THE Hunter Valley Legends Awards began in 2007 as an exclusively wine event and it and the associated annual awards have since spread into new areas of Wine Country life.
That process extended at Thursday night's presentation dinner at Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort with two new awards.
The 2022 Hunter Tourism Operator of the Year was won by Beyond Ballooning owner Julia Allen, and the Hunter Accommodation Operator of the Year to Spicers Guesthouse at Ekerts Road, Pokolbin, and presented to Spicers' regional general manager Mark Whitnell.
Before a crowd of 350 dinner guests Phil Hele OAM, owner and general manager of the Hunter Valley Resort over three decades, was inducted as 2022 Hunter Valley Tourism Industry Living Legend.
The 2022 wine Legend award was presented to Neil McGuigan, who became the fourth member of his family to be so honoured.
It was bestowed on Neil's father Perc in its inaugural year of 2007, his brother Brian in 2008 and in 2009 on Brian's wife Fay.
Neil, now 64, a fourth generation McGuigan wine man, graduated from Roseworthy College's winemaking course in 1978 and joined the Branxton-based Wyndham Estate headed by Brian.
He worked at Wyndham for 14 years in the key post of production director.
In 1992, after Wyndham had been swallowed up by the giant French Pernod Ricard group, he joined Brian in the new McGuigan Wines venture.
In late 1994 Neil quit McGuigan for a six-year stint as chief executive-winemaker at Briar Ridge vineyard at Mount View.
He then spent four years with Foster's group as chief of Rothbury Estate and its Upper Hunter, Cowra and Mudgee satellites.
In 2005 Neil rejoined the burgeoning McGuigan operation, by then the ASX-listed Australian Vintage Ltd (AVL), producer of the McGuigan, Tempus Two and Nepenthe brands.
Neil retired in 2019 after nine years as AVL CEO-chief winemaker and a stellar national and international career.
He was crowned International Wine and Spirits Competition winemaker of the year four times and he won the London International Wine Challenge white winemaker of the year award four times - a feat unprecedented for an Australian.
Big brother Brian was also among those honoured on Thursday night.
He was made Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association honorary patron for his almost 50 years of active service to the region.
BRIAR Ridge winemaker Alex Beckett's rise to 2022 Hunter Valley Young Achiever of the Year had an anomalous start.
Hunter-raised Alex has non-drinking parents and after school gained a University of Newcastle applied linguistics degree, which he found interesting but "probably a little too dry for me".
Something more refreshing came up in a part-time job at Tyrrell's cellar door and developed into a love of wine as he did casual jobs around other Hunter vineyards, wineries and cellar doors.
That led to a University of Adelaide viticulture and wine science degree, the award of a Sydney Show Scholarship with a 2016 vintage placement at Briar Ridge, which led to a winemaking job there.
Alex says Briar Ridge, along with the Pepper Tree, Tallavera Grove and Carillion brands part of the Davis Wine Group headed by geologist-turned-vigneron John Davis, has "bit of magic in the air" at its Mount View site.
"With its higher elevation, you get wine styles that have a freshness and a floral capacity that you don't see so much in the lower flats."
He's been at Briar Ridge since 2016 and has been chief winemaker for the past four years and he winds down by weightlifting and helping out at the small Hamilton Overtime Bar owned by his Malaysian-origin partner Saimun. He's also working to qualify for a Master of Wine, recognised as the highest global achievement in wine.
The 2022 winemaker of the year was Liz Silkman, chief winemaker for First Creek, who previously won the title in 2011 and 2016.
Liz also makes wines at First Creek's McDonalds Road, Pokolbin, winery for several premium boutique wine brands and runs the eight-year-old eponymous Silkman brand with her husband Shaun Silkman, First Creek's chief of production and bottling.
Viticulturist of the year Jerome Scarborough is an Adelaide University viticulture degree graduate and was Lindeman's Hunter Valley vineyard manager from 1996 to 2000, after which he joined the Scarborough Wine operation founded in 1985 by his parents Ian and Merralea.
He and acclaimed veteran winemaker and 2013 Legend Ian are formidable team along with 2021 Legend Merralea, his sister marketing manager Sally and his wife Liz Riley, a WA-raised Roseworthy bachelor of applied wine science graduate and owner and operator the Vitibit consultancy and 2011 Hunter viticulturist of the year. The outstanding contribution by an individual award went to Tulloch Wines CEO Christina Tulloch.
AWARD-WINNER Jerome Scarborough and his family team produced this fine Scarborough 2021 The Obsessive Semillon, which shows pale straw hues, jasmine scents and elegant lime front-palate flavour. The middle palate has apple, lemon zest, flint and nascent honey and the finish steely acid. At scarboroughwine.com.au and Pokolbin cellar doors.
DRINK WITH: calamari.
AGEING: six years.
RATING: 5 stars (out of 6)
ANDREW thinks this Andrew Thomas 2020 Sweetwater Shiraz is the best shiraz of the troubled 2020 vintage. It has 14.5% alcohol, purple hues, potpourri scents and plush plum front-palate flavour. The middle shows Morello cherry, quince paste, spice and mocha oak and a minty tannin finish. At thomaswines.com.au and the Mistletoe Lane cellar.
DRINK WITH: osso bucco.
AGEING: 10 years.
RATING: 5 stars
SOURCED from the prized HVD vineyard, the Tyrrell's 2021 Estate Grown Chardonnay is green-tinted lemon in the glass and has peach blossom scents and expressive nectarine front-palate flavour. Melon, nashi pear, almond and coconutty oak meld on the middle and slatey acid plays at the finish. At tyrrells.com.au and the winery.
DRINK WITH: scallops.
AGEING: eight years.
RATING: 5 stars
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