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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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Behind The Vine At Helen's Hill
To celebrate the  Helen's Hill Ingram Road Pinot Noir 2015  being our April Wine of the Month, we caught up with Allan Nalder from  Helen's Hill . What makes the Ingram Road 2015 Pinot Noir so appealing? To answer that I need to take a step back. All of our wines are 100% single vineyard and are all made at my winery. Only fruit that we grow on our vineyard goes into the wines that we make. It's not that we don't trust anyone, it's just that we don't trust anyone. We think this is super important. Come visit and I can take you to the very vines that make the wine you are going to enjoy. Call us "control freaks". I'll take it as a compliment. The  Ingram Rd 2015 Pinot Noir  benefits greatly from this approach. Pristine  Yarra Valley  single vineyard fruit, French oak maturation, careful "hands-off" winemaking and a great vintage all combine to produce a wine that expresses hallmark  Pinot Noir  characteristics. And its price point is extremely compelling. You have over 50 acres of Pinot Noir, what makes you so enthusiastic about this often-difficult grape? You're right, Pinot Noir is a difficult grape to grow and can really only grow well in specific, little tucked away corners of the world. The Yarra Valley, and the little patch of dirt I call home, is one of those places. It also helps to be a bit of a Pinot Noir fanatic. To me, it is one of the most remarkable red wines in the world. I once saw a quote about Pinot Noir growers from a wine writer: "its makers are lunatic-fringe, questers after the holy grail…" - Marc de Villiers wine writer. We fit that mould. Who is the Helen of the hill? We bought the property from Mr. Fraser in the mid 90s. He had owned the pasture land from the early 1950s. The reason he bought the land was because he fell in love with a woman called Helen, who wouldn't marry him unless he owned a farm. True love prevailed and he bought the farm. Sadly, Helen passed away some 6-7 years after their marriage. Mr Fraser never re-married and throughout the property inspection, he recalled many stories of Helen and her time there. From his stories, it was obvious that she had a passion for the land. We share that passion and thought it appropriate to name the vineyard after her. What makes Scott McCarthy a standout winemaker? To be blunt, the fruit. We live by the very old, well used, but absolutely true saying: "great wine is made in the vineyard". The most important decision we make in the winery is deciding when to pick the fruit. The rest of the process is relatively simple. Pristine quality fruit allows us to rely on natural fermentation, minimal filtering and minimal winemaking intervention. Our ethos is not to describe "perfection" as when there is nothing left to add, but rather, when there is nothing left to take away. We feel this is the key to winemaking. Ensure that we do as little as possible so we can deliver mother nature in the bottle. You also  make a range of beers  - why did you decide to go into brewing and what do you think makes a top beer? It gets pretty hot and sweaty picking grapes. Added to that, I ain't getting any younger, so after a big day in the fields a nice, cold craft beer is a perfect tonic. As winemakers and vignerons go, we drink a lot of beer, so it wasn't that hard to come up with the idea of brewing our own. Getting the recipe right, the choice of hops and quality malt is critical and keeping the fermentation process under control. The rest depends on what you like. We serve our brews at Cellar Door and luckily our customers reckon they're pretty tasty. What are the top 3 attractions you'd recommend to a first-time Yarra Valley visitor? The great thing about the Yarra Valley is the diversity. You can visit the  YV Dairy  and sample a variety of cheese, the Chocolate Factory, world class art museum, on-farm produce stores for things such as apples, strawberries, etc, 6 top golf courses, mountain biking, bush trails, historic buildings, micro breweries, gin distillery and of course the odd cellar door and vineyard restaurant. The valley really has a huge range of things to do. Obviously, a great place to start is Helen's Hill. Full al-carte restaurant on top of the hill with sensational views or our Cellar Door and casual dining nestled down in the winery amongst the vines.
