10 dark horse wineries

James Halliday by James Halliday

26 Jul, 2018

The wineries here have each fought their way to a five-star rating over several years.

Dark Horse of the Year: Principia Wines

Darrin Gaffy has been knocking on the door of five stars since records have been kept for this purpose ('96 the first year). In that time, Principia has received four stars or, on eight occasions, four-and-a-half stars. This year he triumphed with the wines submitted all receiving 95 or 96 points. 

Brini Estate Wines

Sebastiano Brini arrived in McLaren Vale from Italy with no English, £5 in his pocket, a suitcase and a passion for growing grapes. By 1953 he had saved enough to buy a property in Blewitt Springs; two-thirds was used to run dairy cows, the other third to establish grape vines (shiraz, grenache and mataro).

Byrne Vineyards

The extensive Byrne family has been through some tough times and some good times – none better than those of today. The merging of production from the Riverland with that from the Clare Valley has seen production soar from 35,000 dozen to 150,000 dozen bottles, much of it headed to export markets. 

Laurel Bank

Laurel Bank was established by Kerry Carland in 1986, but deliberately kept a low profile by withholding release of most of its early wines. When the time came, in ’95, Kerry entered the Royal Hobart Wine Show and won the Most Successful Tasmanian Exhibitor. Since then, Laurel Bank has produced many attractive wines, but not enough in any one year before this to regain a five-star rating.

Lonely Vineyard

Whoever is responsible for the website in the family of Michael Schreurs and Karina Ouwens (and I suspect it’s the latter) has a superb sense of humour, and a love of cats. Michael is the winemaker, and Karina is a commercial lawyer working in Adelaide. The five wines in the current release are particularly impressive. Not so lonely in the future, I suspect.

Schild Estate Wines

Founded by Ed Schild in 1952, when he planted a small vineyard at Rowland Flat. It’s no exaggeration to say he has flown under the radar like few others, given the estate’s present vineyard holding of 163ha, and an infinitely valuable and rare block of 170-year-old shiraz on the Moorooroo Vineyard. In ’15 all of the estate wines flew high, but none more so than the Moorooroo Shiraz.

Tim McNeil Wines

Tim McNeil gave up teaching to complete an oenology degree in '99. He then spent 11 years honing his craft at wineries in the Barossa and Clare Valleys before launching Tim McNeil Wines. The 16ha property at Watervale includes mature, dry-grown riesling. That vineyard provided the grapes from the great ’17 vintage, which Tim has made into two wines that propelled the winery to five stars.

The Willows Vineyard

The story of the Scholz family dates back to 1845, when Johann Gottfried Scholz fled from religious persecution in Silesia. He settled on the alluvial banks of the North Para River, continuing an early career in the Prussian army healing broken bones, and his original cottage became the site of the Barossa’s first private hospital...

Three Dark Horses

It would be unthinkable that Three Dark Horses could miss selection even though it is qualified through the five-year rule. Moreover, I’m very confident that Matt Broomhead’s venture is destined for greater things in coming years, as its newly acquired vineyard and onsite winery (in time for the 2019 vintage) come on-stream.

Windance Wines

In 1998, Drew and Rosemary Brent-White came from a farming-family background to establish this winery five kilometres south of the beautiful Yallingup beach. They practised sustainable land management and organic farming practices where possible, and did so very successfully. As at 2018, the winery had won 16 trophies and 52 gold medals in regional and Western Australian wine shows...

These extracts are an abbreviated version of the stories that appear in the 2019 Halliday Wine Companion. See the guide for the full write up.