An “ark” for Australia’s wine industry and a bursary to nurture our promising young viticulturists – not only is the 2017 Australian Winemaker of the Year, Queenslander Mike Hayes, achieving great things for today’s industry but the wine drinkers of the future will also be thanking him.
Mike is the winemaker for Symphony Hill Wines at Ballandean on the Granite Belt and the first Queenslander to receive the highest honour in the Australian wine-making industry.
The announcement was made at an Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology awards dinner in Adelaide recently.
Other finalists included Tasmania’s Julian Allport, Moore’s Hill, and Jeremy Dineen, Josef Chromy Wines, and Seppeltsfield Wines’ Fiona Donald, from South Australia.
A born-and-bred third generation Ballandean boy, Mike is one of over 4000 winemakers nationwide and said he never dreamed he would one day reach this pinnacle in the industry.
Not only has it brought him personal satisfaction but he was also buoyed in the knowledge that it has finally brought Queensland wines out of the shadows of their better-known counterparts in southern states.
Proud Symphony Hill owner, Ewan Macpherson, agrees.
“No-one in the Australian wine industry is more knowledgeable than him in regard to viticulture and wine making of alternative varieties,” he said.
“His wine making and now this award have truly put Queensland wines onto the national stage.
“We have been receiving congratulation messages from people all around the country who have just discovered we have a wine industry in Queensland.
“There are wonderful world class wines made by many wineries here on the Granite Belt and we are all celebrating Mike’s award and what it has done to lift the region’s profile around Australia.”
In the last 11 years, Mike’s wines have won 106 gold medals and 93 trophies, 33 of them national gold medals, and for 23 different varieties.
A week after the winemaker announcement, Symphony Hill’s 2017 Gewurztraminer was proclaimed Australia’s Best Alternative White Variety Wine at the 2017 National Wine Show, Australia’s most highly regarded.
It’s the first time a Queensland wine has won at this level and the boutique winery was praised on the night by Australia’s most respected wine critic, James Halliday.
Mike’s win means he will represent Australia for the world title.
It’s a long way from his days on the chipping hoe at the age of 15, but his 38 years in the industry, working in 16 regions in four Australian states and New Zealand have given him a mission to share his knowledge for the benefit of the overall industry.
In 2012, after completing his Masters degree at the University of Southern Queensland, he was awarded a Churchill Fellowship and travelled through 50 of Europe’s wine regions researching the grape varieties best suited for a changing Australian climate.
The knowledge gained there is now benefiting the Vineyard of the Future project in Stanthorpe, a future-proofing initiative that’s growing 90 different varieties to find the ones that will best cope with a predicted temperature increase of half a degree in the region.
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Not stopping there, Mike wants to use his award to highlight to the state government the need for a $15,000 bursary that would immerse one young Queenslander in the industry each year.
“We already have a gateway program with schools – students plant, pick and then sell their product to their parents through P&Cs – this would build on that interest.”
Mike hopes the end result will be a Queensland wine industry loved as much in his home state as the State of Origin team.