Wine
Margaret River’s 50th
Words by Danielle Costley on 12 Nov 2017
As WA’s Margaret River wine region celebrates its 50th anniversary, we celebrate the pioneers who brought it all to fruition. A hundred years ago, a couple of Italian immigrants arrived in the south west corner of Western Australia with some cuttings of a little-known grape variety called Fragola. These vines produced the first wines to be sold in Margaret River for the hefty price tag of two shillings a flagon. Fondly dubbed ‘red dynamite’ by the enthusiastic community, this wine was in high demand at the local dance halls where it was sold from the back of a truck. And it was said to pack quite a punch. Times have certainly changed since then and while other growers produced small batches of wines in the ensuing years, it wasn’t until the mid 1960s when agronomist Dr John Gladstones published a report identifying Margaret River’s vast potential for viticulture, that the region, as we know it today, was born.
The Gladstones report attracted the attention of budding vignerons and medical practitioners, Thomas Cullity and Kevin and Diana Cullen. In mid 1966, the Cullens organised a meeting in the Margaret River township of Busselton inviting Dr Gladstones to speak. It was the final push those attending needed. Soon after, the Cullens, in partnership with Tom Cullity, and Geoff and Sue Juniper, planted vines in Wilyabrup, which unfortunately didn’t survive. It was left to Cullity, who in 1967 purchased a mere eight acres of land, to plant Margaret River’s first commercial vines – Cabernet Sauvignon , Shiraz , Malbec and Riesling . He named his venture after French sailor, Thomas Vasse, who had drowned in Geographe Bay. Hoping for better fortunes than the Frenchman, he added the Latin word for happiness – Felix. His first crop, too, was all but a disaster, decimated by birds and succumbing to bunch rot. Undeterred, but determined, Cullity persevered. In 1972, Vasse Felix won a gold medal at the Perth Show for its Riesling. The following year, gold for its Cabernet. Happy days, indeed. The Cullens also persevered. In 1971 they planted vines on their own land where their current vineyard still thrives. At this stage, Moss Wood had been established for two years and within another two years, Cape Mentelle, Leeuwin Estate, and Woodlands had also been established. In what was a fledgling industry at the time, these founding wineries worked tirelessly to forge the region’s reputation as a premium wine producer. “I pay tribute to the winemakers and grape growers of Margaret River,” says Dr Gladstones, who is still a proud member of the Margaret River community today. “It’s one thing to have an idea and put it forward, it’s another this to be brought to fruition. The work and financial commitment that had to go into it has been a big factor in bringing Margaret River to its present world-class status.”
Left: Bob Hullock. Right: Cullen Wines co-founder Diana Cullen  An American influence While the pioneering wineries may have simply dreamed of making good wine, there was a certain Californian who knew of Margaret River’s enormous potential – Napa Valley wine baron, Robert Mondavi. As the story goes, Mondavi was searching the globe for the next great wine region. His search took him to Margaret River and a patch of land owned by Denis Horgan, a chartered accountant, and his wife Tricia. Today, it is Leeuwin Estate. “Mondavi arrived on our doorstep wanting to buy the place,’ says Denis. “We weren’t the selling type, so he became our mentor in setting up a winery. He and his son and winemaker, Tim, came out on numerous occasions to advise on what varieties we should plant, where to plant them, about oak treatment and so on.” Mondavi’s advice was also greatly accepted by Cullity and Kevin Cullen, who Denis befriended and met up with regularly to discuss all things wine. “You would have sworn you were in a dog fight,” Denis says of the trio’s rendezvous. “They used to swear and curse and talk about one another’s wines, and then we’d all sit down and have lunch like we were the greatest of friends.  “They were fabulous guys. It was the best education I could have had because they didn’t pull any punches. They set out to make wines that ranked with the best in the world, and they damn well did it.” A region evolved
Three generations of Credaros in their Woolston vineyard Fifty years on, Margaret River is indeed a world class wine region. While it only produces three percent of Australia’s wine, it contributes 20 per cent of our premium wine production. It is recognised internationally for exceptional Cabernets and Chardonnays, and also produces a stylish signature blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The handful of wineries have now boomed to over 200 with most of them producing the flagships, while also experimenting with other varietals and blends that suit the Mediterranean climate, cooling sea breezes and rich gravelly soils. In the northern districts lies the family-owned Credaro Wines, where some of the region’s first vines were planted by the pioneering Meleri and Credaro families to produce the ‘red dynamite’. These days, they have over 140 hectares of vines spread across five vineyards and alongside the legendary Fragola, and Chardonnay, Cabernet and SBS, they are doing well with Pinot Grigio, Shiraz and Merlot. Thompson Estate is renowned for its Chardonnays and Cabernets, but is also finding favour with its Cabernet Merlot, Malbec and famed Four Chambers Shiraz. The 20-year-old vines are organically grown and produce impressive wines under the watchful eye of Bob Cartwright of Leeuwin Estate acclaim.
