Wine of the Year

James Halliday by James Halliday
Presented by Vintage Cellars
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The 2018 vintage followed 2017’s lead, each devoid of rain, allowing winemakers to choose the picking date... The result was the best wines since the golden year of 1965.
The Brokenwood Graveyard Hunter Valley Shiraz has long been recognised for its quality and history, but in a region that can present tricky conditions, the truly great vintages stand out. The team behind James Halliday’s Wine of the Year includes Iain Riggs, Stuart Hordern and Kate Sturgess, with Keith Barry and daughter Katrina responsible for managing the old vines over nearly 30 years. Read on to hear what James has to say about his Wine of the Year.

  • Full list of award winners.

  • James Halliday on his Wine of the Year
    2018 Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz

    At the risk of oversimplification, the Hunter Valley has three soil types. The best (especially for red wines) is found on the scattered hillsides of friable red volcanic soils: free draining, yet with good water retention capacity. Next is the sandy soil of the wandering beds of creeks that once used to flow water: the consistency allows vine roots to penetrate deep in their search for hidden moisture; the bond between great semillon and sandy alluvial soils is very powerful. The third and most common soil type is acidic clay that needs constant cajoling to provide a modest crop of grapes. It is home to shiraz, the most ubiquitous red variety, accounting for two-thirds of the total red crop in the Hunter Valley.

    I was one of three Sydney lawyers – now the only survivor – who embarked on a plan to establish a small Hunter Valley vineyard in the late 1960s. After several years, we found a 4ha block of acidic clay on which we planted shiraz and established Brokenwood. In 1978 we purchased an adjacent 16ha vineyard planted by Hungerford Hill mainly to shiraz on the selfsame nondescript soil.

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    In 1983, Iain Riggs AM was headhunted to become Brokenwood’s first qualified winemaker, with his track record of making trophy-winning chardonnay in McLaren Vale being the deal-maker. Iain’s wisdom has been the rock on which one of Australia’s best small to medium-sized wineries has been built, Graveyard Shiraz its flag-bearer. How can this be, I hear you ask, if the soil is so deficient? Cover crops, gypsum and trace elements have played a continuous role in improving the structure of the soil. The 50-plus-year-old vines have been handled with kid gloves; any that die are replaced by an 18-month-old cane from a vine on one or other side, its tip buried in the soil, which then establishes its own root system.

    The grapes are hand-picked and sorted, destemmed, not crushed, open-fermented with cultured yeast, hand-plunged, then have four days’ cold soak run off to barrel, and are finally matured in used French puncheons. There are 500 dozen made, and only when the season permits. None were made 1992 (two-year drought), 2008, 2012, 2015, 2016 (rain) or 2020 (smoke taint). 2018 followed 2017’s lead, each devoid of rain, allowing winemakers to choose the picking date, not a date imposed by the weather. The result was the best wines since the golden year of 1965.

    After I had decided that this Graveyard was the Wine of the Year, Iain announced he was retiring on 30 June 2020, but he will remain on the board of directors.

    Previous ‘Wine of the Year’ recipients: Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir 2010 (2014), Xanadu Stevens Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (2015), Serrat Shiraz Viognier 2014 (2016), Best’s Thomson Family Shiraz 2014 (2017), Henschke Hill of Grace 2012 (2018), Duke’s Vineyard Magpie Hill Reserve Riesling 2017 (2019), Yangarra High Sands Grenache 2016 (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.