First planted in 1863, the slopes here were replanted in the 1960s.

The second year of the Australian Organic Wine Awards, supported by Gourmet Traveller WINE, was a magnificent success. With 240 wines entered from 35 regions and 51 wineries, there was hard-fought competition across an array of winemaking styles and varieties.

Judging for the awards, which were open to any certified organic winemakers from Australia, was held at Brisbane’s City Winery in early 2022. The panel was chaired by wine legend Mike Bennie, alongside judges Ramon Arnavas, Alex McPherson, Josh Martin, Millie Gosney and Lilly Heenan. This year saw the introduction a female scholarship to encourage greater female participation in organic wine; Olivia Evans was the first recipient and a judge on the awards panel. 

This year’s Australian Organic Wine Award winners are Erinn Klein and Dan Chapman from Ngeringa Wines in the Adelaide Hills. Klein’s 2019 Single Vineyard Iluma Syrah was awarded the Cullen Wines Trophy of Show, the culmination of farming biodynamically for 20 years. Congratulations to Klein and Chapman, a tiny team whose biodynamic approach is much more than just a philosophy.  

Second place was awarded to the winemaking team
at Tscharke of Marco De Martino and Damien Tscharke. De Martino’s natural talent for winemaking has seen a meteoric rise built off years of hard work by Tscharke. Their 2020 Grenache Blanc was crowned White Wine of Show. A great achievement for a winery with only seven employees. 

Growing grapes on Galicia’s steep sites is not for the faint of heart.

Ngeringa Wines 2021 Winner

Erinn Klein is an outlier in every sense, a deeply thoughtful and humble winemaker who has farmed biodynamically in South Australia for 20 years, and is now the winner of the 2021 Wine Award.

Klein was recently driving through the SA town of Mount Barker looking at the junk food shops full of punters and despairingly wondering why so many people were eating rubbish.

“You are what you eat and drink,” he says. “At least if its certified organic, you know you are not inputting chemicals into the environment and into yourself as well.” 

Such thoughts stem from some of the bigger life questions he has been raised to deeply ponder. Migrating to South Australia from Germany in 1983, Klein was whisked off to a Rudolf Steiner school (Steiner being early 20th-century father of biodynamic philosophy) in Mount Barker, where the philosophy of biodynamics was taught as the foundation of the curriculum there. 

The school teachings were matched with home conversations and practices; at the same time his parents were farming herbs for their highly acclaimed Jurlique skin care products – a leading brand that is certified biodynamic by the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture. 

Growing up on the farm, there were no herbicides allowed, all pest control, like removing weeds, was done by hand.  

In 2001 Klein planted his first grapes from scratch on the Ngeringa property, which had been farmed biodynamically since the early 1980s. 

“When we came to plant vines, there was no other way than growing grapes biodynamically as that is how I had been brought up,” he says.

“My wife Janet and I believed that that was the best and most sustainable way to grow grapes. It seemed to be the best way to grow grapes for quality as well, although this wasn’t that well known in Australia back then.”    

Korta Katarina.

His path to winemaker wasn’t straightforward; at the University of Adelaide, his undergraduate degree was in marketing, but he recalls “hating it”.

“I discovered wine through a few friends at the time and decided to study some science subjects in my final year,” he says. 

“I convinced the university that I had enough science to do the winemaking degree as a post-graduate and this was the first time I ever enjoyed studying.” 

Immediately out of university, he embarked on the flying winemaker circuit, undertaking 12 vintages in five years, including two in Europe.

“Some of the European wineries are way ahead of us,” he says. “They have been farming organically for a long time, chemicals aren’t even a consideration, especially at the small family-owned wineries. When you go through Germany, Mosel for example, many wineries are certified by Demeter, 

“I couldn’t understand why we were not doing it here.”  

In 2001, all of his childhood teachings were reinforced when he bumped into an accidental (or maybe not) mentor, someone who would have a profound impact on his future.

Roaming Scottish Highland cattle recycle nutrients at Ngeringa.

“I was at a winery in Victoria, on night shift and it was literally factory processing,” he says. “I thought I could be making Coca Cola or bottling jam; it’s just formula winemaking, I hated it”.

He then bumped into biodynamic pioneer and Beechworth winemaker Julian Castagna at the same vintage.

“In 2003, we had just planted vines and I was actually quite disillusioned with the whole wine thing. I did a vintage with Julian and he said to me: you grew up with biodynamics, you know all this stuff, just do it the right way. 

"I kind of helped him finish some of his wines and do some pruning. From there, I knew I am only working for small vineyards who think the way we do.”

Klein refers to himself as a sponge and he clearly heeded Castagna’s advice. Nigh on 20 years later, his 2019 Iluma Syrah has picked up the Cullen Wine of Show at the second Organic Wine Awards, pipping 239 other wines at the post for the grand prize. 

“That wine really shows the site and soil it is grown on,” Klein says. “It is from a small section in the middle of the Iluma vineyard where there is fractured rock, bringing a mineral and graphite character to the wine as well as a soft suppleness.

