For a small winegrowing region accounting for barely one percent of Australia's wine production, Tasmania has more than its fair share of talented industry professionals.
The good news is that grape growers and winemakers around the country are becoming increasingly aware of the skill and expertise Tasmania has in its vineyards and wineries. Tuesday - November 17 - looks like becoming such an occasion.
Coal River Valley wine producer Samantha Connew is among three Australian winemakers nominated for the 2020 ASVO Winemaker of the Year Award. The award is made annually by the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology.
This year's winner is to be announced during a virtual awards event being streamed live from Adelaide, starting at 7pm, South Australia Time.
Formed 40 years ago, the society is a key national wine industry body, dedicated to furthering technical research within the grape and wine industry.
Connew's peer nominees are South Australian Peter Leske (Revenir Winemaking) and Frank van de Loo from the ACT (Mount Majura).
One of a number of Awards for Excellence being announced on Tuesday, the prestigious Winemaker of the Year Award is judged by an independent committee, comprising leading wine industry members.
Full details, together with a link to free event registration, can be accessed via the ASVO's website (asvo.com.au).
"I am delighted to be recognised by both my peers and by the ASVO for my contribution as a winemaker and as a member of the Australian wine community," Connew said
"It was such a surprise, but a real validation too of all the hard work I've put into following my dream."
Born and raised in Blenheim on New Zealand's South Island, Connew's journey to a southern outpost on this island has been something of an odyssey.
She spent four years attaining a double degree in Arts and Law before changing careers and gaining a Diploma of Viticulture and Oenology at Lincoln University.
On graduating, Connew left her homeland and travelled to Oregon in the United States to experience her first career vintage at Elk Cove Vineyard in the Willamette Valley.
"I've never actually worked a vintage in New Zealand, despite being born in Marlborough and seeing it become the epicentre of an internationally-renowned wine industry," Connew notes.
"I became totally captivated by Pinot Noir during my time at Elk Cove. I did another Oregon vintage in 2000."
Connew's career on Australian soil included a decade-long stint in McLaren Vale as Senior Winemaker at Wirra Wirra. In 2007, the talented Kiwi was named Red Winemaker of the Year at London's esteemed International Wine Challenge. The following year, she was a South Australian finalist in the Telstra Business Women's Awards.
In 2010, Connew moved to New South Wales to take up the position of winemaker/manager at Tower Estate. That brought Pinot Noir back into her warm embrace.
"Tower Estate began buying fruit from Tasmania, so I started travelling backwards and forwards to the state, spending a lot of time in vineyards," Connew recalls.
"Before long, I was mulling over possibilities of living the Pinot dream."
Connew quit her job at Tower Estate and worked Tasmania's 2012 vintage at Bay of Fires winery, alongside fellow Pinot-phile, Peter Dredge.
Known today as the face behind Tasmania's Dr Edge wines, the former Bay of Fires boss suggested Connew buy some Pinot Noir and make a bit of wine for herself.
She took his advice. Connew used her credit card to buy 1.6 tonnes of Pinot Noir from the Huon Valley, thus creating her embryonic Stargazer project.
Connew maintained her Tasmanian venture while working in applied research, development and extension as manager of the Hunter Valley Node of the Australian Wine Research Institute. In February 2016, her purchase of the Gangell family's Palisander Vineyard brought Connew to Tea Tree, north of Hobart.
An habitual over-achiever, Connew soon expanded her Coal River Valley site to 3.0ha of Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay, making it an industry showpiece. In 2017, Palisander won the Royal Agricultural Show Society's Vineyard of the Year award.
Membership of Wine Tasmania has led Connew to become a director of the industry peak body and a leading participant in its innovative VinZero program, aimed at improving viticulture across the state.
"I'm really passionate about producing great Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling," Connew muses.
"Tasmania is the only place in Australia that can do really well with all three varieties. It's become the perfect home."
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