The premiere issue of Gourmet Traveller WINE was launched as a quarterly publication with founding editor Peter Forrestal at the helm. He gathered a roll-call of the finest wine writers, such as Jancis Robinson MW, Huon Hooke and Peter Bourne from Australia and abroad, and formed the GT WINE tasting panel and Winemaker of The Year panel which he chairs to this day. James Halliday penned his first Great Tastings column, which became a regular feature in the magazine. We reported that mainland China was just beginning to discover wine. Vintage wasn’t particularly good in Australia apart from the rieslings of Clare and Eden valleys –and Yarra Valley pinot noir.
The GT WINE Winemaker of the Year Awards were launched with the hot contenders for the prize including Philip Shaw, Vanya Cullen, and Stephen and Prue Henschke – all of whom went on to win the award over the following years. However, the inaugural winner was Jeffrey Grosset. Contributor Jeremy Oliver sprouted forth on Penfolds “white Grange” project, which was later released as Yattarna Chardonnay. At the same time, to everyone’s horror, fake bottles of fake Penfolds Grange were identified by Langton’s Wine Auctions. This year’s harvest saw a bumper crop.
As its popularity increased, Gourmet Traveller WINE became a bi-monthly publication. The wines of Margaret River and Yarra Valley were on the up and up and, as longstanding contributor and panel member Nick Bulleid MW pointed out, readers were beginning to recognise that “different grape varieties were suited to particular areas.” Australian wine prices began to increase on the world market and buying wine on the internet was becoming ‘a thing’ with this magazine giving a round-up of the best websites to do just that. The tidal wave of Marlborough sauvignon blanc was beginning to gain momentum. Back in Australia, winemakers were enjoying a moderately good vintage.
As Peter Bourne declared, “The Millennium year raised the curtain for a decade of great change.” On the downside, on 1 July, not only was a 10% goods and services tax introduced, but also a 29% WET tax on wine. At the same time, a tsunami of sauvignon blanc from New Zealand was gathering pace, while Stuart Piggot introduced the first International Riesling Tasting and our panel was involved in the third Langton’s Classification of Wine. Vintage in Australia was a mixed bag, with Victoria and WA perhaps coming out best, while overseas, Bordeaux had its vintage of the century.
It was a year of evolution with GT WINE publishing its first ever New Zealand supplement, which included the Top 20 Kiwi Pinot Noirs. The inaugural Len Evans Tutorial was launched in the Hunter Valley and Langton’s introduced its online auctions, proving fruitful for the secondary market. The first stirrings of the screwcap would lead to revolutionary changes in both Australia and New Zealand. Bottle shop sales reflected that shiraz and chardonnay were still tops, while pinot noir was increasing. Most regions experienced a good vintage with harvest up 25%. And GT WINE introduced the Young Winemaker of the Year Award with Ross Pamment taking out the inaugural gong.
As Jeremy Oliver pointed out: “Australian wine was in turmoil. We were making more wine than we should have from overcropped vineyards.” Or vineyards had grown too big, too fast. We were also losing traction on the world stage with major markets such as the UK declaring our wines ‘boring’ and ‘industrial’. Meanwhile, Robert Parker Jr was handing out massive scores for wines you could practically chew on, which in turn encouraged winemakers to produce blockbuster drops in order to gain high points. At the time, it was the coolest vintage on record in South Australia.
As Tyson Stelzer said, “2003 is a year we’ll never forget.” Global warming was upon us with a hot season like never experienced before. Yellowtail, now in its third vintage, became Australia’s biggest vinous export with three million cases going to the US. Everyone was debating the pros and cons of screwcaps with Australia becoming the world’s largest user. In New Zealand, winemakers were successfully experimenting with Bordeaux- style blends and screwcaps outsold corks for the first time. GT WINE won Best Drinks Magazine at the World Food Media Awards. The first Mornington Peninsula International Pinot Noir Celebration hosted by Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association was held to support the growing interest in the region and in pinot noir in general.
GT WINE had a bit of a revamp, which included introducing our new tasting section – Top New Releases – and appointing Bob Campbell MW as New Zealand editor. Our trusty tasting panel branched out and explored alternative red grape varieties. Jancis Robinson MW gladly brought our attention to the fact that more and more women were working in wine and contributor, the late Colin Climo was hot on the track of biodynamics movement interviewing leading light Nicolas Joly, based in Loire. The global thirst for New Zealand wine continued to grow in leaps and bounds, with exports more than quadrupling.
There was no stopping our friends across the ditch. New Zealand’s 500th winery was opened and exports began exceeding domestic sales. On the home front, a special wine show committee headed up by Nick Bulleid MW introduced a code of practice restricting the use of show medals on wine labels. We attended a celebration of Wynns 50th vintage of cabernet in Coonawarra and profiled a raft of young gun winemaking talent from Barossa while James Halliday tasted and wrote about Henschke Mount Edelstone wines going back to the 1950s. GT WINE once again won Best Drinks Magazine at the World Media Awards.
