When it comes to producing a great riesling, Stephanie Helm knows she has learned from the best – and so did the rest of the wine-making community last week at the 2023 Canberra International Riesling Challenge.
Co-owner of The Vintner’s Daughter winery at Murrumbateman with her husband Ben Osborne, winemaker Stephanie Helm is also the daughter of Ken Helm, who this year celebrated 50 years in the industry.
The Vintner’s Daughter won the prestigious Best Canberra District Riesling – ACT Chief Minister’s Perpetual Trophy for its semi-sweet riesling at the Challenge – which attracts winemakers from around the world and is the leading event of its type in the Southern Hemisphere.
The accolade marks a return to the winner’s circle for the Murrumbateman winery which won the same award nine years ago soon after starting its independent winemaking journey.
Stephanie and Ben are both wine industry professionals – Ben has more than a decade of experience managing vineyards while Stephanie made her first wine at age nine, following in her father’s footsteps.
Receiving the trophy from ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, Stephanie said it was a special feeling to win, especially as her father had established the Challenge more than 20 years ago and, coincidentally, announced last week that he was stepping down from the board so someone younger with fresh ideas could take over.
But, no, Stephanie, said, it was not going to be her. Running the winery with her husband and raising their two children was more than enough at the moment.
“But I must say I did have a smile on my face when I got up to receive the award – Mum and Dad were at home babysitting the kids,” she laughed.
Describing it as a great honour, Stephanie said the award was also special because it showed the strength of the cool climate wine industry in the capital region.
“Winning something like this, having this sort of recognition after what we’ve been through is a lot sweeter,” she said. “It shows how resilient we’ve had to be. There are many things we can factor in each year like heat stress, but then there were the things we had no control over like losing a whole crop to the bushfire smoke, the hailstorms.
“It definitely felt like it was all happening to us in the last few years so victories like these are a nice boost.”
Stephanie believes the success of her wine is due to the fact she focuses on quality rather than quantity when creating a product. “We make a premium and unique product,” she said. “We don’t make huge quantities.
“This award is a welcome boost to our spirits and it’s amazing to have received the same points as some of the best riesling makers in the world. It reminds us that all the hard work we put into our craft truly pays off in the end.”
The same riesling also won a gold medal at the Winewise Small Vigneron Awards earlier this year, the achievement especially significant because the vintage was affected by unpredictable weather conditions and late ripening.
“The distinctive flavours in this wine are a direct result of the cooler-than-usual season, which led to high acidity levels being retained while the fruit ripened,” she said. “This, in turn, allowed us to craft a slightly sweeter riesling style that retains the fresh, crisp, citrus character that defines all great Canberra rieslings.”