Meet the winemaker

Meet the 2025 Winemaker of the Year finalists

By Halliday Promotion

30 Jun, 2024

We get to know three of the finalists nominated for Winemaker of the Year in the 2025 Halliday Wine Companion Awards.

Last month we announced the winemakers shortlisted for the 2025 Winemaker of the Year award. Below we get to know three of them. Starting with Andre Bondar of McLaren Vale's Bondar Wines, Jacinta Jenkins of Coonawarra's Balnaves of Coonawarra, and Tasmania-based Liam McElhinney of the Fogarty Group (Lowestoft, Thalia and Strelley Farm).

We find out how Andre, JJ and Liam got their start, their winemaking ethos, and two key wines to try. Get to know our Winemaker of the Year finalists below.

Andre Bondar

Andre Bondar, Bondar Wines

McLaren Vale

Andre Bondar on being nominated for Winemaker of the Year: I love what I do, where I live and I am very proud of our achievements as a small family wine brand. When we heard we had received this nomination we were so elated! It is, of course, a huge honour and is extremely gratifying given the many, many hours of work we have put into our wines.

H. Tell us about your winery and your wines.
AB. In 2013 we started our journey to realising the dream that is now Bondar Wines. With a couple of our friends and family, we hand-picked tiny amounts of shiraz and chardonnay that we would use to make our first wines under the Bondar label.

In 2014 we acquired the Rayner Vineyard on Chalk Hill Road, McLaren Vale. Set on a hillside on the border of the Blewitt Springs and Beautiful View (Seaview) sub-regions (just north of the township of McLaren Vale), The Rayner Vineyard is one of the better known blocks of the region. It has vine plantings that date back to the 1950s – when the property was owned by the Rayner family – and is made up mostly of what we think the region does best: grenache and shiraz. 

H. Tell us about your career journey and how you came to work in wine.
AB. My journey into wine was not rushed. After completing a degree in Biotechnology I had a wanderlust that saw me travel the world for three years. During this wandering, in order to save money, I worked grape harvests in the US (Oregon and California), France (Northern Rhône), and also around Australia (McLaren Vale, Padthaway, the Hunter). I began to fall in love with the industry and found great satisfaction in the creative use of my scientific background. In 2004 I enrolled at Adelaide University in the Graduate Winemaking program. I began to work at Nepenthe Wines in the Adelaide Hills, and stayed there for seven years – moving from cellar hand to assistant winemaker and eventually to winemaker.

Towards the end of this tenure, my wife Selina and I started to dream of having our own wine business. Central to this was owning a great vineyard to base our brand from. McLaren Vale was always a place that held a lot of interest to us, with its coastal lifestyle and vibrant wines. We considered Adelaide Hills as well but the lure of the beach drew us in. When the Rayner vineyard was put up for sale in 2014 we jumped at the chance to buy this highly regarded piece of land. The Bondar Wines brand was born. Our initial releases were met with great reviews, including us winning Wine Companion’s Best New Winery in 2015. We are continuously searching for ways to improve our grape growing and winemaking, all the time learning and understanding our site in the aim of making the best wines that we can.

H. What's your winemaking ethos?
AB. At Bondar our vision is to make wines that are bright and pure, finely structured, mid-weight yet concentrated in flavour, with a savoury element. For us this 'place' dictates the style, with our hands-off winemaking approach allowing the site to be heard with minimal winemaking artefact. We do a lot of work in the vineyard to help achieve the house style, with an emphasis on canopy management such that there is an evenness across the block, a balance between bunches and leaf area, and that those bunches receive a healthy amount of dappled light as they ripen. And in the winemaking process we use minimal inputs, wild fermentation, techniques such as whole bunches, extended time on skins, and picking the fruit earlier to achieve the balanced, bright wines that we aim to make.

Jacinta Jenkins, Balnaves of Coonawarra

Jacinta Jenkins, Balnaves of Coonawarra


Jacinta Jenkins on being nominated for Winemaker of the Year: I am very honoured and excited to be shortlisted for the 2025 Winemaker of the Year.  It is a wonderful reflection of the hard work and dedication of our team at Balnaves of Coonawarra. It is also recognition of the wines we are creating from vineyard to glass to share the piece of Coonawarra that we love.

H. Tell us about your winery and your wines.
JJ. Established by Doug, Annette, and siblings, Kirsty and Pete Balnaves, Balnaves of Coonawarra is a small family-owned wine company. At Balnaves we strive to create premium wines that are a true representation of our vineyards, which were planted in 1975. The Balnaves family take pride in being very involved in the local community and well-being of the wine industry of Coonawarra and beyond.

