«The competition to make the final 12 is huge … we agonise over this cut,» chief judge Nick Stock said.
«It has always been a tough cut to make because the strength, skill and capability of new-generation winemakers in Australia is a fast-growing force.»
WAtoday spoke with WA’s four finalists ahead of the winners being announced on June 3 in Adelaide.
Liv Maiorana & Mijan Patterson: South by South West
To say this female duo from Margaret River take a hands-on approach to their winemaking business is an understatement.
«We became pruners, pickers, cellar hands, lab technicians, winemakers, bottlers, marketers, wholesalers … because we believe the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,» they told us.
«We wanted to be involved in creating something from grape to glass and everything in between … it’s been a lot of hard work, with a few beers in between.»
The pair’s approach to winemaking is simple: they make wines they would want to drink themselves and pride themselves of being consistently excellent.
«Wine that is expressive of where it came from and then where it wants to go. We see our role as guiding great fruit to a glass without too much handling in between,» they said.
«Consistency in making honest, quality wines that reflect their origins, with restrained interference, is essential. Wines that continually combine and push traditional winemaking with a contemporary edge.»
Outside of Margaret River, Maiorana and Patterson enjoy the wines of Sicily for their «honesty and authenticity to the land» and more locally Tasmania for the same reasons.
Rhys Parker & Paul Hoffman: Vallée du Venom
Hoffman and Parker are self-confessed «blood brothers» who graduated together with science degrees from UWA. Parker is a second-generation winemaker who took over the long-running family business in the Swan Valley.
Parker worked in mining, oil and gas for a decade but after needing a change, went back to university to study Oenology and eventually moved to Margaret River to combine his love of surfing and wine.
So what overarching philosophies guide their winemaking?
For Hoffman, it’s a respect for nature and maintaining the biocultural diversity of the Swan Valley.
«Wild ferments and biological maturation. Transparency of terroir and preserving the integrity of single vineyards in Margaret River,» he said.
Parker wanted to create wines that showcase terroir and offer wine lovers something more than mass produced, generic wines they are accustomed to.
«This means minimal intervention winemaking where possible and of course acquiring the best possible fruit we can,» he said.
«We both come from scientific backgrounds and, whilst minimal intervention is the aim, we are very interested in and respect the science behind winemaking. Every decision we make takes the science into account.»
Hoffman says all wine regions have standout producers but he particularly enjoys the structure of wines from granite-derived soils.
«Wines such as those from Beaujolais, Muscadet and parts of the northern Rhone,» he said.
Parker is an unabashed fan of Margaret River wines … no surprise given he and wife Emma live up the road in Dunsborough.
«Chardonnay for me reigns supreme. It’s a variety where your winemaking decisions have a huge effect on the style of wine produced. You can point the wine in so many directions,» he said.
«I’ve been very lucky to work with some great producers down here making chardonnay of very differing styles.
«Savoie — a little known, tiny mountainous region in France — is also of special interest to me. Isolated, sub-alpine vineyards produce truly unique wines. Mondeuse and Rousette in particular have caught my attention.»
Remi Guise: tripe.Iscariot
Guise probably has the most interesting background of the quartet, having next to zero experience in winemaking and viticulture growing up in his native South Africa.
«When it came time to select a degree to study at university, the thought of sitting behind a desk all day in an office didn’t feel quite right. I placated my parents and selected dentistry and accountancy as two of my options, and then slipped in winemaking and viticulture as my third choice,» he said.
«I’d always been fascinated with wine and wine culture, and had spent a fair bit of time visiting the Cape Winelands as a child with my parents. At the time it felt right, definitely more right than mouths and accounts, so wine it was.»
He says his approach to winemaking changes he moves through his life and career.
«Right now I’m guided by the quest to make wines that are expressive, intense, exhibit fruit purity and that are complex and thought provoking,» he said.
«I want to make wines that change minds, engage people and possibly even start them on their own personal wine journey.
«I try and achieve that by many different means: using solids in different ways is one of them; incorporating more of the grape than is traditionally used is another; but the primary method is working with good fruit and the assumption that I know what I’m doing.»
Guise loves Margaret River, which like many believes is now home to Australia’s best cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay.
«I like cabernet and chardonnay, a lot. It is also home to some of the most promising terroir for one of my other favourite grapes, chenin blanc,» he said.
«Swartland (in South Africa) is a truly unique area that boasts some of the oldest vines and weirdest minds in the Southern Hemisphere.
«The wines from this region deliver everything that I look for and strive for in my own wines, those being expression, purity, intensity and thought provocation.
«And Piedmont is another favourite … because I love Barolo. The fact a wine can have the delicacy of Pinot Noir and the balls and structure of Cabernet Sauvignon at the same time doesn’t really seem possible or fair, but thankfully it is.
«It also comes at a fraction of the price of most decent Continental offerings of both of the aforementioned wines, and is far more reliable.»
Guise hopes to grow his tripe.Iscariot (‘berry’ to ‘stalk’) brand and keep refining his wines and style, keep experimenting and … «hopefully not go broke».
«Experimentation is what has gotten me to where I am now … taking chances and making wines that I believe in, even if it is possible nobody else will,» he said.
«One of my only rules for myself from day one was to ensure that I only ever makes wines that I want to drink and that keep me interested in drinking them.
«I want to make sure I keep sticking to that mantra and never lose it.»
Genevieve Mann & Rob Mann: Corymbia
The Mann duo descend from winemaking royalty here in the west, so it was no surprise the family tradition continued down the line.
«Wine is in our blood. We’re husband and wife, the heads and hearts of Corymbia, and part of one of the oldest winemaking families in Australia,» Genevieve said.
«Rob’s family history spans six generations and he was influenced from a very early age by a family of winemakers, vignerons, restaurateurs and drinkers.»
The Manns make their wines from single vineyards they farm from dirt to bottle in the Swan Valley, offering the purest expression of fruit and a clear sense of place. The fruit is dry grown, organically farmed from mature vines planted from the mid-1980s and uses traditional techniques such as hand harvesting, gravity, oak fermentation, indigenous yeast and natural malolactic fermentation.
«Our wines express the qualities of the Swan Valley that Rob’s family has admired of the region for over 100 years,» Gen says.
The pair have done their fare share of travelling through some of the world’s most famed wine regions and are reluctant to pick a favourite.
«Oh that’s like having to pick a favourite child! We do love the diversity and unique characters of wine that the world has to offer; in particular Australia,» they said.
«Australia has such an exciting wine landscape right now, with so many young winemakers on the rise making delicious wines.
«We did however recently move half way around the world from Napa Valley, California to Margaret River with the aim of establishing our own vineyard to produce the greatest wine we can, based on the sum of our experiences.
«Simply put, we aim to marry the king of grapes, cabernet sauvignon, with the queen of regions, Margaret River. Give us 10 years and stay tuned.»
David writes about sports and lifestyle for WAtoday.