Len Evans, who at his own invitation wrote the Last Word column for GT WINE for a number of years, sadly passed away, as did John Middleton from Mount Mary. At the same time, Foster’s put a number of wineries on the market including Seppeltsfield. It was truly the end of an era. We discussed how much intervention in winemaking was okay and whether it should be permitted for European winemakers to use oak chips. We also pondered if the drought and frost might help bring an end to the dreaded wine glut, and we detailed the pros and cons of cleanskins.
We celebrated GT WINE’s 10th birthday by asking our tasting panel to choose 10 of the best from each of Australia’s top wine styles. Looking back, the story not only demonstrated who was making great wine but how inexpensive it was. In those days, you could secure a 1996 Penfolds Grange for a mere A$500 and the 2001 Henschke Hill of Grace for A$383. While looking at numbers we also wondered how many wines our readers would have tried in a decade, settling on a conservative 3,500 bottles if they limited themselves to (an unlikely) one a week and 24,500 if they enjoyed one a day. We then calculated wine professionals would have each sniffed and slurped closer to 100,000 bottles in the same period. The GT WINE Len Evans Award for Leadership was introduced, with the first award presented to David Hohnen of McHenry Hohnen.
Regular contributor, Sophie Otton (pictured) wrote about how the inauguration of the Sommeliers Australia Wine Education and Service Program, and the introduction of the Court of Master Sommeliers courses into Australia would raise the bar on service standards by generating more qualified sommeliers to work in hospitality. We also were beginning to hear more about ‘natural’ and ‘low intervention wines’ – especially from France. Despite some questions about exactly what ‘natural’ means, the movement has continued capture the attention of next-generation winemakers and younger wine drinkers.
We noted growing interest in alternative varieties such as fiano, vermentino and nero d’Avola that have proved to suit our climate and some regions very well. Although what winemakers thought was albariño turned out to be savagnin. Victoria was on a roll, with Yarra Valley chardonnay and Mornington Peninsula pinot noir in particular causing excitement, along with Tassie sparklings and cool-climate shiraz from Canberra District. Vintage was not such a happy occasion in our drought-stressed country with devastating bushfires – especially in SA and Victoria, where many had to deal with smoke-taint for the first time. There were some highlights, but while vintage was small it was not small enough to rectify the wine glut at the time.
The start of a new decade and a much more exciting time for Australian wine. The drought broke and there was growing interest in vineyard health, as well as organic and biodynamic farming. Alternative varieties were gaining strength, largely thanks to Chalmers and Ricca Terra Farms. Interest in natural wines was taking off with the late Sam Hughes forming the Natural Selection Collective in the Hunter Valley. We began to see more and more lo-fi makers follow suit fermenting wines on skins in ceramic eggs. In response to global warming, producers looked to cool climate sites, especially in Tasmania. The Rosé Revolution was born and wine bar culture was on the rise especially in Sydney and Melbourne.
Then the rains came, causing awful grape-growing conditions in many regions with drenched fruit left with botrytis or underripe. However, Western Australia, especially Margaret River, fared well, and the Hunter Valley and Tasmania still produced decent wines. Breaking with tradition, the elegant 2010 Glaetzer Mon Père Tassie shiraz caused a stir when it won the 2011 Jimmy Watson Trophy rather than one of the more powerful South Australian reds favoured in years gone by, demonstrating the shift in judging and consumer preference. GT WINE introduced its now very popular annual Best Cellar Door Awards to not only celebrate wineries’ achievements but to provide readers with a region by region guide to cellar doors.
Following the amazing Bordeaux vintages in 2009 and 2010, some were disappointed that prices for the less exciting 2011 vintage did not shift downwards in 2012. The Chinese market began to turn its attention to Burgundy, particularly pinot noir and Chablis. Tasmania’s wine and food tourism was bursting onto the scene with the opening of MONA in Hobart. Steve Pannell who won our Winemaker of the Year Award this year declared the vintage in McLaren Vale the best he’d ever seen, while Michael Dhillon of Bindi celebrated his 25th harvest, declaring it “the perfect vintage in Victoria’s Macedon Ranges”.
Happily, a very favourable vintage across Australia. GT WINE contributor and panel member Toni Paterson MW was particularly enamoured with Hunter Valley semillon, Clare Valley riesling, Adelaide Hills and Margaret River chardonnay. Reds, she said, were good across the board. The passion for pinot noir continued to escalate with fine local and NZ examples featuring on wine lists and bottle shop shelves, while Tom Carson took out the Jimmy Watson Trophy for his 2012 Yabby Lake Block 1 Pinot Noir. In conjunction with director David Roach and Warwick Ross, Andrew Caillard MW released his memorable film Red Obsession about China’s infatuation with Bordeaux. The first annual Rootstock festival took place putting local and overseas artisanal producers firmly in the spotlight and helping to encourage a younger market to embrace wine. GT WINE introduced the Viticulturist of the Year Award, with Ray Guerin of Shaw + Smith taking out the inaugural gong.