Our chardonnay is hand-picked and whole-bunched pressed, before being barrel fermented and matured on lees for 11 months, with no malolactic fermentation. This time on lees develops a textural element that complements the bright citrus and white flower characters, creating a vibrant yet complex wine.

Our flagship wine is The Tally Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Among his many pursuits, Doug Balnaves was a shearer of Merino sheep. The higher a shearer’s daily Tally, the greater the recognition among his peers for skill and hard work. As an expression of this tradition, the Balnaves family see The Tally as the ultimate achievement of their hard work. The Tally is an elegant and perfumed wine with tightly interwoven structure that is beautiful now and will age gracefully for many years to come.

H. Tell us about your career journey and how you came to work in wine.
JJ. After completing a BSc in Biochemistry (Hons) at Monash University, I began my wine journey with vintages in Australia (Balnaves of Coonawarra, Wynns, Sons of Eden) and internationally (Ch. St Michelle, Washington State USA; Craggy Range, Hawke’s Bay NZ; Dr Loosen, Mosel Valley Germany; Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, Oregon USA).

To consolidate these experiences, I studied Viticulture and Oenology at the University of Adelaide, before working as assistant winemaker at Pikes Wines in the Clare Valley. Having grown up in Coonawarra, I was fortunate to return home in 2018 to work with the Balnaves of Coonawarra winemaker of 25 years, Peter Bissell. Upon Pete’s retirement in 2020 I was promoted to senior winemaker, and I love continuing to craft premium wines with the Balnaves family.

H. What's your winemaking ethos?
JJ. At Balnaves of Coonawarra we are striving to create elegant and perfumed wines with expressive, balanced tannins; they are cool-climate wines that are vibrant when young, but age beautifully.  Premium Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon retains fruit and structure for many years, and the longevity and freshness of the earlier Balnaves wines is something to look forward to with future vintages. Being able to share our elegantly structured wines with others is truly a reward of the job.

Liam McElhinney

Liam McElhinney, Lowestoft/Fogarty Wine Group


Liam McElhinney on being nominated for Winemaker of the Year: It’s always an honour to be nominated for any sort of accolade in this industry, and the Halliday nomination is no exception. I’ve revered the Halliday Wine Companion my whole career, so I’m immensely proud to be in the running for Winemaker of the Year, and to be representing my team and Tasmania.

H. Tell us about your winery and your wines.
LM. The Lowestoft homestead is one of Tasmania’s oldest, built between 1839 and 1850, and is located on the banks of the Derwent River near Hobart in Tasmania. In 2017, Fogarty Wine Group founder and executive chairman Peter Fogarty followed his passion for world-class pinot noir to cool-climate Tasmania. It was around this time that Peter first became aware of the historic Lowestoft property and vineyard, although he did not purchase the estate until 2019. Alongside Lowestoft, Fogarty Wine Group also developed two additional greenfield vineyard sites – Strelley Farm and Gilling Brook. 

Our focus has been on developing our luxury pinot noir portfolio under the Lowestoft and Single Vineyard offerings. These wines have exceeded our wildest expectations in a very short timeframe, which has been enormously rewarding for our winemaking and viticulture teams.

H. Tell us about your career journey and how you came to work in wine.
LM. Wine was always on the dinner table growing up – one cask of red and one cask of white. Extended family get togethers were frequent and 'fancy' wine in bottles was abundant. We were always encouraged to smell and sip from a very young age. I have vivid memories of my uncles pouring wine from bottles hidden in a brown paper bag, while family members tried to guess the vintage, region and variety...I guess you could say this left an impression!

Thanks to the patience and generosity of some early mentors, I have spent my whole working life in the wine industry. It has (and continues to be) the most brilliant and rewarding journey. I’ve just completed my fifth vintage here in Tasmania after seventeen years making wine in New Zealand.

H. What's your winemaking ethos?
LM. It sounds very cliche, but we try and keep things very simple. Showcasing these iconic Tasmanian vineyards is an absolute thrill for our winery team. We work with great growers in fantastic sites, and encourage them to be a part of the Lowestoft journey. We are very fortunate that we have the resources to keep every batch of pinot noir separate from picking to blending.

2025 Taste the Awards events

Tickets are now on sale for the 2025 Taste the Awards events. Meet some of the winning winemakers and be the first to taste the top wines of the year. Taste the Awards 2025 is an exclusive showcase of award-winning wines and wineries from the 2025 Halliday Wine Companion Awards. Secure your tickets below.

Taste the Awards: Melbourne
Thursday August 8, 2024
Sophia, Prahran
Book here

Taste the Awards: Brisbane
Thursday August 15, 2024
Blackbird, Brisbane City
Book here