong region that extends down to the coast between Torquay and Anglesea. It is a genuinely cool viticultural climate. And yes - there are brown-and-white magpies living on the property!
Others in the Geelong region to do well with pinot noir this year were Clyde Park and Di Sciascio. Clyde Park, which is in the Moorabool Valley, Geelong's first sub-region to come to prominence, won a gold medal with its College Block F pinot noir, while the College Block B2 also fared well, at least on my scoresheet. As well, Di Sciascio, from the Surf Coast, scored a strong bronze medal. All are 2013-vintage wines.
The Boutique Wine Awards is a ''discovery'' wine competition. This is its 19th year. I have chaired the judging panel every year, and every year the trophy list turns up a number of names we judges have never heard of before. This makes judges slightly nervous. Is it a flash-in-the-pan? An isolated fluke among a sea of otherwise mediocre offerings? Sometimes yes, but fortunately, rarely. Fox Creek, Chain of Ponds and many others were unknown to us when they first bobbed up in this competition and won trophies in the early years.
Brown Magpie has been knocking on the door for several years, and this is the best wine I've seen from them to date*. The 20-hectare property was bought by Loretta and Shane Breheny in 1998 and nine hectares planted to predominantly pinot noir, but also pinot gris, shiraz, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Viticulture is Loretta's field, the winery Shane's, although they also employ a highly experienced winemaker in Daniel Greene.
Most importantly, this wine also won the trophy for the ''best estate-grown and produced'' wine. This award is the essence of the competition, which aims to encourage and celebrate small wineries that process no more than 250 tonnes of grapes a year. It goes to the best wine in the show that's been produced in the true vigneron manner: the grapes must be grown on the estate vineyard and the wine made in the estate's winery - not by a contract winemaker in another location; not from bought-in grapes; and certainly not a ''negociant-style'' wine, where the owner of the label does nothing more than buy grapes and pay a contract winemaker to do the work. This scenario is increasingly common in the wine industry, and does nothing for it, as it involves no investment in infrastructure and no real commitment. We consider this award almost as important as ''top wine of show'', and when the same winery wins both accolades, as Brown Magpie did, it's a special moment indeed.
Tasmania and Central Otago were the other two regions to stand out in the pinot noir class. Tasmania's Stefano Lubiana had two pinots in the class (Estate and Primavera, both 2012), both scored gold, and in the taste-off for top pinot, they ran second and third to the Brown Magpie. Home Hill also scored golds with both its 2013s: Estate and Kelly's Reserve. Kelvedon 2012 was the final Tassie gold-medal pinot.
A quick mention to a personal favourite: Grove Estate Sommita Nebbiolo 2013 won the trophy for best ''other'' red variety. This is a very worthy result for a hard-working estate in the NSW Hilltops region owned and run by Brian Mullany. He is listed as winemaker, but the wine was actually made in the Long Rail Gully winery in the Canberra region. This is delicious, effortless-tasting wine in a modern fruit-accented style with gentle tannins. Another feather in the Grove Estate cap - Ravensworth's 2013 Nebbiolo, from the same vineyard, although not entered in this show, is also an outstanding wine.
Best shiraz: Tagai Scar Tree, Langhorne Creek 2012
Best cabernet sauvignon: Anvers Brabo, Adelaide Hills 2013
Best chardonnay: 52 Stones, Ferguson Valley 2013
Best merlot: Banks Thargo, Coonawarra 2012
Best semillon: McLeish Estate, Hunter Valley 2007
Best riesling: Ducketts Mill, Denmark 2012
Best sauvignon blanc: Paddy Borthwick, Wairarapa 2013
Best ''other'' white variety: Centennial Reserve Arneis, Southern Highlands 2013
Best red blend: Woody Nook Cabernet Merlot, Margaret River 2012
Best sweet white: Lillypilly Estate Noble Blend, Riverina 2011
Best fortified: Stanton & Killeen Rare Topaque, Rutherglen
* Although the 2012 vintage of the same wine won gold medals in Melbourne and Canberra, and the trophy for best wine at the Geelong Wine Show 2013.