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Best of the Best RAS President's Medal

The president’s medal is a unique prize honouring the very best in Australian food and beverage production.

When John Fairley steps into the milking yard of his iconic artisan dairy at Picton, south-west of Sydney, the motley assortment of Jersey, Friesian and Swiss Red cows congregating in the early morning mist barely respond. Their udders are huge and distended, yet the cows are perfectly at ease, trustful, and content with the calm, persistent rhythm of the farm. He walks deliberately, purposefully, and with a composure that silently echoes off the hillsides. John doesn’t farm this land, he exists within it.

A seventh-generation dairyman, John has a connection to land that is about as profound as it can be. He loves this country, and the cattle, and the milk they produce together. It’s a deep and abiding affection that underscores the quality of his remarkable milk. And the milk is truly remarkable. It’s rich and creamy, with a distinctly grassy note, the season’s sweet clover obvious on the nose. This is quite unlike large-scale commercial milk, for its flavour is infused with the terroir of Picton.

EXCELLENCE AND IMPROVEMENT

In 2008, John and his team from Country Valley Milk were awarded the President’s Medal, Australia’s highest honour for food and beverage producers. It is an accolade that recognises not only brilliant produce, but also the extraordinary people, businesses, systems and measures of environmental management and community engagement that must underpin all great agriculture and production. Food and beverage is not simply about what we bring to the table, it’s about our place in society, now and into the future, and a relationship with the environment and our communities. A broad proposition, it must be careful, respectful and manageable.

To that end, the President’s Medal is unique as it not only recognises excellence, but actively encourages improvement in all areas, for the winners and their competitors. This award is about ensuring Australia will have even better food and beverages, embodying the highest levels of product integrity.

Established in 2006, the Medal is managed by the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW. Open to farmers, producers and manufacturers from all over Australia, it is the distillation of the year-round competitions in Fine Food, Dairy Produce, Wine, Beer & Cider, and Chocolate. Overall champions from each division are pitted against one another in a triple-bottom- line analysis to find the very best of the best. This involves a rigorous examination of business plans, operational practices, community engagement and environmental management systems, global strategy and market acceptance.

WINNING BENEFITS

Many past winners are household names in fine dining – Tathra Oysters, Holy Goat Cheese, Milly Hill Lamb – while others are global brands like Bulla, Yalumba and Hardy’s. The President’s Medal reveals small manufacturers who think globally, and industrial players with the heart of an artisan.

Benefits for all those involved are diverse. The process compels them to engage in new and productive ways with the challenges specific to their business, to find answers to stubborn questions, and to seek out new ways of marketing themselves. In addition, all competitors are exposed to a range of quality advice from industry professionals, chefs and retail experts about improvements they might consider, or ways to differentiate and grow. This is an invaluable consultation usually out of the reach and budget of most artisans.

EYES ON THE PRIZE

Then there’s the prize itself. A cash reward is provided by the RAS, along with a marketing package from one of Australia’s leading minds, Michael McQueen, and help with story production from Jason van Genderen, one of the world’s best film producers and filmmakers. This award is not simply about recognition, it’s engineered to help our very best produce companies grow, thrive and excel.

There’s a great deal Australians can be proud of when it comes to our food and beverage industries. Diversity, innovation, resilience and excellence are all common values. Consequently, judging the President’s Medal is a daunting task, not simply because the entrants are from such diverse businesses, but because the economic, social and environmental standards are so high. But they will be judged, and a winner will be chosen.

A DELICIOUS CELEBRATION

To celebrate those achievements, the RAS is hosting The President’s Medal Awards Night in November, where a bespoke menu will be crafted by one of Australia’s most celebrated chefs, Christine Manfield in conjunction with Sydney Showground’s Tim Browne, using all the champion ingredients from this year’s competitors. It promises to be a delicious evening to which everyone is invited. Tickets will be available through www.rasnsw.com.au/presidents_medal. If you love great food, and want to taste Australia’s finest, this is an evening not to be missed.

