Wine legends honoured

Clare Valley Wine and Grape Association chairperson Mitchel Taylor (centre) with award winners Andrew Kenny (Rising Star), Adam Eggins (Winemaker Award), Warrick Duthy (Regional Ambassador) and Alister Sandow (Viticulturist Award). Photos: Clare Media and Yurtel
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Last Friday, legends of the Clare Valley wine industry were given their dues at a celebration of the ingenuity and impact they have had on the region.

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Clare Valley Wine Hall of Fame Gala and Awards Presentation, held once a decade, recognises exceptional achievement and innovation in the growing of grapes, production of wine, brand marketing or as an ambassador for the region over a significant period, honouring those who have influenced and contributed to the Clare Valley wine industry.

Chosen from a pool of exceptional candidates, five legends were inducted into the Hall of Fame and four awards were presented at a Gala Dinner at O’Leary Walker Wines on Friday, May 24.

More than 150 guests attended the evening, which was a showcase of current and back vintage Clare Valley wines pulled from the Association Cellar, matched with exceptional food and music.

Clare Valley Wine and Grape Association (CVWGA) chairperson Mitchell Taylor said the Clare Valley Wine Hall of Fame was a prestigious recognition of the contribution that individuals in the Clare Valley Wine industry have made over a considerable length of time.

“The Clare Valley Hall of Fame was a truly special night,” he said.

“It provided an ideal stage to recognise individuals in our region who have demonstrated remarkable dedication and substantial impact in the realms of winemaking, grape growing, marketing, and service provision throughout their careers.

“These legends and award winners were selected from an esteemed panel of judges, who took note of the individuals ongoing contribution to both the Clare Valley Wine & Grape Association, as well as the Clare Valley wine industry.”

The legends inducted into the Clare Valley Wine Hall of Fame were:

Peter Barry (Jim Barry Wines)

Roly Birks (Wendouree)

Neil Paulett (Paulett Wines)

Andrew Pike (Pikes Wines)

Stephanie Toole (Mount Horrocks Wines)

The winners of the awards were as follows:

Winemaker Award – Adam Eggins (Taylors Wines)

Viticulturist Award – Alister Sandow (Blenheim Proprietors)

Rising Star Award – Andrew Kenny (Kenny Wines)

Regional Ambassador Award – Warrick Duthy (Watervale Epicurean Society, Watervale General Store, Watervale Hotel and Providore and Penobscot Farm)

Hall of Fame inductee Neil Paulett said the recognition was quite humbling and very rewarding.

“I’m glad it’s come before I fell off the perch!,” he laughed.

“I’m very thankful to my peers and the committee that worked through the nominees for the legend status to think I was worthy of it.”

In reflection Mr Paulett said over the years, what had been achieved had also been in a strong part to his wife, Alison.

“We have worked as a team all my business life here, and it really has been a joint effort,” he said.

“There are some wonderful people recognised in the hall of fame, and I’m pleased to join them in what is a fairly elite club at the moment with those who were inducted 10 years ago.”

Mr Paulett said there were a lot of great people working to the same end to the benefit of Clare not only in the wine industry but the whole community.

“We are starting to be recognised as a place to visit, it has taken a long time but there is some traction now behind not only the wine and food, but the ambience of the whole place,” he said.

Hall of Fame inductee Peter Barry said when he started 40 years ago, he set about a journey to promote Clare.

“Now the Clare Valley wines are recognised internationally, but we had very little national or international recognition when I began, there wasn’t a tourism industry here to speak of, there certainly weren’t regional development boards, it was just the winemakers wishing to move forward and create something special,” he said.

Mr Barry said he was far from a lone figure in his efforts, however.

“There was a whole team of people who had the same dream, and we sang from the same lyric sheet so the same message has resonated continually onwards in larger and larger ripples,” he said.

Reflecting on his early years in the industry, Mr Barry said there was little in the way of formal organisation, with the winemakers meeting monthly, aside from the vintage period, each dutifully performing their roles to realise the betterment of the region.

“It’s exciting to see the way the valley has evolved, and the more success, the more the quality can creep up, the region becomes more vibrant, you have more energy, and success creates more success,” he said.

While Mr Barry said it was honour and a thrill to be recognised, the true privilege was the experience of being a part of the industry.

“I have been lucky enough to have known all the legends of the Clare Valley except for Carl Sobels who passed before I knew him,” he said.

“Otherwise I have known all of them personally, and it almost brings a tear to your eye to know everybody, respect them, and see what they have done. That’s the thrill actually, the real privilege.”

Winner of the inaugural Regional Ambassador award, Warrick Duthy, reflected on the steps the region has taken onto the world stage, along with the challenges confronting its future.

“The wine industry has progressively shifted towards growing and making bright fruited, elegant wines that are positively differentiated from other regions, leveraging our unique climate,” he said.

“We have seen increased diversity of varieties and styles reflecting our ‘appellation of a thousand terroir’, increasing critical interest around our wines.”

Mr Duthy praised the collaborative nature of the local industry.

“We steer visitors to each other’s venues. We are not competitors but collaborators; there is little joy having a monopoly in a dying market,” he said. “However we are now facing a new crisis, a crossroads. Now is a time that we need to collaborate more than ever, to support each other, to build and never undermine the Clare Valley brand.

“With the Federal Tourism and Trade Minister the Hon. Don Farrell a descendant of regional pioneers, I’m sure we have someone who would love to see development proposals to support.”

Mr Duthy said the Clare Valley was the sum total of its individual brands, service and the way they communicate to visitors, customers and the rest of the world.

“We must support and promote our regional heroes – not cut down the tall poppies,” he said.

“I for one will move heaven and earth to attract more people to our region, people who can become ambassadors for the Clare Valley upon their return.”

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