The craze for ‘natural’ wines continued, although with more scrutiny on what was meant by the term. We were learning to distinguish between terms like ‘pet-nats’, ‘unfiltered’, and ‘skin contact’ and ‘whole-bunch’ wines instead of throwing them all under the same and often incorrect moniker. Australian exports to Europe increased by 4% driven by bulk wine, while vintage proved to be a challenging one for many, with exceptions in the Hunter Valley and Margaret River, and Coonawarra and Clare Valley. South Australia’s wine bar scene started to take off following suit with the eastern states.
It was a good and productive year in wine on many fronts. Gourmet Traveller WINE became an independent publication free of the constraints of the corporate world, overall vintage was excellent and in 2015/16, Australian wine exports grew by 11.4%. Meanwhile, the Australian Organic Market Report showed a 120% increase in sales of certified organic drinks (including wine). Across the ditch, Bob Campbell MW controversially awarded the 2014 Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay a perfect 100-point score, while in response to the glut of ordinary Marlborough sauvignon blanc produced in recent years, a group of wineries formed MANA Winegrowers to collectively bring practices back to earth through organic farming.
GT WINE sported a new look after being redesigned to reflect the evolving market and PEFC-approved recyclable paper was introduced in an effort to be more environmentally responsible. Our digital edition was launched allowing us to reach a broader market. Contributor Julian Tompkin noted a fascination for diverse varieties was now playing out on a global scale, with many focusing on indigenous varieties – some in danger of extinction. We saw wine in Eastern European countries, Greece, Italy and Israel gaining traction, while back home, there was a resurgence of concrete tanks and amphorae in wineries. Also, the Women in Wine Awards were introduced to acknowledge the dynamic presence of women in the industry.
After five years, Rootstock called last drinks at its final event. It had done its job and blazed a trail for what were once little known and under-appreciated minimal intervention wines. At the same time, the late Taras Ochota was nominated as a GT WINE Winemaker of the Year finalist. He was at the vanguard of the collective cultural shift, broadening Australia’s image through his personal flamboyance and compelling wines. GT WINE introduced Young Sommeliers to Watch, an initiative that ran through the year to recognise up-and-coming wine professionals with Melbourne’s Kara Maisano taking out the award.
It was a busy year for GT WINE. Not only did we move into our new HQ in Surry Hills, but we also launched the inaugural NZ Winemaker of the Year Awards. Australia’s Wine List of the Year Awards, which we partnered with from 2008 to 2020, celebrated their 25th year. Our judges noted that regionality had become a significant focus on Australian wine lists, and city restaurants were more supportive of wines from their home states. Lists that were once conservative were now embracing orange, skin contact and minimal-intervention wines. The once alternative styles had become more mainstream. GT WINE launched its revamped digital edition allowing followers swift and easy access to articles on their screens and phones.
The World’s 50 Best Vineyards was launched in the UK as tourism continued to become increasingly important in the world of wine. There were numerous conferences on wine tourism held around the globe. More and more wineries started to open restaurants and become aware of the need for a well-appointed cellar door. There was also a lot more talk (and action) about sustainability in the vineyard and wineries, with international pressure mounting to ban the use of synthetic chemical herbicides. Jancis Robinson MW asked why wine writers and winemakers vary so markedly in their opinions.
After holding the third GT WINE NZ Winemaker of the Year Awards early in the year in Auckland, Covid-19 hit, travel stopped, and life changed. As the lockdowns hit, the GT WINE team learned how to work remotely, relying on Zoom to communicate with winemakers and each other. We mastered the art of holding online tastings with our own panel, as well as with winemakers around the globe who were no longer able to travel. We even managed to celebrate our annual Winemaker of the Year Awards online and held reader tastings with the likes Sam Neill whose wines were delivered to participants before the event. Online wine retailers and couriers worked overtime delivering bottles to thirsty wine-lovers around the country, meanwhile, cabinet sales were increased. It was also the year our hospitality industry took a huge hit. Bars and restaurants were closed, cellar doors in our treasured wine regions simply didn’t have any customers, and annual wine events were cancelled.
Still in the throes of the pandemic, crossing state borders was challenging and international borders impossible, so our NZ Winemaker of the Year Awards held early in the year morphed into yet another Zoom event. By this time, everyone had become very adept at delivering wines to writers and readers at home so that they could participate in online events. We became Australian and New Zealand partner for the International Star Wine List Awards, now in 28 countries and growing, so that we could continue to support Australia’s sommeliers and hospitality industry. We even managed to host a live event in August for Sydney somms, but sadly Australia’s Winemaker of Year Awards was another big bash on Zoom as finalists could not escape their regions and states. Dom Sweeney became the youngest editor while Jane Skilton MW took over the role in NZ. In support of the growing interest in Organic Wines, GT WINE became media partner for the launch of the Australian Organic Wine Awards. We will continue to champion these awards along with all the other important initiatives we have continued to roll out over the past 25 years – no matter what curve balls were thrown.