Meet the 2025 Dark Horse Winery finalists

By Halliday Promotion

4 Jul, 2024

Get to know five of the six finalists shortlisted for Dark Horse Winery at the 2025 Halliday Wine Companion Awards. 

Unveiled last month, the finalists for Dark Horse Winery were chosen from among those who have ascended to a 5-star winery status for the first time. We spoke to five of these exciting producers making waves in the industry: Amour Wines, ChaLou Wines, Samson Tall, See Saw and The Pawn Wine Co

With three out the five making wine in Orange, and the other two in McLaren Vale (and surrounds), there's clearly something in the water in these two regions. We asked the winemakers to tell us what they love about making wine in these regions, which of their wines to try, and how they felt when they heard the shortlist news. Get to know the five wineries below. 

Amour Wines

Amour winery

Winemaker and owner Matt Eades says: At Amour, we’re all about well-balanced, linear, elegant and patiently produced wines. There’s no pumps and no hurry with the chardonnay, which generally spends 18 months in French oak. The pinot noir spends 12–18 months and the shiraz stays put for 24 months before we bottle it.

We don't have a cellar door, however, we do one-on-one tastings with the winemaker by appointment only. This personal experience happens in the winery or by the vines, and allows tasters an insight into the whole process. We also offer a local cheeseboard with some estate-made salami. 

H. What do you love about making wine in Orange?
ME. I love the different altitudes and microclimates Orange has to offer, particularly the impact the cool nights have on the wines and the natural acidity that ends up in the final product – hello chardonnay and pinot noir.

H. How do you approach the winemaking process?
ME. Both vineyard and winery production is by hand – no machines or pumps are involved and all processes are gravity-fed. All wines go through wild fermentation. There's a purity to the wines and they are beautifully aromatic, given the altitude influence we get in Orange. I can't see myself changing this approach given what I'm seeing in the bottle and how the wines age with power. Loads of excitement ahead having moved into the new winery and new vineyards with chardonnay, pinot noir and shiraz to plant.

H. How does it feel to be shortlisted for the 2025 Dark Horse Winery award?
ME. I haven’t stopped buzzing since hearing the news; it's so wonderful to receive this acknowledgement for the wines I so passionately make and love.

Wine to try

Amour Wines

2019 Amour Wines Double Barrel Shiraz

Dry drought growing season grown at 860m altitude. Open vat ferment with 10 per cent whole bunch, only the best two barrels selected in exceptional years. Wild secondary ferment in barrel then aged for 24 months in French oak with 50 per cent new oak. Blackcurrant, red plums, cinnamon, cloves, mocha and spice on the nose. The palate is unrelenting fruit power with blackberry/cherry tones woven into a lingering oak/tannin finish.

Best enjoyed: Pair with something rich and meaty such as wagyu sirloin or a slow-cooked lamb shoulder. Decant for a couple of hours at 12 degrees celsius. 

RRP $110 | Drink to 2049 | | Shop this wine

ChaLou Wines

ChaLou owners in vineyard

Winemaker Nadja Wallington says: My Husband Steve and I launched ChaLou Wines in 2021 after purchasing an existing vineyard in the Orange region in 2020. ChaLou focuses on the four varieties we believe Orange does effortlessly well: riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah. Our 6ha of vineyard is the perfect size for us to do it ourselves – we grow the grapes, and craft and bottle the wines on our family estate.

Our approach starts in the vineyard, ensuring we have healthy soils for our vines to grow, then nurturing them throughout the season. Timing is so important to us – doing things at the right time to get things to their optimum potential. Winemaking follows suit – watching each wine find its unique expression. We wild ferment, don't fine and use minimal filtration. We believe that the connection we have through a function of our size gives us the ability to engage, nurture and enhance wine quality within each aspect of the winemaking process from bud to bottle.

H. What do you love about making wine in Orange?
NW. The Orange region is still being discovered. We are a young region with lots of opportunity and it is a wonderful community to be a part of. Orange is a region uniquely defined by elevation, ranging from 600m to over 1000m. This gives a huge range to the region, allowing it to make a spectrum of cool-climate varieties exceptionally well. Sitting at 900m, we have a cool site and we enjoy the elegance and poise this gives to our wines.

