For Clonakilla, one of the oldest wineries in the Canberra region, there has been a slight silver lining to the smoke- tainted cloud that has all but annihilated its 2020 vintage.
The Murrumbateman winery has been listed at number four in The Real Review’s Top Wineries of Australia 2020.
Considering Clonakilla sat at number 74 in 2019, that’s number four with a bullet, among 415 Australian wineries that feature in the 2020 listing.
Chief winemaker and CEO Tim Kirk says the listing is not without controversy, being based on a proprietary algorithm that takes into account recent scores and reviews from Huon Hooke and his tasting team.
“It’s very variable,” says Tim. “It looks like an objective statement on your position in the Australian wine industry, but it’s actually a statement on how good Huon thought your most recent batches of wines were.”
Huon is one of Australia’s leading wine experts, a critic and judge who has been writing about wine for 37 years. He writes and reviews for The Real Review as well as contributing to The Sydney Morning Herald and Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine.
“Huon is nothing if not an authoritative voice in Australian wine,” says Tim. “He would be second only to James Halliday in terms of his status. He’s a great wine man of Australia and when Huon writes a great review, it has great impact.
“It [the listing] certainly underlines what we hope is a fairly strong idea that Clonakilla is a highly dependable, high quality wine producer from the greater Canberra region.
“We also hope it underlines the strong idea that wines in this region can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best wines in the country, and that the industry here has come to a level of maturity that gives consumers and wine lovers great confidence they’re going to get high quality.”
Established in 1971 by CSIRO scientist John Kirk, Clonakilla was the first commercial winery in the Murrumbateman district, and plaudits have since come in thick and fast including NSW Wine of the Year and Penguin Wine Guide Wine of the Year. It is also rated in the exceptional category in auction house Langton’s classification of Australian wines. For Qantas, it has won best red wine served in first-class cabins anywhere in the world for the past two consecutive years.
Just last year, international wine writer James Suckling rated the 2019 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier at number 11 in the world.
“Far more plaudits than we deserve,” says Tim. “But in the ongoing positive flow of good reviews we’ve had in recent years, this is another great notch in the belt. We’re delighted.”
It is welcome news in a year when many of the region’s vineyards – already parched by insatiable drought – endured record summer temperatures and thick blankets of bushfire-related smoke that resulted in fruit taint rendering the 2020 vintage worthless.
“We didn’t pick any grapes at all from our vineyards here or in Hilltops because of the smoke damage as a direct consequence of the bushfires,” says Tim.
“We bought in fruit from interstate – Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia – but we ended up making about 10 per cent of what we normally make. The fires really hit us hard. Not directly, but the secondary impact of the smoke meant the fruit was unpickable.”
Then came COVID-19, which not only closed cellar doors nationally but halted restaurant trade for winemakers for several months.
Clonakilla’s cellar doors recently reopened and with some normality restored, plus good rain, Tim’s outlook is positive.
“It’s been catastrophic in that we haven’t made any wine this year, and that’s not just true for us but for quite a few wineries around here,” he says. “We are desperately hoping – with some confidence having had two inches of rain over the weekend – that 2021 will be a return to good rainfall, good crop levels and the high quality for which this district is now becoming famous.”
And the cellar is full.
“It’s the wines from the 2018 vintage that Huon has reviewed very strongly and that just confirms 2018 was a really great vintage for the Canberra region, and Hilltops as well,” adds Tim.
“We also believe 2019 is just as good. So even though 2020 is a disastrous year, we were blessed that 2018 and 2019 were both very high quality, and that’s good news for wine lovers of the region as there’s plenty of great wine from those two vintages to go around.”
Other Canberra district wines featured in The Real Review listing are Mount Majura Vineyard at number 76, Helm at 171, Lark Hill at 232 and Collector Wines at 380.
In the Hilltops region, Grove Estate was listed at number 249.