With the announcement of the top 50 finalists in the 2018 Young Gun of Wine Awards this month, I caught up with Young Guns founder Rory Kent to get a picture of the current wine industry. The good news is it's thriving, with the quality and innovation of young Australian winemakers growing year by year.
"Twelve years ago, when Young Guns started," says Kent.
"The wine landscape in Australia was very different to what it is today. There weren't any engaging ways for young adults to get into wine. Coupled with this, the wine genre suffered from old worldly, old man, stuffy and staid, pretentious stereotypes.
"We wanted to show young drinkers that there were young winemakers doing great things, as a way to disrupt this status quo."
Variety is the spice of life
Now more than a decade later, they're going stronger than ever. The Young Gun awards differ from other many other wine awards in that, instead of submitting to a varietal category, such as "best Shiraz," each winemaker simply submits what they believe are their two best wines.
These are tasted side by side by the judging panel of eight industry experts, including last year's winner, Murdoch Hill's Michael Downer. The final list is simply the fifty winemakers the judges believe are making the best and most interesting wines.
Asking Kent what patterns he has seen over the twelve years of the awards, the response is definitely positive for Aussie wine-drinkers.
"The industry has changed massively since 2007," he says. In the competition's first year, "there were 22 wines from finalists featured. They were all classic varietal wines: Shiraz, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc. There was one Montepulciano, one Tempranillo, one Grenache Mataro Shiraz blend, one Dolcetto... That's it! In 2017, we have 100 wines in the top 50, and there are around 40 grape varieties amongst those. And amongst those are a lot of varieties that people will be discovering for the first time – things like Schioppettino, Tinta Cao, Sousao, Gruner Veltliner, Muller Thurgau, Bianco d'Alessano, to name a few."
Small beginnings, big ideas
In terms of this year's crop, there is even more reason to be excited.
"There is no shortage of amazing winemakers here in Australia, making the 2018 Top 50 a difficult decision. This year's top 50 is made of: 19 from South Australia; 12 from Victoria; 10 from Western Australia; 4 from Tasmania and New South Wales or ACT; and the first ever Queenslander in the mix, Golden Grove's Ray Costanzo."
Kent firmly believes that the industry is booming. "[It's] becoming more dynamic and colourful in every way. There's more and more varieties being grown, and there are more and more creative little labels; little side projects started out the back of a larger winery," he says. "There's all sorts of experimentation on the winemaking side of things."
If all of this sounds like excellent news, check out the Top 50 list at the Young Guns of Wine Awards website. For Melbourne residents, you can also taste all of the 100 wines submitted by the top 50 winemakers at a special showcase event at Prahran Market on Saturday the 12th of May, with tickets available via the website. The winner will be awarded at a ceremony at Hobart's MONA on the 18th of June.