H. What can guests expect from a visit to your cellar door?
NW. Our cellar door overlooks our beautiful estate vineyard and property. Barnacle, our black labrador, is always keen to welcome new guests to ChaLou. Tastings are intimate, but relaxed; hosted by us the owner/ winemakers, Nadja and Steve. We offer a unique and informative experience as you are guided through the range.  

H. How does it feel to be shortlisted for the 2025 Dark Horse Winery award?
NW. It is enormously humbling to receive this recognition of our hard work. We love what we do and it is so encouraging to be shortlisted for the 2025 Dark Horse Winery award.

Wine to try

ChaLou bottleshot

2023 ChaLou Riesling

An off-dry style with a vibrant aroma. Fresh lemon peel and lifted white florals, hints of orange blossom and tangerine peel. Detailed, fine-boned palate with juicy, driving acidity. 

Best enjoyed: Serve chilled with pippies in XO sauce and chilli. 

RRP $35 | Drink to 2034 | | Shop this wine

Samson Tall

Samson Tall cellar door

Winemaker and owner Paul Wilson says: Our wines are made in a style that suits the climate, food and lifestyle of the region. Medium-bodied and savoury, they suit the Mediterranean climate of McLaren Vale and complement the modern, lighter food style popular in the region. All of the varieties we produce – picpoul, grenache blanc, cinsault/mataro, grenache, shiraz and tempranillo – are drought tolerant (excluding the shiraz) and love the sunshine, so the varieties are very well suited to McLaren Vale.

Our winery and cellar door are small but beautiful. The winery is onsite, fully operational and available for viewing. There is a historical cemetery, home to many of McLaren Vale’s pioneers, including Samson Tall himself, as well as large lawns and gardens looking out over neighbouring vineyards. 

H. What do you love about making wine in McLaren Vale?
PW. McLaren Vale is a true maritime climate, a perfect place to grow premium wine grapes. It is also a world class wine and food region – very compact in a tourism sense – with great boutique accommodation, outstanding restaurants and the best beaches. We love living here because it is close to the ocean. I love going for a swim at the beach with the kids after work, or playing golf instead of going to work. 

H. What can guests expect from a visit to your cellar door?
PW. The Samson Tall cellar door is housed in an old Weslyan Church built in 1854, so the site has lots of history. The cellar door features local artwork, and has beautiful views across neighbouring vineyards. Our cellar door is dog-friendly, and our beautiful lawns and gardens are the perfect place to relax in the sunshine and enjoy a tasting.

H.How does it feel to be shortlisted for the 2025 Dark Horse Winery award?
PW. It is very exciting to be shortlisted for the 2025 Dark Horse Winery award.

Wine to try

Samson Tall bottleshot

2022 Samson Tall Grenache

A beautiful nose of roses, red cherries, blueberries and crushed thyme. Full-bodied with silky tannins. Smooth and graceful texture, with a solid core of bright red fruit. Textural and long finish. Vibrant and fresh.

Best enjoyed: Enjoy this wine with 'The Banquet' at The Little Rickshaw. Serve at 19 degrees in a fancy glass!

RRP $32 | Drink to 2030 | | Shop this wine

See Saw Wine

See Saw owners

Head winemaker Monica Gray says: See Saw Wine is a family-owned certified organic business, that has dedicated the past three decades to cultivating grapes and crafting exquisite cool-climate wines in the heart of Orange, NSW. For me, winemaking is about creating wines that represent a sense of balance and joy.

At See Saw, we grow all our own organically certified fruit across three sites of varying elevations. It is my job to highlight individual sites through preserving fruit characteristics and having a minimal approach to winemaking. I like to create bright, lively, elegant wines that celebrate varietal character and cool-climate viticulture. Across our four ranges of wines, I have the opportunity to work with a number of different varieties and winemaking techniques.   