“We pick at optimal ripeness, around 13 to 14 per cent alcohol, there’s a little bit of whole bunch in each fermenter, we like plunging with hands and feet to really feel what is going on.”

Growing grapes on Galicia’s steep sites is not for the faint of heart.

“We have a long slow extraction of about a month, before the wine spends time in new and old French oak.”   

The operation is incredibly small – Klein does most of the winemaking on his own with some occasional support, while viticulturist Dan Chapman weaves his magic out in the vineyard. A whole book could be written on Ngeringa’s biodynamic approach. Some of the diverse practices include roaming Scottish Highland cattle and sheep to graze and recycle nutrients, as well as the use of native plants to attract insects that kill pests.       

Today he has six hectares under vine, about 40 per cent shiraz, 20 per cent pinot noir and chardonnay, and then small parcels of viognier, nebbiolo, sangiovese and aglianico, fiano and two rows of gamay noir. 

“We are experimenting beyond the French varieties to see what works,” he says. “Sangiovese does well here, ripens later out of the hot part of the year, out of the alternate varieties, it is showing the best signs.” 

While opportunity abounds, Klein is full of humility and free of fuss. He doesn’t want to build an empire, he wants to stay true to the biodynamic principles he learnt from his schooling and parents.

“My aim is to grow grapes and make wine as naturally as we can,” he says. 

“We are really trying to have a self-sustaining and regenerating system there for the long-term. We want to keep growing the best grapes possible for site, season and terroir.” 

Ngeringa was one of the first certified biodynamic wineries in South Australia; the teachings of Rudolf Steiner aren’t going away anytime soon.  

Growing grapes on Galicia’s steep sites is not for the faint of heart.

Tscharke Wines 2021 Runner-Up

Tscharke’s Marco De Martino is going places fast; just a few years ago he was a cellar hand with no experience, now he is making award-winning wine.   

Some people seem destined to make great wine from the outset. De Martino is quickly standing out as one of those, with this unique pedigree and skill. 

In 2019, he was quietly working in the cellar at Tscharke’s small, family-owned winery in the Barossa Valley. Then in 2020, with no formal winemaking experience or training, winery owner Damien Tscharke asked De Martino to turn his hand to making a grenache blanc from just two-year-old vines planted on the Gnadenfrei Vineyard

His first crack resulted in an award for white wine of the show at this year’s Australian Organic Wine Show. 

Beginners luck you may think. But the same wine won organic wine of show at the 2021 Royal Melbourne Wine Show and he also picked up the top gong for white wine of show at the 2021 Marananga Wine Show. Nothing is happening by accident.

It was a meeting of the minds for Marco De Martino and Damien Tscharke.

The story goes back to the year 2000, when Tscharke bought land from his grandfather and started planting vines, completing his first harvest in 2001.

The cellar door was built in 2010. It was a big drawcard for locals and tourists but was temporarily closed while work was underway to create a new cellar door that will double as a wine bar.

The first plantings have grown to 33 hectares of vineyard under organic management, cut across four vineyards – the Stone Well, Gnadenfrei North and South, and Greenock Creek. Grapes include grenache, shiraz, mataro, montepulciano, savagnin, albariño and grenache blanc.      

All of the vineyards were certified organic in 2019 and biodynamic in 2020.

“The certification was quite easy to get for us,” De Martino says. “We had always farmed very close to what organic farming is, with very minimal inputs.”  

“It is very important for us to have micro-organisms, good bacteria and insects; these make the soil very rich in nutrients. It doesn’t look like a monoculture, it looks like an ecosystem where the weeds, grasses and legumes we sow into the vineyard take over during winter and spring.” 

Growing grapes on Galicia’s steep sites is not for the faint of heart.

The Gnadenfrei Vineyard has been planted with purposeful intent to balance human winemaking with the preservation of the natural environment.

“It is a beautiful piece of land surrounded by trees and wildlife and we decided to plant vines only on certain bare ridges,” De Martino says.

“We have a vineyard filled with bird life hares and kangaroos. All of the animals that most people would try to get rid of, we are trying keep – along with the natural ecosystem.” 

The Gnadenfrei Grenache Blanc label features a sketch of the falcons that live in the gumtrees right next to the vineyard. It is a uniquely branded wine and a grape style that is not widely grown or perhaps known in Australia. 

“The Rhône varieties like marsanne and roussanne seem to do well around here,” De Martino says. “We initially did grenache blanc as a bit of a challenge and we quickly realised the amazing potential of this variety.  

“It’s late ripening, so the vines get a bit more of the cooler nights, resulting in better acid retention and riper tannins.” 

The wine is made in a rich textural style, fermented on stalks, then transferred into terracotta amphorae on lees for 10 months, with regular stirring. 

De Martino only joined Tscharke in November 2018, one of his first jobs was to plant the grenache blanc that he used to make his first vintage. And he’s never studied winemaking, so how did he pull such a great wine on his first vintage?  

“I came to Australia from Varenna in Italy after school, went to back to Europe and then to Brisbane to work in hospitality,” he says.  

