The results of the Young Gun of Wine awards were recently announced, naming Rob Mack from boutique McLaren Vale winery Aphelion Wines the 2018 winner. The People's Choice Award was picked up by Melanie Chester, from another small-scale producer, Sutton Grange winery in central Victoria.
But what was it about these two "young guns" that has created such a stir in the industry?
Rob Mack and his wife and business partner Louise Rhodes founded Aphelion Wines only a few short years ago.
"Our first vintage was 2014," he says, and it produced only "three small barrels of Grenache."
Since then, they have had a meteoric rise. Last year, Aphelion won Best New Act in the Young Gun awards, only to be selected as the overall winner this year.
The secret to success
"We have no family history in the wine trade, and this is one of the strongest assets we have," he tells me.
"I'm not shackled by any family ideals or pressure. All my decisions are purely based on my own thoughts as to what direction we want to head in."
He describes his wine philosophy as striking a "middle ground between natural winemaking and technical winemaking, taking approaches from each playbook and combining them."
In this way, he produces wine that is the best possible expression of variety and terroir.
The wines that bagged Aphelion the top trophy this year are a 2017 GMS named 'The Affinity," and a 2017 Grenache, 'The Verdant.' Mack describes the GMS as one of those wines that manages to please both "the crowds and the aficionado."
It's made from a blend of Grenache, Mataro and Shiraz from nine different parcels of land, all of which have been separately and carefully fermented and aged using winemaking techniques designed to bring out the unique characters of each, before being blended and matured together for nine months.
Mack recommends drinking 'The Affinity' with lighter red meat dishes or an aged cloth bound cheddar or mid strength parmesan.
'The Verdant' Grenache, on the other hand, Mack describes as "a wine that starts a conversation."
"Complexity abounds in this wine," he adds.
This is a single vineyard wine, produced from 80-year-old bush vines. He suggests you drink it with flavourful food, such as "rabbit ragout or wild mushroom and spinach pizza with truffle oil." When it comes to the impact of winning the Young Gun award has been, his reply is wry: "A lot less sleep!"
Sutton Grange, like Aphelion, is a winery characterised by its boutique size and obsessive focus on terroir.
Winemaker Melanie Chester describes how, while working at Seppelt winery in the Grampians after she finished university, she fell in love not just with making Shiraz, but with "making Shiraz on granite soils." That love was part of what drew her to Sutton Grange, where she started making wines three years ago.
Sutton Grange's vineyards are tended using organic and biodynamic processes, and the aim, according to Chester, is simply "to make wines that are true and delicious expressions of our farm."
Though young, Chester is an old hat where it comes to winemaking.
"I have been making wine since my first harvest when I was 17," she tells me.
A lighthearted touch
The two wines that won her People's Choice this year couldn't be more different from one another. The 2017 Fairbank Field Blend is a combination of Fiano and Viognier.
"I literally made this wine for you to smash with dumplings on a Friday night," she says cheekily.
The 2016 Sutton Grange Estate Syrah, on the other hand, is the perfect expression of Chester's beloved granite soils.
"It's everything I love about my farm," she says.
"Open it up, chuck it in a decanter and drink it with some cured meats to start your night, but make sure you save some for the a red meat main course and watch how the wine will change with air."
Inevitably, winning these awards has increased the demand for Rob and Chester's wines. Aphelion wines are currently served in some of the best restaurants in Australia, including 10 William Street in Sydney and Rockpool in Melbourne.
"Unfortunately we don't have enough wine to supply all the places that I would like to," Mack says.
Fortunately, there is still stock available to be purchased online from both Sutton Grange and Aphelion, and both are also stocked in select independent wine stores. With such brilliant early success, these are certainly two winemakers to follow closely in years to come.