It’s a big week ahead for the makers and drinkers of Hilltops wine as attention turns to the International Convention Centre in Sydney to see who takes out trophies in the 2020 NSW Wine Awards.
The Hilltops wine region is based around Boorowa, Harden and Young, just two hours northwest of Canberra and boasts around 20 vineyards producing cool-climate grapes and wines.
It is a record year for entries into the 2020 NSW Wine Awards, which has yielded 65 gold medal finalists including Ballinaclash, McWilliams and Hungerford Hill, with each bearing the hallmark Hilltops brand.
Trophies will be awarded on 23 October, with each of the 65 gold medal winners in the running for the coveted NSW Governors Trophy for Best Wine in Show, and the title of 2020 NSW Wine of the Year.
Ballinaclash’s Peter and Cath Mullany are delighted to be awarded gold medals for their 2019 Tom Cabernet Sauvignon and 2018 John Shiraz, and a bronze medal for their 2018 Joe Shiraz.
“We’re very excited,” says Cath. “We know we’re up against some great NSW wines so that’s very affirming in what we are doing.
“We’re tiny producers in an emerging wine region so what the wine shows do is help put us and the region on the map. Hilltops is producing some pretty outstanding wine and people are starting to pay attention to that.”
This has never been more evidenced than in recent months as wine tasting experiences at the Ballinaclash cellar door, near Young, have taken off.
“There was a lot of interest and lots of people travelling throughout regional NSW looking for things to do,” says Cath.
In a year that has been challenged by bushfire smoke taint and COVID-19, the tail end of 2020 is looking much better for the Mullanys who, weather permitting, are looking at a hopeful harvest with a Riesling added to their range.
McWilliam’s 2018 1877 Hilltops Shiraz and 2019 480 Hilltops Shiraz have also been conferred with gold medals in the 2020 NSW Wine Awards, as was Hungerford Hill’s 2018 Hilltops Corvina. The former using grapes from their Barwang holding, and the latter from Freeman’s Vineyard, both also close to Young.
These awards and recognition are strengthening the name of the Hilltops wine region – which boasts an ideal climate and deep, well-drained soils to produce glorious grapes for wine growing – says the man who presently sits at the helm of Hilltops Inc, vigneron and winemaker Brian Freeman.
“It’s a new emerging region that is developing some really good quality vintages,” he says. “We’ve had a lot of visitors to our cellar door and it’s people who say they have noticed the Hilltops wines in the Hunter Valley, with the Hilltops label on them. They say they wanted to come down and check them out.”
Two nights prior to the NSW Wine Awards ceremony, a far more humble occasion is the Hilltops Wine Awards on 21 October, which celebrates the best of the region and culminates in the presentation of the Peter Robertson Trophy for the Hilltops Wine of the Year.
Peter Robertson pioneered commercial wine grape growing in the Hilltops Region – before it was even known as Hilltops – from a small vineyard on his Moppity Road property, “Barwang”, which is now in the hands of the McWilliam family.
The COVID-19-muted awards night will be the annual celebration of everything Hilltops, but there’s likely to be a few hurrahs as two Hilltops wine producers – Freeman Vineyards and Moppity Vineyards – have been rated a prestigious five stars in the 2021 Halliday Wine Companion, which also includes Barwang and Grove Estate.
The Halliday Wine Companion tasting team assessed more than 9000 wines from more than 1100 wineries.
It appears increasing numbers of visitors will be heading to the hills of Jugiong with publican and passionate regionalist Kim Gamble putting The Sir George Hotel minibus to good use, offering in-house guests bespoke wine tours.
The first route heads north to the Hilltops to Freeman Vineyards, Ballinaclash, Grove Estate, Chalkers Crossing and Trandari for meet-the-maker cellar door wine tastings and vineyard picnics.