On 9 June, the Hunter Valley Legends Awards were held at Rydges Resort, with more than 380 professionals from the wine and tourism industries in attendance.

On the night, four ‘Living Legends’ (the highest honour of the evening) were inducted. John Davis, Owner and Managing Director of Pepper Tree Wines, Briar Ridge Vineyard, Tallavera Grove and Carillion Wines was recognised as a Living Legend. In particular, Davis was honoured for his work establishing ‘emerging varieties’ such as Fiano, Vermentino and Albarino in the Hunter, and his innovative viticulture.

Davis was joined in this accolade by Graham Doran, a well known (now retired) viticulturalist in the region, who has worked at many of the Hunter’s most esteemed vineyards. In particular, Doran’s work for Mount Dangar Vineyards and Mount Pleasant, which has produced many award-winning wines, was cited. Doran was also recognised for leading new and unique viticultural trials in the Hunter Valley, and his book, Beginner’s Guide to Viticulture in the Hunter Valley, published last year.

The last of the three Wine Industry Living Legends was awarded to Dr Harry Tulloch, another highly regarded viticulturalist, who has pioneered clones of the Hunter’s most important varietals, including Semillon and Shiraz, with his Shiraz clone 1654 one of the most widely planted in Australia. He’s also championed new styles of wines, being the first in the Hunter Valley to combine Verdelho and Semillon. Tulloch works at Keith Tulloch Wine alongside his son.

The 2023 Tourism Living Legend title went to John Stevens of the Stevens Group. Stevens has been working in tourism in the Hunter Valley and Central Coast for 35 years and has a long-standing commitment to sustainable vineyards and tourism. The Vintage Development, a tourism project overseen by Stevens, was described as ‘one of the region’s most significant and ambitious integrated tourism developments, which has delivered significant infrastructure improvements for the Pokolbin area.’

Individual efforts rewarded

Liz Riley. Image Credit: Elfes Images.

The 2023 Outstanding Contribution by Individual was also named on the night, going to Liz Riley of Scarborough Wine Co. In particular, the award was given in recognition of Riley’s coordination of the aerial spraying response following the floods of 2022 – which played a vital role in suppressing disease and protecting crops.

Riley reflected on the award, saying: “It’s a privilege to be a part of the Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism community. It’s wonderful to use my viticultural knowledge, apply new techniques and technology to make a difference in challenging times.

“Many were involved in the coordination and deployment of the program, particularly my husband Jerome Scarborough. Without their support, this work would not have happened. I’m really proud of the outcome.”

Winemaker of the year revealed

Dan Thomas accepting the Winemaker of the Year award on his father’s behalf. Image credit: Elfes Images.

Other significant titles were also awarded on the night. Andrew Thomas, owner-winemaker of Thomas Wines, was named Hunter Valley Winemaker of the Year for a third time.

‘Thommo’, as he is known locally, expressed his joy at receiving the accolade.

“I am humbled and delighted to receive this award, it gives recognition to all the hard work and attention to detail that we apply to our winemaking every day as well as the successes we have achieved with our wines, particularly over the last 12 months.”

Thommo’s son, Dan Thomas, was on hand to accept the award on his behalf, and the Winemaker of the Year acknowledged his contribution.

“Making wine is definitely a team effort, and I would like to acknowledge my son Dan who has been working alongside me for the last three years, as well as all of my staff who work tirelessly in the pursuit of promoting excellence with the two signature varieties of our region.

“I was proud that Dan (and Remy) could accept this award in my absence, as it really is a combined effort for which he deserves to be a part of this recognition.”

Regenerative viticulture receives garland

Nicholas Looby. Image Credit: Elfes Images.

Margan Wines’ Nicholas Looby picked up the 2023 Viticulturist of the Year award. Looby is known for his sustainable and regenerative viticultural practices, with the Margan Ceres Hill vineyard recently selected to be part of the National EcoVineyards Program.

This initiative will see Looby work on improving the biodiversity of the vineyard and its soil.

Andrew Margan, Managing Director and Winemaker at Margan Wines, commented on Looby’s triumph.

“Winning Hunter Valley Viticulturist of the Year for 2023 is an outstanding achievement for Nick Looby and Margan Wines in its acknowledgement  of the quality of vineyards the Margan team manage.

“The 2023 growing season was particularly challenging and the results achieved by Nick and his team is testimony to a lot of hard work and good management. In particular the work in those vineyards that are being regeneratively farmed having resulted in some outstanding improvements in quality,” Andrew said.

Young stars honoured

De Iuliis wines celebrated the achievements of two of its younger staff (in this instance, meaning wine professionals under the age of 35).

Jenna Vaughan, Marketing Manager at the vineyard was named the Riedel Young Achiever of the Year.

“I am so proud to be recognised for my contribution in showcasing the unique stories of the Hunter and leading the way as a young female wine marketer,” Vaughan said.

“It is an honour to be recognised amongst such a strong selection of candidates and highlights just how bright the future of the Hunter Valley is.”

Emily Glover, a winemaker at De Iuliis, was given the inaugural Brokenwood Wines Advanced Wine Technical Scholarship. This means that Glover will be able to attend Australia Wine Research Institute in South Australia in June, for an intensive four-day course.

“This scholarship is a great opportunity to learn about the innovations in the wine industry and then come back to the Hunter and share my learnings with other young winemakers,” Glover commented.

De Iuliis was also a finalist in the Cellar Door of the Year Category, an award they won in 2022.

A full list of winners can be found below:

Riedel Young Achiever of the Year: Jenna Vaughan (De Iuliis Wines)

Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism Association Tourism Operator of the Year: Stay n’ Sip

Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism Association Accommodation Operator of the Year: Spicers Guesthouse

Jurds Viticulturist of the Year: Nicolas Looby (Margan Wines & Restaurant)

Wine Selectors Cellar Door of the Year: Winmark Wines

First Creek Winemaking Services Winemaker of the Year: Andrew Thomas (Thomas Wines)

Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism Association Outstanding Contribution of an Individual: Liz Riley (Vitibit)

Hunter Valley Tourism Legend: John Stevens (The Stevens Group)

Hunter Valley Wine Legends: John Davis, Graham Doran, Dr Harry Tulloch

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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