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World's Best Rieslings
Words by Trent Mannell on 14 Feb 2017
Wine Selectors tasting Panelist Trent Mannell was asked to be judge at the 17th Canberra International Riesling Challenge, and he liked what he saw. Someone recently asked me what I thought the big trends in wine will be in 2017. And while I believe alternative varietals will continue to gain momentum I feel that an old favourite, Riesling   , will rise again to become one of the most popular wines on the market. I’ve come to this conclusion after a stint as Panel Chair judge at the 17th Canberra International Riesling Challenge, where I was blown away by the quality, variety and consistency of Rieslings from around the world, and equally by the Australian examples, which are right there in the top echelon. Given the fact that most international wine tastings of this nature are held in Europe, the UK or America, it is a coup that we have a tasting of this kind in our own backyard. Nearly all of the credit for this has to go to winemaker Ken Helm from Helm Wines in the  Canberra District  . Ken is about as knowledgeable and passionate about Riesling as anyone I know and we’ve had many a long conversation about the many nuances of this wonderful varietal while sipping some wonderful examples from Ken’s winery in Murrumbatmen. The thing about Riesling is it is so versatile – by controlling when it is picked and how much sugar is in the grape, it can be made in almost any style from dry and citrusy to sweet and syrupy. All have their place and appeal and all were on show at the Canberra International Riesling Challenge. JUDGING RIESLING ROYALTY The 2017 event featured an outstanding collection of wines from eight countries with record numbers. Record entries (512) as well as the hughest participation from Austria and Australia and the largest number of entries from Germany and the USA since 2009, and in a strong sign of the quality on show, a record number of medals awarded. There were 85 Gold Medals, 112 Silver Medals and 168 Bronze Medals – a medal strike rate of 72%; this is up from 65% in 2015. Gold Medals represented 17% of entries - a record for the Challenge, clearly a reflection of the outstanding 2015 and 2016 vintages in the Southern Hemisphere and some fine winegrowing and winemaking skills. “It is indeed an exciting time for Riesling across the world,” Ken said at the Challenge. Like me, he reckons that there is an increased appetite for Riesling and once these award-winning wines hit the market they’ll be greeted with much joy. For the record Austrailan wines excelled. The Best Wine of the 2016 Challenge was Ferngrove Wines from the Frankland River region in WA for their  Ferngrove  Off-Dry Riesling Limited Release 2016  . The best dry Riesling went to  Adelaide Hills  winery Bird in Hand for their  Bird in Hand Riesling 2016  , made from pristine  Clare Valley  fruit, while the Best Museum Riesling was awarded to the Robert Stein Riesling 2009 from Mudgee. A VERSATILE VARIETY The fact that three different regions around Australia is tip of the hat to the versatility of the varietal to shine in different conditions and a testament to the heightened professionalism and attention to detail by winemakers and viticulturists. Germany’s Weingut Georg Müller Stiftung - 2015 Hattenheimer Hassel Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese picked up two awards – the Best Sweet Riesling and the Best European Riesling, while the Mount Majura Vineyard Riesling 2016, scored for Best Riesling from the Canberra District. For all the results visit www.rieslingchallenge.com And can I give me thanks and gratitude to Ken, who is stepping down as Chair of the CIRC after 17 years at the helm. If it were not for his tireless work in instigating and perpetuating this Challenge we wouldn’t be talking about these Rieslings now, and you wouldn’t be ready to taste them. Cheers Ken, here’s to our next glass of off-dry and our chat on your creaky verandah.
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Simply Savvy
Words by Mark Hughes on 19 Dec 2016
It is fair to say that Sauvignon Blanc is the most recognisable wine ever, but Australian producers are doing their best to create a host of appealing new identities. We find out who is doing what to make drinkers swipe right. I’ll come right out and say it. I quite like Sauvignon Blanc. That statement will probably earn me the ire of a few wine critics that I know, but I reckon it is a sassy and wondrous wine, and deserving of far more than the limited adulation we give it. I’d be as bold as to say it has been unfairly heaped with harsh criticism. There are a few reasons as to why Sauvignon Blanc is the kid the rest of the class picks on. Firstly, Sauvignon Blanc is seen as a pretty simple wine – it really is a case of WYSIWYG – What You ‘Smell’ Is What You Get and Sauv Blanc has an unmistakable tropical aroma. No matter where it is grown, it will always smell like Sauv Blanc, and this leads to the second reason why it is ridiculed. Because it is so recognisable, it is the first wine that drinkers new to the game can accurately identify. And for the well-heeled wine critic, that is just so ho-hum. Thirdly, it is popular, and