H. What do you love about making wine in Orange?
MG. The Orange wine region is the only Australian wine region identified by altitude. The region boasts vineyards between 600–1100m above sea level. This unique characteristic results in cool-climate wines of elegance and structure. My love of cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir brought me to Orange. Our long and steady growing season, with its ability to create beautiful fruit profiles, mean the region is a joy to grow and make wines in. Furthermore, we have a young, innovative, vibrant and supportive wine industry in Orange, which celebrates our fantastic food and wine culture.     

H. What can guests expect from a visit to your cellar door?
MG. Opening in February 2023, the See Saw cellar door is located on the foothills of Gaanha-bula (Mount Canobolas), tucked amongst rolling vineyards and overlooking the Towac Valley. The cellar door offers seasonal tasting experiences that pay homage to Orange’s four distinct seasons, paired with regional produce tasting plates curated by local chef Richard Learmonth. Each experience is designed so that guests will leave relaxed and jubilant with a wealth of knowledge about See Saw and the Orange wine region. 

H. How does it feel to be shortlisted for the 2025 Dark Horse Winery award?
MG. I am absolutely thrilled that See Saw has been shortlisted for Dark Horse Winery of the Year in the 2025 Halliday Wine Companion Awards. Over the last three years, the Jarrett family have entrusted me to nurture and guide their organically grown fruit into wines that respect varietal character and a sense of place. The resulting wines are lively, bright and demonstrate the current energy and excitement of the Orange region. This nomination is a testament to the dedication and hard work of the entire team that goes into every glass of See Saw. 

Wine to try

See Saw bottleshot

2022 See Saw Invergo Syrah

Deep garnet in colour, with aromas of white pepper, cloves and red berries. medium-bodied, with cool-climate spice and delicate tannins on the palate. 

Best enjoyed: Pair with grilled steak or lamb chops, a ragu pasta or lasagna, and roasted red meats with all the trimmings. Best enjoyed on a cool evening, at room temperature in a big wine glass, with the fire roaring, over a home-cooked meal with friends and family and a bit of Fleetwood Mac playing in the background. 

RRP $40 | Drink to 2032 | | Shop this wine

The Pawn Wine Co

The Pawn Wine Co bottleshot

Owner and winemaker Tom Keelan says: The Pawn was started as a bit of a middle finger to the corporate wine companies – I was a frustrated grape grower watching my ‘alt’ varieties being blended away in multi-regional blends. The Pawn, being the smallest piece in chess, will often get sacrificed but can ultimately win the game when played strategically – I wanted to show what could be done with varieties such as grüner, tempranillo and sangiovese.

H. What do you love about making wine in your region?
TK. I source grapes from the ‘cool end' of town – Southern Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek – all areas significantly influenced by a maritime climate. They are ideal regions to achieve beautifully balanced, medium-weighted wines with a savoury, spice-driven edge, acidity that’s in check and varietal purity. I really like the ‘house style’ savouriness which comes from Old World varieties like fiano and malbec grown on the Fleurieu Peninsula. 

H. How do you approach the winemaking process?
TK. I let our vineyards and our growers’ vineyards do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to defining my preferred style. My use of oak amongst all the wines is pretty restrained but the spice element derived from the maritime climate and ancient soils is something I try and enhance where possible by using maturation in larger format European oak. 

H. How does it feel to be shortlisted for the 2025 Dark Horse Winery award?
TK. When the email came through I was like, "WTF". I have always felt that my wines are clean, good value for money and pretty smashable, but to be acknowledged amongst so many amazing brands is pretty special.

Wine to try

The Pawn Wine Co bottleshot

2023 The Pawn Malbec

This wine has intense scents of violets, rhubarb and blackberries exploding out of the glass, On the palate there is the unique satsuma plum with blueberries, dark chocolate, spice and tobacco. The wine is voluptuous and intense, with elegant fine tannins – the hallmark of a Langhorne Creek malbec. 

Best enjoyed: The classic pairing with malbec is meat, but make it special. Don’t hold back – inflation is a bitch, but buy the best cut, from the best butcher in the best suburb cooked with fire using the best charcoal. Enjoy with friends, and with music.

RRP $40 | Drink to 2028 | | Shop this wine