First published on 25 May 2010. Updated on 12 May 2011.
Rory Kent, young wine industry go-getter, set out to yardstick the youth of the Australian wine community with his benchmark 2009 Young Guns of WineFestival, which celebrates its second coming this year. "It's about connecting and celebrating with these young mavericks who are the trendsetters of tomorrow's fashion in wine," says Kent. Last year's programme brought together a bunch of colourful winemakers with an array of visions and directions – all with the common thread of seeking to up the wine offering to Australian drinkers.
While youth is certainly not the fat in the bell curve when you consider the demographic of the wine industry, this is one of the most open and exciting periods for young winemakers to be plying their trade. It's clear from the level of commitment and passion for the industry that youth doesn't translate to irreverence, no matter how creatively wine is presented. A resurgent youthful national wine promotions body, Wine Australia, has perked up to give voice to a new generation.
Meanwhile, wine drinkers are understanding more about the distinction of a quality offering and a sense of place from wines – something a lot of the younger winemakers are pushing. "Right now there are certainly wines posing the question of what is good wine and how we go about doing it," says Mac Forbes, a firebrand from the Yarra Valley who is arguably making some of the most exceptional region-specific pinot noir in the country. "It's an exciting chapter right now and hopefully one that can be sustained. There is an X-Factor for me in the Yarra, and we're just scratching the surface," says Forbes. This year sees a sixth single-site Mac Forbes Pinot Noir ($35–$50) being released – an amazing testimony to the scope for the Yarra Valley to bare its varied souls.
In South Australia, Colin McBryde from Some Young Punks has often been described as an anomaly for his full sleeve tattoos and PhD, but the real story is much deeper. His cross-pollination with other young winemakers – Matt Gant from First Drop Wines, Mike Aylward at Ocean Eight and Mac Forbes – and a history of international winemaking has landed him in South Australia sourcing unique vineyards to produce a range of wines that have modern styling and immediate sex appeal. The wines have a pulse (how could they not with names like ‘The Squid's Fist' or 'Naked on Roller Skates'?). These are expressive and exciting with full-throttle flavour and a final pursuit of integrity and texture.
First Drop Wines from the Barossa Valley stars young dudes Matt Gant and John Retsas, whose legendary wine events aptly debunk the‘wine-is-serious' myth so often spruiked by grape juice wankers. "Wine is fun, wine is a talking piece. We want people engaging around a bottle, not just pontificating," says Gant. The wines show exacting quality, a sense of regionality and a heck of a lot of creativity. A standout is the blend called JR Gantos 2006 ($40) that marries cabernet sauvignon and touriga nacional (a Portuguese grape variety grown in Australia).
This new generation of wine makers are catering for a new generation of wine drinkers. Their aim isn't dusty labels and impressive vintages. It's to get people drinking and talking. We say get into it.
Wine by Some Young Punks Passion Has Red Lips Shiraz Cabernet 2009 ($20)
Here is the old-school Aussie blend of shiraz and cab, and though juicy and pretty, has a strum of rustic funk for good measure. Snap-to-attention kind of gear. Available from North Sydney Cellars.
Wine By Brad Cabernet Merlot 2008 ($17)
Throwing caution to the wind, Brad makes sensational value, varietal Margaret River wines at scoffing prices. For an elevation in quality try his premium Mantra range of wines, but at this price his cab merlot is a ripper. Available from Cremorne Cellars.
Hoddles Creek Chardonnay 2008 ($24)
Jaw-dropping quality for the price point, Franco D’Anna gets the kind of layered complexity in this wine that you would expect from chardonnay at least twice the price. Pristine fruit, focus and cool reserve. Killer. Available from Sydney Wine Merchants.