Hay Shed Hill, Margaret River At Hay Shed Hill, whose vineyards were first planted in the 1970s, the Block 6 Chardonnay is the star. Dry grown and located on a steep south facing slope, it is lean, light and fresh, but also has “flavour, aroma, body and textural interest,” says winemaker and owner, Michael Kerrigan. In concert with the Block 6, he is also giving plenty of attention to a stunning Cabernet Franc, as well as an intoxicating Shiraz Tempranillo blend. In the cooler, southern parts of the Margaret River, Sauvignon Blanc really finds voice as a single varietal. In close proximity to the Indian Ocean, you will find Redgate Wines, a winery that takes its name from a nearby property that once had a prominent red gate and was known for the production of a rather powerful moonshine. This estate, established by the Ullinger family in 1977, produces a sublime Sauvignon Blanc that is layered with gooseberry and lime. Their Cabernet blends are also beguiling, and they have a Chenin Blanc that is also turning heads. Even further south lies Hamelin Bay Wines, a quaint winery with a simply breathtaking outlook. It produces one of the region’s finest Sauvignon Blancs – fresh, vibrant and tropical, while their Rampant Red, a blend of Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet, is winning fans. Something Totally New When Moss Wood winery was sub-divided in 1982, architect Bruce Tomlinson purchased the land and established Lenton Brae winery. Putting his talents to use, he built a striking rammed earth winery and cellar door with two towers that are home to quintet bells from Westminster and chime on the quarter-hour. A few years ago, the Tomlinsons introduced a new varietal to the region, Pinot Blanc. This unassuming grape is a mutation of Pinot Noir, yet genetically similar to Chardonnay. Winemaker, Edward Tomlinson, says he was drawn to the subtle charm of this early ripening variety. “Essentially, it is a Sauvignon Blanc for grown-ups,’ he says. “The decision to plant Pinot Blanc was a big call. Having seen my father wrestle with the implications of uprooting two hectares of Pinot Noir in the early days, I was amazed at how supportive he was for me to take a punt on Pinot Blanc.” And these are not the only newcomers to the region. There’s been an influx of plantings of Mediterranean varietals in recent years, with Fiano, Vermentino, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese finding favour amongst the growing band of winemakers. A Fitting Half Century
As the 50th celebrations kick off in earnest, it is heartwarming to see much love given to the traditions of the pioneers. Vasse Felix’ s ‘tractor bucket’ party recreated the spirit of founding producers who celebrated each of those crucial early vintages in style with tractor buckets turned into eskys, filled with ice and wine and enjoyed out amongst the vines, even serving as a bed on some occasions. “Anniversaries such as this are an opportunity to share with the world just how special Margaret River is. It is a wine paradise,” says current Vasse Felix owner, Paul Holmes a Court. The single remaining bottle of the 1972 Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec is on display in the Vasse Felix vault and to celebrate the winery’s 50th anniversary, they have released a Tom Cullity Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec made from those original vines. I am sure the good doctor would approve. And while he would be astounded to see how big the region has grown, he always knew how good the wines were going to be. “I knew because Mondavi told me so,” says Denis Horgan. “He always said that Margaret River was going to make wines that ranked with the best in the world. It was his catch cry.” The best is still yet to come says Dr Gladstones, who fittingly gets to have the last word. “I strongly believe that we’ve only seen the beginning,” he says. “This region has tremendous natural advantages for grape growing to produce top quality wines. “With its environments, experience and now increasing vine age, Margaret River is undoubtedly ripe to walk with the greatest.”
