- Our Top 10 Dark Horses category includes wineries receiving their first five-star rating, after having scored four stars in the years prior. Those who make it into the category have no doubt been quietly refining their product for years, whilst simultaneously creating a noteworthy cellar door experience. Two of this year's Top 10 are Barwon Ridge of Victoria's coastal Geelong region and RiverBank Estate from Swan Valley, Western Australia.
Geoff Anson, Partner – Barwon Ridge, VIC
H. Tell us about the history of Barwon Ridge.
Digby Leddin, Senior Winemaker – RiverBank Estate, WA
H. What makes your winery unique?
All-vegan producer Barwon Ridge first appeared in the Companion in 2010 with just a single wine inclusion; RiverBank made a determined re-appearance in 2017 after being purchased by the Lembo family – who have carried it from strength-to-strength since. The teams behind these two wineries, from very different parts of the country, understand that success isn't won overnight. Below they tell us a little about their journey to the 2021 Halliday Dark Horse Top 10.
Owners Geoff and Joan Anson in the Barwon Ridge vineyards.
G. Joan and I are committed to sustainable land management. Since 1999 we have worked to increase habitat and biodiversity across our property, while practicing low-input grape growing. In recognition of the wine history of the area we have reintroduced pinot meunier using vines originally taken as cuttings from the Barrabool Hills to Best's in the 1860s.
H.What is unique about your winemaking process?
G. Our approach is to produce full-flavoured, cool-climate wines that reflect our Barrabool Hills site. Whole-bunch pressing, indigenous yeast and barrel ferments are typical in whites, while the reds often have a component of whole bunches and indigenous yeasts. Our wines are made to be medium-weight, fresh and savoury when young, developing depth and complexity with age. All of our wines are vegan.
H.How does it feel to be recognised as one of this year’s Top 10 Dark Horse wineries?
G. It was a great thrill and immensely satisfying after 20 years of steady work to see our belief in the quality of our challenging site recognised. It has taken the unstinting help of family and friends, together with the skill of our winemaker Nyall Condon and our understanding of the vineyard for Barwon Ridge to start to show its potential.
H.When getting to know your wines, where should people start?
G. If you want to explore some of the diverse flavours of Barwon Ridge, there is no better wine to try than a whole-bunch pressed, wild yeast barrel-fermented, complex and elegant 2017 Chardonnay. For something mature, golden and fresh, try the food friendly 2013 Marsanne – or a bright, ripe and juicy Australian classic: our 2017 Cabernet Shiraz.
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Senior winemaker Digby Leddin and owner Eric Lembo enjoy the 2014 RiverBank Estate Malbec.
D. The Lembo Family are so invested in the Swan Valley region and their passion to make wine on-site from estate fruit – rather than buying it in – is the basis of our success. We’re a boutique operation that focuses on producing the best in traditional and emerging alternate varietals.
H. What’s your approach to the winemaking process?
D. Since 2007, our philosophy has remained straightforward: to make all the wines from our minimal intervention vineyard separately and as simply as possible. The reason for this was so we could decide which varieties we wanted to focus on and which varieties we wanted to blend. For example, we wanted the grenache to look and taste like grenache, and the tempranillo to look and taste like tempranillo. Ultimately, we wanted each to be a true reflection of their variety and to have a sense of place – while still being contemporary and exciting.
H. How does it feel to be recognised as one of this year’s Top 10 Dark Horse wineries?
D. For a thirty-plus year winery to achieve a five star Halliday rating for the first time is an incredibly humbling experience in itself, but to be recognised as a Top Ten Dark Horse winery is an achievement as we had only dreamed of! The last three vintages have been exceptional, the region is in resurgence and our alternate varietal plantings are nearing 20 years of age – all the planets have aligned.
H.Which of your wines should people acquaint themselves with?
D. We recommend you start with our core Rebellious range – including the 2019 Vermentino, 2018 Tempranillo, 2019 Rose, 2018 EA MR Chardonnay and 2017 EA PB Sparkling. We're particularly excited about our red-blends, too. For a taste of something different, make sure you try our 2018 Cab Franc-PV-Malbec, 2018 BDX+Tempranillo, 2019 GSM+Cab Franc and the 2019 Primitivo-Sangiovese-Nero d’Avola.
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This article was produced in partnership with the featured wineries.
Top image supplied by Wine Australia / Credit Andre Castellucci.