Best New Winery

James Halliday by James Halliday
Presented by Vintage Cellars
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The theme of these wines is brightness and freshness of varietal fruit with effortless balance and length.
This year’s Best New Winery is Varney Wines. Alan Varney and wife Kathrin are responsible for this cellar door and restaurant at the gateway to McLaren Vale. Alan has a wealth of experience in wineries across South Australia, including a long stint as senior winemaker at d’Arenberg. While Alan and Kathrin only officially launched Varney in late 2018, this venture has been in progress for much longer, with the site purchased in 2015, and Alan making wine on the side since 2010. Alan also has diverse international experience and this shines through his grape selection, which includes Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian varieties as well as the Australian classics. Read on to hear what James Halliday has to say about his Best New Winery.

  • Full list of award winners.

  • James Halliday on his Best New Winery
    Varney Wines, McLaren Vale, SA

    Alan Varney was 18 when he left home to backpack around the world, with no fixed timeline or destination. Things changed the following year, in 1999, when he met wife-to-be Kathrin. ‘I chased her to her hometown of Berlin, and from that base, I started tasting my way through the world of wine,’ he explains. Back in Australia with Kathrin, he obtained a degree in oenology from Melbourne University and worked vintages in Central Victoria.

    After their two sons were born, Alan and Kathrin decided to move to South Australia, where Alan worked with Orlando Wines and Longview Vineyard in the Adelaide Hills. A fill-in vintage at d’Arenberg turned into an 11-year stay as he grew into a senior winemaking position. He’s also fitted in vintages in California, NewYork and most recently Portugal, in 2017 – the same year he established Varney Wines.

    He has built strong relationships with local growers – many are lasting friends and trusted suppliers of grenache, mourvedre, shiraz, touriga, nebbiolo, cabernet sauvignon, fiano, semillon and chardonnay. All the grapes come from special vineyards in McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills (plus one small parcel from Langhorne Creek).

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    There’s no vinification process outside Alan’s experience, but equally there’s no predetermined pathway. The choices are intuitive: whole bunch, whole berry, extended cold soak, carbonic maceration, indigenous/wild yeast, submerged cap, foot treading, extended post-ferment maceration – whatever the fruit requires.

    New oak, however, is off the agenda, as is fining and filtration. Likewise, few of the wines exceed 14 per cent alcohol. Add in the environmentally sensitive winery and the picture starts to take shape. The Entrada trio of Verdelho, Rosé of Grenache and GMT (Grenache Mourvedre Touriga) are made in a drink-now style inspired by Alan’s vintage in the small Portuguese town of Entradas. The common theme of these wines is brightness and freshness of the varietal fruit expression, coupled with effortless balance and length. There are 250 dozen made of each wine.

    The volume of the four Essentials wines run from 33 to 160 dozen, the prices $28 to $35. They share the balance and freshness of the Entrada wines, the reds with no overt tannins or oak. All wines are medium-bodied and supple, and will gain added complexity with time in bottle.

    Previous ‘Best New Winery’ recipients: Rob Dolan Wines (2014), Flowstone (2015), Bicknell fc (2016), Bondar Wines (2017), Dappled (2018), Mewstone Wines (2019) and Shy Susan (2020).

    This is an edited extract from the 2021 Halliday Wine Companion guide, published by Hardie Grant and available at all good bookstores.

    Full list of award winners.