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Hills young guns of wine shine on national stage


Adelaide Hills winemakers dominated at the 2016 Young Guns of Wine Awards, claiming the region as a place that’s leading the charge to put the soul back into wine.

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In Melbourne for the awards last week, Jasper Button (Commune of Buttons, Basket Range) was the recipient of the ‘Best New Act’ award and Michael Downer (Murdoch Hill, Woodside) was awarded ‘Winemakers’ Choice’ for the second year in a row.

Established in 2007, the Young Guns of Wine Awards aim to recognise the most inspired group of younger Australian winemakers, singling them out for their leadership, vision, talent, courage and  influence.

Jasper Button started making wines with his sister Sophie Button under the Commune of Buttons label in 2012 from his family’s 25-year-old vineyard at Basket Range.

The wines he submitted for appraisal were the 2015 Scary Buttons Pinot noir and the 2015 Sparrows Syrah.

“The Adelaide Hills is a sleeping giant,” says Button. “There’s a lot of very good wines that are made in the old style and have contributed to the growth of the region already, but rather than trying to emulate that, the Young Guns of Wine Awards recognises that we’re young and we’re not afraid of playing with convention to make something spontaneous, delicious and full of life.

“There has been a lot of movement in the wine industry that started in the Hills with the production of small-batch natural wines (wine made with minimal chemical and technological intervention).

“The taste of mass-produced wines with all their added chemicals and filtering might still taste OK after rolling around the back of your car in 40-degree heat, but that style of winemaking takes out all of a wine’s soul.”

Michael Downer studied winemaking at Adelaide University and went on to work for Shaw + Smith, Best’s Great Western and Vietti Barolo in Italy before returning in 2012 to his family’s 18-year-old vineyard at Woodside to create the Murdoch Hill ‘Artisan’ series of wines.

The wines Downer submitted for judging at the awards were the 2015 Murdoch Hill ‘The Tilbury’ Chardonnay and the 2015 Murdoch Hill ‘The Landau’ Syrah from his ‘Artisan’ series.


Murdoch Hill winemaker Michael Downer.

“I simply wanted to come home and make wine that shows a sense of place,” says Downer. “This required taking a more minimalistic winemaking approach, utilising wild yeasts, gentle extraction techniques and reducing additions to show the purity of fruit.

“Overall I wanted to make delicious, drinkable wine styles that are suited to pairing with the modern Australian food scene.”

Both Button and Downer say that the minimal intervention approach to winemaking they have taken is also about producing “food-friendly wines”.

“People from the eastern states are really conscious about what they eat and drink, looking for more vibrant, fresh styles of wine and avoiding wines made with chemicals,” says Downer.

“Wine is no longer all about oak and ripeness,” adds Button. “It’s about different colours and textures, new foods and ways of eating.”

Button plans to open a restaurant in the Adelaide Hills in September, the Summertown Aristologist, with fellow natural winemaker Anton Van Klopper (Lucy Margaux Vineyard), to reflect this new approach to food and wine.

2016 Young Guns of Wine Michael Downer, Josephine Perry, Jasper Button and Richard Evans.

2016 Young Guns of Wine Michael Downer, Josephine Perry, Jasper Button and Richard Evans.

As well as submitting wines for appraisal by a panel of judges led by wine expert Nick Stock, the finalists are evaluated on their potential to create a wine legacy.

The People’s Choice award went to Richard Evans (Two Tonne wines, Tamar Valley, Tasmania) and the overall winner was Josephine Perry, Dormilona Wines (Margaret River, WA). Brendon Keys (BK Wines, Basket Range) was also one of the 12 finalists.

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