2016 ASVO Winemaker of the Year- Finalists

2016 ASVO Winemaker of the Year- Finalists

  1. Jeremy Dineen
  2. Fiona Donald
  3. Sue Hodder and Sarah Pidgeon
  4. Virginia Willcock

Jeremy Dineen

Whilst we constantly seek to improve our practices, none of the technologies we have adopted over the past few years are revolutionary.  We try to keep abreast of industry best practice such as heat recovery and load scheduling for refrigeration, juice flotation to reduce lees losses and increase throughput, solar power generation and composting of all our green waste. All of our waste water is treated and integrated into irrigation or compost. We probably have the lowest carbon footprint per bottle of any winery that packages in Tasmania and until OI discontinued production we were, to my knowledge, the only winery in the state to package exclusively into lightweight glass.  We take part in many research projects in collaboration with Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, Wine Tasmania, University of Tasmania, AWRI and others that hopefully benefit the entire region and industry. Recent examples include sparkling wine viticulture and yield research with TIA, oxygen management with AWRI, and novel maceration techniques with TIA and AGWA.

We have records showing reduction of cellar operations and lower losses since adoption of flotation.  Waste water processing capacity has been increased to enable our system to cope with almost four times the original design capacity. We have one of the largest private solar arrays in Tasmania and generate a significant proportion of our electricity needs. Some of the other innovations will take further time to implement.

Most of our innovations and improvements have come about due to a culture of continual improvement within the business.  Much of the credit for any improvements is due to the other staff within the winery and vineyard, particularly the two winemakers who are responsible for investigating and implementing new technologies.

As much of our research and innovation is collaborative it is already widely shared. This year, we are starting a sparkling wine workshop to share and improve the knowledge of traditional method sparkling production within Tasmania and the wider Australian industry.

Fiona Donald

I joined Seppeltsfield in October 2009 as Senior Winemaker. Business Owner and Managing Director Warren Randall had a vision to resurrect the mothballed Gravity Winery at Seppeltsfield with the objective of getting the asset to work for the business!

I am part of the team that has applied  modern attributes, such as modern crusher, stainless steel lining of open fermenters and brine chillers, to a wonderful old building with great bones and thoughtful design

I oversee the vintages in this winery. With 120 x 8T open fermenters,  it is an amazing premium small batch winemaking facility. I ensure that there are systems and clear communication in place to achieve high grade wines (as graded by our customers) in an organised, hygienic and safe environment

We processed 1600 T through the winery in 2010; since 2011 we process 4000 T per vintage through the Gravity Winery…. so from zero to 4000 in 2 years!!

The value of the asset has increased and the value of the wines produced is verified by the grading of the wines by our customers

The greatest challenge with regards to culture is asking people to work to modern standards in an old winery and to achieve a lot from a little! I have a very collaborative approach, sourcing opinions and ideas from all the staff

Another way to integrate the standards required is to share information with your colleagues – enunciate reasons for a certain request and share great results and outcomes; people will go the extra mile if they understand why and see results

To be honest in recent times, my sharing with the broader industry has been sharing my new found understanding and enthusiasm for the fortified wine styles, especially apera and tawny;  sharing of these unique Australian wines, our collective wine history

Sue Hodder and Sarah Pidgeon

Sue Hodder (commenced in 1993) and Sarah Pidgeon (1999) have been immersed at Wynns Coonawarra Estate for 17 years in a successful collaboration that has included

  • “Evolution” of Coonawarra viticulture (in an time of climate change)
  • Intense scrutiny and, ultimately, quality improvement of the Wynns wines at all prices.
  • Making Single vineyard wines which acknowledge terroir within the region
  • Embracing new technologies, scientific findings, and historical anecdotes and leading international opinions to inform current winemaking at Wynns.
  • Living and working in the small Coonawarra wine community and actively participating in the Australian and indeed world, wine community
  • Single vineyard wines:
  • Since 2001, Wynns has released a Single Vineyard Cabernet each year. As the owner of some of the world’s oldest and most important Cabernet vineyards, this was an imperative to the telling of the Australian wine story.
  • Showcasing single vineyards sites with the overlaid knowledge of micro climate and vineyard (soil, topography, and microbes), the Wynns single vineyard wines are in a position to inform the next wave of research into the nuances of terroir in Coonawarra for generations to come.

Developing Cabernet Sauvignon (vineyards and winery) for the future:

  • Contributing to the research, development and assessment of new Cabernet clones and rootstocks for the next generation of Cabernet Sauvignon in the region since
  • Developing Wynns Heritage vine selections from Wynns’ most iconic old vines to sit alongside the newly available Cabernet clones, this work began in 2010. For example, one selection is for individual drought tolerant vines.
  • Tannin work: Since 2004 – starting with 50 vintages of Wynns Black Label Cabernet- with additional samples from each decade supplied since, this sample set has provided an unparalleled insight into tannin evolution for Australian wine (results published widely) Subsequent AWRI project on tannin
  • Berry sorter/grader installation 2015: The culmination of vineyard and winery trials and research conducted over 5 years to verify the benefits of vision technology for top level fruit sorting.

