On the vine: Tertini's Yaraandoo vineyard is highly regarded for its pinot noir.
Southern Highlands wineries featured prominently at the recent 2014 Australian Highlands Wine Show that was judged in Bowral. This small competition is a show with altitude, inviting entries from any Australian vineyard located at 500 metres or higher.
Regions represented this year included Hilltops, Mudgee, Orange, Murrumbateman, the Strathbogie Ranges, Adelaide Hills and Clare Valley. The home region - relatively tiny in hectares planted - dominated, winning four of the nine gold medals, and six of the 16 silver medals.
The Southern Highlands, which encompasses the towns of Bowral, Mittagong, Berrima and Moss Vale, is just 60 to 90 minutes' drive from Sydney and has 15 cellar doors, making it a worthwhile wine-touring destination.
There are 18 wine producers and the total vineyard area is 265 hectares. Most are between 500 and 700 metres in altitude. The biggest is Centennial Vineyards, at Bowral, which has 31 hectares of vines covering 15 varieties. The most successful are its sparkling wines made from chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, and still wines made from chardonnay, savagnin and riesling.
Like others in the region, Centennial also buys grapes from other regions to supplement its range, such as Orange grapes for fuller-bodied reds such as shiraz, tempranillo, merlot and pinot noir.
Its three sparkling wines, all non-vintage blends, were outstanding this year. The pinot noir chardonnay won gold, and the blanc de blancs and rose both silver. These are classy wines, well-differentiated in style - the blanc de blancs ($39) lean, racy and chardonnay-delicate; the rose ($28) salmon-pink and smoky-strawberry smelling; the pinot noir chardonnay ($28) the most complete in flavour and structure.
Winemaker Tony Cosgriff has been gradually refining them over the years, with the result that this year's trio showed better than ever.
Tertini is the region's surprise package, with its 8.5-hectare vineyard at Mittagong supplying grapes for winemaker Jonathan Holgate to vinify at the new winery and cellar door on Kells Creek Road. The most successful varieties are pinot noir, riesling, arneis, pinot gris and chardonnay. It is a marvel that such a range of disparate grape varieties can do so well on essentially the same terroir. Tertini also buys grapes from other regions, especially Hilltops, for the fuller-bodied red varietals such as shiraz and nebbiolo.
Tertini has quickly made a name for itself as the Highlands' leading pinot noir producer, with its 2009 regular and reserve and 2010 wines all having excelled in their day. This year it was the 2012, which came from a year that produced a tiny yield of concentrated grapes. As a result, the wine is darker and more powerfully structured than normal, and it should have a big future.
Perhaps the most impressive of Tertini's current crop is the 2013 arneis ($35), a grape that seems to have found its home in NSW's high-altitude regions. This succulent, beautifully balanced and textured white wine, bagged a gold medal and had the judges (including me) trawling our memories for a better example of this often disappointing grape. Proving it's no fluke was the 2012 Centennial Reserve Arneis ($27), a lovely wine that scored a silver medal. The grapes were brought in from Orange.
Another wine to enhance Tertini's lustre was Cupitt's Late Harvest Riesling 2013 ($32), made at the Cupitt family's South Coast winery near Ulladulla, from partially botrytis-affected Tertini grapes. It's a really fine, polished, semi-sweet riesling.
The Lorenz family's Cherry Tree Hill has 15 hectares of vines at Sutton Forest, with riesling, chardonnay and a 2006 cabernet sauvignon-merlot blend the best performers. Cherry Tree Hill's deliciously fragrant, honeyed 2006 riesling is also a superb wine, and has gathered quite a list of awards, topped by a gold medal at this year's Highlands show.
Unusually for such a micro-boutique operation, Cherry Tree Hill still has a few cases of both 2006s available for sale. Happily, the common complaint that small wineries sell their wines too young does not apply. For those who prefer their riesling younger, the delicate, reserved but beautiful 2013 scored a silver medal.
Chinese boost for Southern Highlands
A wealthy Chinese businessman has bought a winery and vineyard in the Southern Highlands, giving a major boost to a region that has been shrinking in recent years.
The deal was concluded just weeks ago, and Charlie Wang is now the owner of the Eling Forest property at Sutton Forest, just off the Hume Freeway, which includes a winery, four-hectare vineyard, cellar door sales and cafe, B&B and function centre.
Managing director and viticulturalist Mark Bourne says Mr Wang simply liked the wine so much he bought the vineyard. He is very positive about the wine and its sales potential in China. Mr Wang is based in Guangzhou, and already imports most of the wine produced at the winery, which goes under the Aber River brand. An extensive winery upgrade is ongoing. Jeff Aston is chief winemaker.
To meet Chinese demand, 50 hectares of Southern Highlands vineyards will supply their grapes to Eling Forest this vintage, and additional grapes are being sourced outside the region, especially from Hilltops. One of the vineyards is Cuttaway Hill, at Mittagong, which Bourne owns. Another is the 11-hectare Bluemetal Vineyard at Berrima, which is being converted to biodynamic farming. It's been renamed Tractorless Vineyard, a reference to the fact that the rows are no longer cultivated or slashed. Instead, a flock of small-stature Hampshire Downs sheep are keeping the grass down and supplying free organic fertiliser as they go. Tractorless Vineyard wines are already on sale at the cellar door and through Biota Dining restaurant, Bowral.