Tales of talent and terroir

Australian winemaking keeps getting better, writes Nick Stock.

DECIDING the top winery award for the The Age and Sydney Morning Herald's Good Wine Guide gets tougher each year. More producers are taking distinctive paths, using talent, terroir and insight to make the greatest wines yet grown on our soil.

This year's winery of the year is Oakridge Wines, which has risen phoenix-like from the ashes of the Evans & Tate business. Winemaker David Bicknell recognised Oakridge's potential and took over the business in December 2007. Immediate changes were made across the operation, from vineyards to packaging and labels, and Oakridge quickly set a successful course.

Chardonnay is recognised as Oakridge's leading wine. At entry level, Over The Shoulder is immense value for money, the estate-grade Oakridge shows power, refinement and complexity, and the single-vineyard chardonnays are precise expressions of carefully selected sites. With the release of its 2010 vintage pinot noirs, Oakridge has captured the same level of power and elegance as its chardonnays. Its range also extends to spicy and complex shiraz, a complex and exotic take on sauvignon blanc, a restrained, savoury pinot grigio and elegant Yarra Valley cabernets.

Oakridge has also taken out the guide's award for wine of the year with Oakridge 864 Chardonnay, Lusatia Park. After the winery's highly awarded 2009 864 chardonnay, this is another step in the evolution of Bicknell's vision. It was sourced from a mature Upper Yarra Valley vineyard on volcanic soils, an area widely recognised as the best source of high quality chardonnay grapes. The wine has flinty grapefruit citrus, lemon curd, white peach and nectarine, layers of hazelnut oak, spice and complexity, with a seamlessly composed palate.

Best new winery this year is Ruggabellus, which released its inaugural collection of four blended reds in July. Abel Gibson is the son of the Barossa Valley's well-known old vine man, Rob Gibson, and has worked at Spinifex winery with Pete Schell and Magali Gely for the past four years.

Three of the wines are soulful blends of mataro, grenache, shiraz and a fourth adds cinsault to the mix. The wines are intricate variations on the theme of expressing regional style, with no new oak used to allow old vine fruit room to shine. Gibson demonstrates a fundamental understanding of the Barossa's vineyard heritage and terroir. Seek them out, as Ruggabellus is a bright star in the making.

Nick Stock is the editor of the The Age and Sydney Morning Herald Good Wine Guide 2012.