Wine shows:

  • Development of the local LCWS to a national standard showcase of the local regions and the wine developments within it (Sarah)
  • Identifying the need for a wine show records database for medium sized shows – this database has been developed and taken on by regional shows across the nation
  • Contribution to national wine show structures which have become a standard, such as the development of Provenance classes (initiated at the Adelaide wine show during Sue Hodder’s’ committee chairmanship)
  • Sue was a Committee member (10 years), Chair (4 years) and Chief Judge of the Royal Adelaide Wine Show.
  • Judging at many regional, Capital City and International Wine Shows (Sarah and Sue) Includes mentoring Associates, feedback to committees and judging collaboratively with other judges


  • Contributing to broad wine discussions across forums such as wine shows, conferences
  • Hosting international visitors (in Coonawarra and worldwide) to share information
  • Prompting researchers, coopers, and international opinion leaders for local forums such as the Coonawarra Cabernet Symposiums and other locally run masterclasses and events

Collaboration is a cornerstone of the culture at Wynns.  Speaking frankly and widely on winery and vineyard issues has become the way of working at Wynns and the driving force to spur on projects.

Single vineyard:

  • The communication of the single vineyard stories to stakeholders locally, nationally and internationally…
  • Many emulators. Frequent communications with other winemakers to acknowledge these wines.

Berry sorter work:

  • Open day’s opportunities for all interested local vignerons.
  • Shared with many local, Australian and international visitors over past two years
  • Open invitation to the wider winemaking community, taken up by AWRI engineering in the interests of shared information collection (Simon Nordesgaard)

International communication and engagement:

  • Sue ‘Represented Australia’ at the International Cabernet Symposium in 2012 in Napa Valley. Masterclass on Single vineyard wines with detailed climate and soil presentation.  Napa Grapegrowers expected at Wynns in vintage 2017.
  • Panel Member on “Old Vines Seminar” (Sarah Ahmed)
  • School careers tours & school winemaking projects (Penola High, Urrbrae Agricultural, Casterton Area School for more detailed engagement)
  • Australian Cabernet Symposium in Coonawarra in November 2015
  • Promotion of Unearthing Limestone Coast through use and acknowledgement internationally
  • Enthusiastic and committed participation in AWITCs and Wine Tech including
  • Providing data, opinion and wine to Researchers, Panel Leaders and Suppliers
  • Following up with specific researchers – keen to participate in the next stage.
  • Workshop Panel member (Sarah in 2013)

Virginia Willcock

After a few years in developing a more funky desirable style of Chardonnay I realised we had to try some new techniques in making more sexy and desirable Cabernet Sauvignon. I was looking to develop our Cabernet to have more complex savoury characteristics and a more relaxed texture while maintaining the varietal uniqueness in the aroma and shape of Cabernet. Our existing philosophy of less is more and natural fermentation in Chardonnay allowing individual vineyard sections to express themselves in a more unique way was inspirational. The only reason we hadn’t tried out reds was that we had fears of high alcohol not allowing the ferment to finish. We had become firm believers in the micro flora of the vineyard contributing to the uniqueness of individual sections of vineyard and then hoping for it to translate to the uniqueness of the wine. In 2012 we had gained enough confidence to ferment all of our premium parcels of red fruit to wild fermentation. With all skins included in the fermentation it appeared the natural ferments in reds finished easily and we have had no issues.

We now practice all Chardonnay, all Sauv and Sem fermented in oak and Premier to Icon reds including Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Shiraz, wild fermented with annually more wild ferments in our our Filius and classic level reds. I realise that many small winemakers practice this, but I believe we are at the most significant volume now of wild fermented Cabernet Sauvignon in the county.

The benefits were greater than expected. It is hard to put evidence on quality improvements but we do believe that with so many sections now fermented wild we are seeing more uniqueness/diversity to the sections and the wines generally appear to be more relaxed soulful and complex.

The practical changes are that we now see includes inadvertent pre-fermentation soak on skins for 2-3 days before the ferment starts. With our traditional aerative handling we found better access to oxygen for tannins perhaps due to lower yeast numbers and therefore we also have less reductive ferments. With less reductive ferments we now find we don’t need to rack our reds as much and therefore with time on lees it appears we have established more complex and textural results. By racking reds less we are also able to keep on top of our large oak program.

I have seen over the last few years the management and team grow in understanding via our communication of practices in the winery that the wine quality improvements have been due to our more natural approach to our wine handling which now has changed the way we are looking at viticultural practices. It would be fair to say that our winemaking philosophy has changed the feeling and philosophy of the whole business to be more natural, organic and sustainable so our focus is now in the vineyard to be more natural and ultimately organic. They say it starts in the vineyard, but perhaps it doesn’t necessarily.

No in all honesty I think locally we have developed a very important annual Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay regional tasting. This is where all producers of these varieties are asked to submit barrel samples and all technical details and come together to see how the vintage transpired, how they faired and what detail in viticulture or wine production they may be able to use to improve their own production.

I have always tried to make myself available to talk openly and provide information for other speakers for conferences or events. Eg: last year, Coonawarra Cab conference and background data for Yarra Valley Chardonnay conference.

We are now contributing significantly to a global project on wine microbiology based out of Copenhagen called MicroWine. Our significant volume and number of batches of wild fermented Cabernet appears to be unique globally and therefore makes us an ideal location for this project. It’s analysis works from deep in the soil profile right through to the finished wine.