Wine
Meet the Maker – Oliver’s Taranga
Spend some time with Winemaker Corrina Wright from Oliver’s Taranga, whose 2016 Fiano is our September Wine of the Month . Your Oliver’s Taranga vineyards are located in McLaren Vale , what makes the region so special? I think that McLaren Vale is such a beautiful region- the vines, the beaches, the food, the proximity to Adelaide. Pretty much Utopia! Your family has a fantastic grape growing history in McLaren Vale dating back to 1841. In 1994 you made and launched the first Oliver’s Taranga branded wine – is that correct? Yes, I am the 6th generation to grow grapes on our Taranga vineyard in McLaren Vale. So we are 176 years and still going strong! In 1994, I started my oenology degree and began making some wines from the vineyard after begging my Grandpa for some fruit. He was pretty keen to sell some wine to his bowls mates, so he was on board. I suppose things just grew and grew from there. I was working for Southcorp Wines and making Oliver’s Taranga on the side. Eventually, Oliver’s Taranga took over, and we renovated one of the old worker’s cottages on the property and turned it into a cellar door in 2007. We are still growers for a number of different wineries, but now around 35% of the crop from our vineyard goes to our Oliver’s Taranga brand. Find out more about the Oliver's Taranga cellar door in our McLaren Vale Winery Guide .
Six generations on, you and your cousin Brioni Oliver are winemaker and cellar manager respectively – what’s it like working with family? I love it. Brioni is actually on maternity leave at the moment –  little 7th generation Hugo was born a few weeks ago, and I am really missing her. We work well together and are focused on making our business as good as it can be. Your wine labels are quite fun and quirky – who’s responsible? We work with designer Chris Harris from Draw Studio , who has a very quirky sense of humour. Also, we know there’s a myriad of wine brands for people to choose from out there, so what makes us different? It is the people and the history, so being able to tell real stories are key to helping us stand out above the white noise! We have been on the property for 176 years now, and have many documents from back in the day. Producing the wine each year is a continuing documentation of our time on the land, so we use our little comments on the label “The Year That….” To tell something quirky that happened on the farm that year. Our Wine of the Month is your 2016 Fiano –  what is it about alternatives like Fiano that you like so much? They suit our climate and lifestyle so well. Fiano is very drought and heat tolerant and has lovely natural high acidity, it is also disease resistant and has great thick skins. Also, the resultant wine works so well with our foods and regional produce. Being coastal, we eat a lot of seafood in the region, and Fiano has lovely texture and line that works perfectly in this space. Find out more about Australian Fiano here . In our food and wine matching calendar, we’ve paired it with a delicious avocado spring salad (avocado, snow peas, radicchio, witlof, radishes, red onions, pea shoots and roasted macadamias) – what’s your choice of food partner? That sounds yum! I love it with kingfish ceviche with avocado, lime, cucumber, tomato, spring onion, coriander, salt, pepper – delish.  What’s your favourite wine memory? Probably doing the Len Evans Tutorial – a week of wine, learning, sharing and food. On a personal level, the 1996 Salon Cuvee ‘S’ Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs I shared with my husband on our wedding day. Other than your own wine, what wine do you like to drink at home? Anything goes. Grenache is a current favourite. Riesling gets a solid bashing. I probably tend to drink more white wine at home and the Champagne is always cold. What are your three top recommendations for a first-time visitor to the area? A summer day in the cellar doors, followed by a dip in the ocean at Pt. Willunga and fish and chips from the Star of Greece as the sun goes down. Early Saturday morning at the Willunga Farmers Market getting all your produce for a decadent feed. Visit tiny wine shop Fall from Grace in Aldinga for something quirky and meet up with the locals. What is your favourie? ​ Way to spend time off? Beachside/poolside somewhere warm with a book. Holiday destination? We are heading to South Africa for the first time, next year, so I am very excited about that. Our go to is Bali – surf, sun, food, easy as. Time of year? Spring Movie? I just binge-watched ‘The Handmaids Tale’ on SBS On Demand last weekend. So, so, so good. And disturbing. Restaurant? Pizza-teca or Salopian Inn. McLaren Vale has loads of choices, and it’s hard to go wrong! Sporting team? Adelaide Crows #weflyasone FIND OUT MORE ABOUT OLIVER'S TARANGA SMALL BATCH FIANO
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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