The Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology (ASVO) has announced its Awards for Excellence winners for 2021, with Ben Harris, Wynns Coonawarra Estate named Viticulturist of the year and Alex Cassegrain, Cassegrain Wines named Winemaker of the year.

ASVO Award recipients are nominated by ASVO-appointed selection committees comprised of individuals who themselves are distinguished in the fields of viticulture and oenology and who demonstrate exceptional leadership ability and vision.

The ASVO selected Cassegrain as a finalist in the winemaker of the year category, and ultimate winner, due to his wide ranging positive contributions to the Australian wine industry and also his innovative work on the effects of smoke taint on grapes. Cassegrain has and is, extensively trialling techniques and procedures to find the best possible solutions for the effects of smoke taint in wine grapes.

The 2020 bush fires had a devastating impact on a significant portion of grape growing regions in NSW, which motivated Cassegrain to work in unison with growers, suppliers, research companies and agencies to further the industries understanding of smoke taint, and how it can best be treated during and after ferment, to either mitigate or reduce its effects on wine.

Cassegrain said: “To be nominated and named the ASVO’s Winemaker of the Year is such a great honour. I strongly believe that this award is one for everyone involved in our work, in particular the growers who went through such an ordeal during the bushfires. The idea of leaving grapes on the vine due to something quite unknown like smoke wasn’t a solution and that’s where we decided to try everything to see if we could turn a negative into a positive, and in some cases we did.

“Receiving this award gives me the confidence to always push the boundaries and to continue to be innovative. A big thankyou to the ASVO committee for everything they do for the industry. I feel like this marks the beginning of a brighter future going forward.”

NSW Wine President Mark Bourne said: “This Award is very well-deserved recognition of Alex’s contribution and commitment to our industry and we extend him our ardent congratulations. To be named a finalist in the ASVO Awards is something to be very proud of, and this year we were delighted that two out of the six finalists were from the first state of wine, NSW. Our sincere congratulations also go out to Darren Fahey, from NSW Department of Primary Industries, who was a finalist for the 2021 ASVO Viticulturist of the Year Award.”

Harris is the Viticulture Manager at Wynns Coonawarra Estate, based in Coonawarra. This role includes the management of the technical viticulture team and vineyard operations for Australia and New Zealand. The award is an exciting and very timely nod to Harris, as Wynns has announced that he has taken over the management of the Wynns Viticulture team. After joining in 2010 as a Vineyard Manager, he steps into the shoes of industry stalwart Allen Jenkins who retired last month after a 20-year tenure.  

“It’s an honour to be awarded the 2021 Viticulturist of the Year,” said Harris. “The ASVO plays an important role within the Australian wine community, promoting the best R&D, innovation and assisting the extension of research into practice. Many exceptional viticulturists have won this award in the past and it’s a career highlight be recognised alongside them.”

Colin Bell, 2021 ASVO Viticulturist of the Year Advisory Committee Chair said: “Ben Harris is one of the most respected and regarded viticulturists in the industry. He has a massive role but still finds the time to push viticultural excellence, offer his time to industry and, most inspiringly, offer his time to young individuals starting their journey. Technical projects like data-based harvest predictions, virus elimination, and robotics make Ben’s contribution highly relevant and essential to the industry. What really stood out was his commitment, integrity, and contribution outside of his role and his great ASVO values and leadership style.”

Brooke Howell, President of the ASVO added: “There was a very high standard of nominees for the Viticulturist and Winemaker of the Year awards who have all demonstrated excellence in their field. It was very pleasing to see Ben and Alex recognised as very worthy winners this year, for their significant contribution and ability to inspire others around them.”

The ASVO was founded in 1980 and is a professional society to serve the interests of practising winemakers and viticulturists by encouraging the exchange of technical information.

Andy Young

Andy joined Intermedia as Editor of The Shout in 2015, writing news on a daily basis and also writing features for National Liquor News. Now Managing Editor of both The Shout and Bars and Clubs.

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