we all know Australians hate anything that is popular. It is so well-liked for the two reasons given above. It is appealing for the novice wine drinker, particularly young women, as its simple tropical and punchy profile is not too dissimilar to the flavour of juices and fruit punches we enjoy drinking as teenagers. And it is popular because the novice wine drinker can identify it. Not only does that give them a sense of assurance that the wine experience they are about to have is going to be an enjoyable one, but it also gives them a sense of pride about their burgeoning wine knowledge. And finally, it is because New Zealand has had phenomenal success with the varietal and Aussies just can’t put that Trans Tasman rivalry to bed. It is a wonder we are still playing rugby given the dominance the All Blacks have had over us this millennium, and for the foreseeable future.   ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW Having said all of that, Australian winemakers are a hardy bunch (even more so than the Wallaby scrum) and they have been busy creating a unique identity for Aussie Sauv Blanc that will have a point of difference from Kiwi SB and be just as popular, or even more popular. “I think Australian Sauvignon Blanc tends to be leaner than NZ wines, lower in alcohol with less residual sugar,” says McWilliam’s winemaker Adrian Sparks, whose High Altitude Sauvignon Blanc from the Orange wine region topped our State of Play tasting. “It is a crisper, more refreshing style of wine. This is what we try to achieve, but you want the wine to say where it is from. “I would hate to see wines from Margaret River , Adelaide Hills and Orange all looking the same. 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After a slow start, we are growing better fruit and getting better at making good wine out of it. “When the Sauv Blanc train came to town, lots of the industry was fixated on turning the volume up to 11 on the varietal character, but somewhere along the line, the focus on site was lost and replaced with maximising varietal character with picking times and yeast selection based on volume of varietal character more than reflection of site,” says Shane. “More and more Australian winemakers are learning how to get the best out of the fruit sources they have available to them. Sauv Blanc has a great ability to show the site it comes from if you let it.” “I love Australian wine due to the vast differences in climate and styles. We are so fortunate in that fact and more so than any other country,” adds Adrian. “The altitude of Orange is the key, with its warm days and cool nights allowing the grapes to ripen slowly, retaining wonderful acidity and not tending to have full blown tropical fruit, rather a lovely combination of citrus, herbs and exotic notes.”   TINKERING THE TECHNIQUE So what are some of the techniques winemakers are using and what result does it have on the wine? Overall, the answer seems to be to bring Sauv Blanc some complexity. “Winemaking begins in the vineyard,” says Dan. “With the Berrigan Sauvignon Blanc this means managing the canopy to achieve fruit with a balance of tropical and grassy flavours. “In the winery, you then need to extend the skin contact time of the must to ensure that those flavours you’ve worked hard for in the vineyard are extracted from the skins and into the juice. From there, it’s all about minimising the extraction of phenolics, while maximising flavour retention and balance in your wine without oak maturation, lees stirring or fining.” “Oak with the right fruit works very well,” says Adrian conversely. “Lees contact providing texture and depth and some wild fermentation all are providing layers of complexity.” “Sauv Blanc responds to as little to as much winemaking as you wish to give it. Whether that response is appropriate depends on the site and the intended style,” explains Shane. “This doesn’t mean that just because you can do something that you should! A level of restraint is required to bring the subtle characters from your little patch of earth. “For our site I find that some skin contact time, leaving the juice slightly cloudy, and yeast selection are the most important areas of my input. Some post primary fermentation lees contact also helps, but this varies vintage to vintage. “The ability to change and adapt to vintage variation and change your approach is required to get the best out of the variety. Following what you did last year isn’t good enough if you want to get the best out of it this year.”   