2018 Winemaker of the Year: Paul Hotker

James Halliday by James Halliday for Wine Australia

2 Aug, 2017

In the 2016 wine show calendar Bleasdale’s chief winemaker, Paul Hotker, won five trophies for his 2015 Bleasdale Wellington Road Grenache Shiraz. It’s not uncommon for a single wine to win multiple trophies. A haul of two or three trophies will greatly please the recipient and won’t (usually) cause rumbles of discontent from those wines that were in the running, yet not awarded. It’s just what happens.

But winning a trophy from five wine shows over the year in question is another thing, particularly when the fifth and final award came from the National Wine Show of Australia for Best Blended Dry Red. But the Wellington Road wasn’t alone; the 2014 Second Innings Malbec won trophies from the Sydney Royal Wine Show and Winewise Championship. The next Second Innings vintage (2015) took another brace of trophies from the Perth Royal Wine Show and Royal Hobart Wine Show. Just to round things off, in 2016 the 2014 Malbec 1960 The Pioneer was awarded the trophy for Best Other Single Varietal Red at the Royal Queensland Wine Show.

This was no flash in the pan; in the 2015 show year Bleasdale Vineyards was awarded eight trophies from five shows, taking out a remarkable double at the Sydney Royal Wine Show for Best Cabernet-dominant Blend and Best Shiraz-dominant Blend.

Such extraordinary achievements could give the impression that Paul is a master blender following eerily closely in the footsteps of Wolfgang Blass 42 years ago. Wolfgang also dominated wine shows from Adelaide to Timbuktu with his red wine blends from Langhorne Creek.

This edition of Wine Companion features 16 of Bleasdale's wines: 11 received 95 points or above, the stars shiraz and malbec. At the other extreme, Paul also makes a first-class Adelaide Hills pinot gris year in, year out.

So how is it that Paul has developed such an uncanny touch in making Langhorne Creek red wines? In the early years there were some indications of his bourgeoning talent. In 1991–2 he was a vineyard/nursery hand at Olive Farm Wines and Vinitech Nurseries in the Swan Valley. Between ’93 and ’97 (his self-styled gap years) he was an international traveller, farm labourer, vineyard hand, bicycle courier, landscape gardener and builder’s labourer. Between ’98 and ’02 he held various casual positions in vineyards and wineries straddling the Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale, Robe, Yarra Valley, Margaret River, Geographe and Swan Valley. He also obtained a certificate in viticulture from Margaret River TAFE, then enrolled in the Bachelor of Science (Oenology) Degree course at the University of Adelaide, graduating in 2002.

He then jumped the ditch from 2003 to ’06, working as viticulturist and assistant winemaker for Nautilus Estate in Marlborough. Between ’07 and ’13 he became a viticultural consultant; his major client was Shaw + Smith. So it’s almost an anticlimax to record that since ’07 he has been senior winemaker at Bleasdale Vineyards.