“I fell in love with wine, started reading about wine and doing tastings. It was easy to move to the Barossa, after sending out 100 resumes, Tscharke was the only winery that got back to me.

“Obviously you should have a good palate but you also need a real connection to the vines and the wine you make.” 

De Martino is also deeply aware of his special place and support, quick to thank the whole winery team of Damien, Kylie Bond, Liam Hurcombe, Maddi Hegarty, Tamara Scholz, Jess Greatwich and Saiphea Vorng.

And he is someone who truly believes biodynamic is the only path. As we wrap up our chat, he says something that profoundly defines his belief in where the magic happens and who is responsible. 

“People call winemakers gods,” he chuckles. “Winemakers aren’t gods …. God is in the vineyard.”  

To find out more about the judging criteria, see: austorganic.com

Growing grapes on Galicia’s steep sites is not for the faint of heart.

Australian Organic launches new scholarship for women

As part of the 2021 Organic Awards competition, Australian Organic started an exclusive female scholarship to increase women’s participation in organic wine discovery and promotion. 

This year’s first recipient is Olivia Evans, who has been working across wine retail and restaurants for the past seven years. Evans says she is “incredibly honoured to be the first of many amazing women who will receive this scholarship”. 

The scholarship program includes immersion in all things organic, a seat at the judging table, mentoring from industry leaders and tasting masterclasses. 

“Farming wine organically is essential if we are to move towards balancing the sustainability of our environment while using land for agriculture,” says Evans. “There are a growing number of winemakers in Australia who have committed to organic viticulture and the industry is overflowing with some of the greatest and most innovative minds.”

“Show Chair Mike Bennie invited us to have an open approach and to discuss each wine in its entirety, without the focus on looking for faults or assessing what the wine lacked, but more so about how it made us feel and where it belonged in the market.”  

Evans is full of encouragement for women who may be interested in applying for the next scholarship.  

“For anyone who feels that they are not yet ‘good enough’ to apply for this scholarship, try to break that mindset,” she says. “What you can contribute to the organic wine industry is unlike anyone else and completely unique to you, so go for it.”  

Announcements will be made about applications for the 2022 female scholarship in the next edition of Gourmet Traveller WINE.  

Growing grapes on Galicia’s steep sites is not for the faint of heart.

The Australian Organic Wine Awards are proudly brought to you by Australian Organic, supported by Gourmet Traveller WINE, Cullen Wines, Riedel, Wine Ark, City Winery and Organic Wine.

Award-winning Wines To Try

Cullen Wines Trophy Wine of Show 

2019 Ngeringa Single Vineyard Iluma Syrah, Adelaide Hills, A$65
A delicious wine that you can watch evolve as it opens out in the glass. Beautifully perfumed with hints of violets, spice and dried herbs, it traverses through an array of flavours, olive, mushroom, umami and purple fruits. The mouth is silky, with a lingering finish of finesse and drive. Gold Medal

WHITE WINE OF SHOW

2020 Tscharke Gnadenfrei Grenache Blanc, Barossa Valley, A$60 
Grenache blanc is not widely grown in Australia but may have found its spiritual home in the warmth of the Barossa. A layered wine of structure and intensity, the bouquet is floral with key lime pie and tropical fruit. The palate has a round and gentle warmth, soft acid, spices and nutty characters. Has many years ahead of it. Gold Medal 

BEST LEFT OF CENTRE WINE

2020 Minimum Wines Colossus of Harry Sauvignon Blanc, Central Victoria, A$32
A textural skin contact sauvignon blanc that is unfiltered, resulting in a cloudy golden wine. Pear, lemon and honeysuckle on the nose move into a lively palate of tropical and stone fruit. Screams out for some funky food to match. Gold Medal

BEST CHILLABLE

2021 See Saw Marge Skin Contact Gamay Pinot Noir, Orange, A$25
A juicy, crunchy wine with a difference, seductively perfumed with a lovely fruit intensity of small red berries. It’s bright and vibrant, with texture and savouriness balancing against the delicious fruit. Pop it in the fridge and serve with saucisson. Great value. Silver Medal

Best Newcomer
(the highest score from the most recently certified winery)

2021 McHenry Hohnen Apiary Block Chardonnay, Margaret River, A$35
McHenry Hohnen has been making fine wine for years, but recent certification of their Hazel’s vineyard is seeing them already produce exceptional organic wine. This chardonnay is unfiltered and cloudy, white flowers and stone fruit on the nose move into a textural and savoury palate. A bright future here. Silver Medal

BEST PARK WINE

2020 Minimum Wines Hailstorm Special Pét Nat, Toolamba, A$32
This is what pretty pét-nat looks like. Blush pink in the glass with strawberries and cream, red confectionery and a hint of musk on the nose. The refreshing fizz and acid are mouth-watering, commanding another sip straight after you put the glass down. Long celebrations in the sunshine await. Silver Medal

Growing grapes on Galicia’s steep sites is not for the faint of heart.