THE FUTURE While critics predict the popularity of Sauvignon Blanc cannot last, our winemakers seem to believe it will be here for quite some time to come. “The wine style is just so strong in its personality, and with the majority of Australians living in warm, sunny coastal regions, the freshness of Sauvignon Blanc will always have its place amongst our lifestyles,” says Dan. It will always be popular as it’s such an easy drink and suited to Australia’s summer climate,” agrees Adrian. “I hope as an industry we can move with the ebb and flow of consumer preferences and make moves to deliver a style that is relevant and current,” says Shane. “We have to learn to not flog the horse too hard and kill the market and burn the variety, we need to be more sensitive to changes in consumer preferences and move with it, not fight against it. “Keep it fresh, keep it relevant.” Top 20 Sauvignon Blanc 2016 McWilliam’s Wines High Altitude Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Orange) Scotchmans Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Geelong)  Henschke & Co Coralinga Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Adelaide Hills)  Berrigan Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Mount Benson)  Taylors Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Adelaide Hills)  Blue Pyrenees Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Pyrenees)  Redgate Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (Oak Matured) 2014 (Margaret River) Silkwood Wines The Walcott Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Pemberton)  Tamar Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Tamar Valley) Dominique Portet Fontaine Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Yarra Valley) Howard Park Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Margaret River) Alkoomi Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Frankland River) Dandelion Vineyards Wishing Clock Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Adelaide Hills) Wangolina Station Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Mount Benson) Geoff Hardy Wines K1 Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Adelaide Hills) Cherubino Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Pemberton) Eden Road Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Canberra District) d’Arenberg The Broken Fishplate Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Adelaide Hills) Lambrook Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Adelaide Hills) Nannup Ridge Firetower Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Blackwood River)
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Meet Ninth Island Winemaker Luke Whittle
To celebrate the Ninth Island Pinot Grigio 2016 from the Tamar Valley being the November Wine of the Month, we caught up with winemaker Luke Whittle to talk Tasmania, cool climate wines, and Pinot G . You are originally from New Zealand where you started your winemaking career, plus you’ve done vintages in Canada, Germany and Central Victoria –  what drew you to Tasmania? Ultimately, my passion to get back to cool climate wines, and Tasmania’s reputation for amazing wines and produce. I see a huge amount of potential for the Tasmanian wine industry as the region continues to produce world-class Sparkling and table wines and grow its reputation both domestically and abroad. I think the next decade will be a very exciting time for the industry here and I want to be a part of that future. What makes the Tamar Valley such a special region? The unique maritime climate, sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds resulting in consistency of ripening.  We’re situated on a beautiful big sweeping bend of the Tamar, which is not only an amazing place for grapes, but a beautiful setting for a vineyard with vine covered slopes rolling down to the water. It’s like a scene from an old-world region in Europe with a distinctly Tasmanian twist. Our Wine of the Month is the Ninth Island 2016 Pinot Grigio – what is it about cool climate wines that you like so much? In a word: elegance ­–  the way they are so fresh and expressive yet full of finesse. In our food and wine matching calendar, we’ve paired it with a quick chicken cassoulet with preserved lemon – what’s your choice of food partner? Coming from the coast of NZ, I’m really drawn to the amazing bounty of seafood here in Tasmania, and I love freediving. So combining those passions, I’d pair it with fresh barbeque crayfish and wasabi aioli, especially with the opening of the crayfish season just around the corner. What makes cool climate wines like Pinot G so food-friendly? The cool climate acidity lends itself to so many possibilities, especially when combined with the Pinot Grigios texture and delicate but expressive aromatics. What’s your favourite wine memory? The next one… Other than your own wine, what wine do you like to drink at home? I like to mix it up. Recently it’s been Riesling, especially some of the dryer style Rieslings out of Germany, something I fell in love with over my time working in the Mosel and the Pfalz. What are your three top recommendations for a first-time visitor to the area? Hit the incredible Tasmanian coastline! I’d suggest to go up to the top end of the east coast, where you’ll find no crowds, and amazingly beautiful beaches. The Tamar Valley Wine Route, which we are a part of – the perfect way to sample a number of delicious Tassie wines.   Head into Launceston to Stillwater Restaurant. The menu features Tasmanian produce and they’re known for an incredible wine list highlighting Tasmanian wine. What’s your favourite … Way to spend time off? In the ocean. Holiday destination? Whangamata, my hometown, for a dose of NZ summer. Wine and food match? Pinot and duck… it just needs to happen Sporting team? All Blacks (of course) Movie?   Anchorman – one of the classics
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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