A wine produced by Endeavour Group (ASX: EDV) owned Riddoch Coonawarra was the first cab sav in the rank at this year's prestigious International Wine Challenge (IWC), where Australian wines came only second to France in the medal tally.
Of Australia's 62 golds at the event (behind France's 72), there was a disproportionate showing as well for Casella's Morris Wines which claimed six gold medals for its muscat, topaque and tawny fortified wines; a category that only accounts for 2 per cent of Australian wine sold globally.
But it was the honours that went to 'Riddoch The Pastoralist Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2021' that turned heads as an Australian wine beat competitors from 20 other countries to claim the International Cabernet Sauvignon Trophy for the first time in more than a decade.
The initiative itself received more than 6,000 wine entries from more than 50 countries.
"Australia has a long and distinguished history of making fortified wines, but production declined in the 60s," said IWC co-chair Sam Caporn.
"It is great to see winemakers responding to the growing global demand for fortified wines and drawing on their winemaking heritage to produce some outstanding wines in this category."
Riddoch Coonawarra is part of Paragon Wine Estates, the premium wine portfolio of bottle shop and pub owner Endeavour Group which spun off from Woolworths Group (ASX: WOW). The retailer still retains a 9.1 per cent stake in the company.
The award-winning cabernet sauvignon was made by Riddoch Coonawarra’s chief winemaker Tim Heath and winemaker Matt Reimann.
"John Riddoch started making wine in the Coonawarra in 1890, and in doing so established one of Australia’s greatest wine regions," Heath said.
"Today, we’re proud to continue his legacy of crafting expressive wines that are a great representation of the region.
"Back in 2020, Matt and I set ourselves some fairly ambitious targets for the quality of wines we wanted to produce under the Riddoch Coonawarra name. Winemaking is about long-term effort and persistence, and if we’re completely honest, we thought it would take much longer than this to receive these kinds of accolades."
Heath said the pair were quietly confident about the wines bottled for the 2021 vintage, but it was incredibly special to receive this validation for all the hard work that has happened in the background over the last three years.
"Riddoch has a rich history, and we’re incredibly excited to add these trophies to our cabinet alongside the coveted Jimmy Watson trophy for the 1986 vintage cabernet shiraz, which was awarded back in 1987," he said.
He described 2021 as a "fantastic growing season" in the Coonawarra, noting the viticultural approach is also very important as "great wine is grown and then made in the vineyard".
"It wouldn’t be an understatement to say it was the best year in at least 10 years in the Coonawarra region, and I think it would rank up there with some of the best," he said.
"The Coonawarra is blessed with amazing dirt, the terra rossa soil which is a bright red free draining clay that sits over limestone, and that makes those cabernet vines work. It keeps them fit.
"The climate and the diurnal range – the difference between daytime and night-time temperature – in the Coonawarra is quite large; the region’s very close to the Southern Ocean, and there’s a very cold current that runs down there called the Bonney Upwelling during the ripening season, and that’s what keeps it cool, keeps the grapes fresh and delivers the flavours that we’re after."
He added the award itself was not just about his or Reimann's efforts, but the whole team from the viticulture department to cellar and vineyard staff, and growers.
"This award is really meaningful at a regional level, rather than it being about us," he said.
David Morris of Morris Wines said the mix of soil, rainfall and climate in the Rutherglen region were conducive to high-quality wines.
"We've got warm temperatures that go on, and in April we're still getting nice temperatures and even in early May we're often finishing off picking for our fortified wines - we've got that Indian summer that gives us nice warmth to allow the sugars to ripen on the vine naturally," Morris said.
"But I'll add one more aspect to it - it's the ageing conditions. The wines seem to be able to age gracefully in our barrel sheds, and just get better with time.
"The region has got the right conditions to produce tremendous fortified wines and all styles, whether that's the tawnys, the topaques or the muscats, and we enjoy making those styles of wines every bit as much as we do the dry red table wines, particularly the durif - that's a variety that the Morris family pioneered in Australia, and we're very proud of that as well."
Get our daily business news
Sign up to our free email news updates.
Help us deliver quality journalism to you.
As a free and independent news site providing daily updates
during a period of unprecedented challenges for businesses everywhere
we call on your support