Winemaker of the Year

James Halliday by James Halliday
Presented by Harvey Norman
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Of the 56 wines he has made since 2005, 33 have received 95 or more points.
James Halliday has been singing the praises of Brett Grocke, the winemaker behind the Barossa’s Eperosa, for some time now. Brett is the sixth generation of a family of grapegrowers with ties to some important Barossa sites. He also has a history as a viticultural consultant working across South Australia, which hints at the strengths of his label – it’s all about exceptional vineyards and high-quality fruit. Read on to hear what James has to say about his Winemaker of the Year.

  • Full list of award winners.

  • James Halliday on his Winemaker of the Year
    Brett Grocke, Eperosa, Barossa, SA

    Brett Grocke made his first appearance in the 2010 Halliday Wine Companion with three wines from the first vintage of Eperosa in 2005. His income came through Grocke Viticulture, a one-man business providing technical and consulting services to owners of vineyards across the Barossa Valley, Eden Valley, Adelaide Hills, Riverland, Langhorne Creek and Hindmarsh Valley.

    His tertiary education began at the University of Adelaide, graduating in 1996 with a Bachelor of Applied Science (Exercise and Sport Science), excelling at golf and hockey. His focus tightened with a Graduate Diploma in Viticulture from the same university, secured in 2000. For five years he built his consulting practice, accumulating insights that can’t be taught at university. His first vintage was completed in the corner of a shed in Tanunda with a hand-operated basket press, the wine moved by gravity. (I remember my first vintage in 1973 with the utmost clarity – it was much the same, except that I was one of three, not solo like Brett.)

    Brett embarked on what turned out to be an eight-year search for a small vineyard with mature shiraz. He was particularly interested in the Krondorf region, where his father had sold his substantial vineyard holdings in the early ’90s.

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    In June 2013, the Magnolia Vineyard came onto the market for the first time in over 150 years. It had been farmed by the Yates family since the 1850s, with shiraz first planted in 1896, followed by grenache in 1900, semillon in 1941, ’71 and ’75, and more shiraz in 1965, ’96, 2010 and ’17. The vineyard is in Vine Vale, the crucible of much of the earliest Barossa plantings. The soil is alluvial sand, metres deep, the vineyard protected from western afternoon sun by a small gum-lined hill.

    Only two months later a 6.2ha property on Krondorf Road came on the market, with 4.1ha of grenache planted in 1903. In an agreement that could only be struck in the Barossa, Brett and Rocky O’Callaghan formed a 50/50 partnership to buy the property, with a loan agreement sufficient to also provide funds for Eperosa’s first winery, with an ultra-light footprint and maximum sustainability.

    Brett has also been able to buy grenache from the 1858 Stonegarden Vineyard in the Eden Valley, and joined with the Light Regional Council to buy the grapes from a single row of ancient shiraz vines that once formed a boundary row of a vineyard now covered with houses.

    So, you might ask, why does all this make Brett the Winemaker of the Year? Of the 56 wines he has made since 2005, 33 have received 95 or more points. He is a fiercely committed and proud sixth-generation Barossan vigneron/winemaker; as he explains,‘Eperosa has evolved from my interest in unique vineyards and great wine. My desire is to create wine from a soil up perspective, and stay true to the premise that exceptional wine is born from great fruit.’

    Previous ‘Winemaker of the Year’ recipients: Robert Diletti (2015), Peter Fraser (2016), Sarah Crowe (2017), Paul Hotker (2018), Julian Langworthy (2019) and Vanya Cullen (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.