Meet the winemakers

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South Australia is known for producing stellar wines. Winsor Dobbin introduces you to the winemakers behind the labels.

SUPERSTARS

Peter Gago

You might catch up with Peter Gago at Vinexpo, the world's largest wine fair, in Bordeaux. A week later he might be in New York, or London. As chief winemaker for Penfolds and the custodian of Grange, Gago not only leads a winemaking team, he also waves the flag at prestigious events around the globe. "My friends joke that I have the best job in the world, but I do spend a lot of time on planes," Gago says. A former maths and science teacher, Gago graduated as dux of his oenology class at Roseworthy College and quickly climbed the ladder at Penfolds after joining 20 years ago. He took over as chief winemaker in 2002 and is only the fourth man to be responsible for Penfolds' iconic wine. "For me, winemaking is about knowing when to interfere and when to stay out of the way," he says.

What to drink: Gago's current star release is the Penfolds 2004 Grange, which retails for $600, but there are several more affordable reds in the Bin range. Koonunga Hill is also always great value.

Where to go: Penfolds has vineyards across South Australia and two cellar doors; one at Magill Estate on the outskirts of Adelaide and another at Nuriootpa in the Barossa.

Jeffrey Grosset

Widely regarded as Australia's greatest riesling maker, Grosset established his own winery in the Clare Valley, north of Adelaide, in 1981. He produces just six wines each year from Clare and Adelaide Hills fruit, two of them rieslings that are searingly good. With his shaven head and piercing intellect, Grosset can be an intimidating figure but he has played a key role in the development of the Australian wine industry; championing the role of terroir and the use of screw caps over cork. Grosset has been named as both Australian winemaker of the year and international riesling winemaker of the year.

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What to drink: His new 2009 rieslings from Polish Hill and Springvale are superb. Also try his Gaia red blend and excellent 2009 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc.

Where to go: Grosset has a tiny cellar door in the Clare hamlet of Auburn.

Louisa Rose

Winemaker of the year in 2008 and a leading show judge, Yalumba chief winemaker Louisa Rose is known for having a prodigious palate. Raised in the Yarra Valley, she was dux of her winemaking class at Roseworthy in 1992 after earlier gaining a degree in science. She's worked at Yalumba for 17 years and was appointed chief winemaker in 2006. Rose has focused on the development of new varieties - and has enjoyed immense success with the white Rhone Valley grape viognier. She was winner of the 2004 women in wine award at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London and was Barossa winemaker of the year in 1999. She has just become the first woman to be chair of judges at a national show and is also a tireless worker in promoting the Barossa Vintage Festival. "I can't imagine anywhere else I'd rather work," she says.

What to drink: Rose is particularly proud of her Yalumba Virgilius 2007 Viognier ($50) - regarded as the best example of the variety in Australia. Also try the Y Series range, formidable value for around $12.

Where to go: Yalumba's beautiful old winery and cellar door at Angaston offers one of Australia's most atmospheric tasting opportunities.

Brian Croser

Croser has been one of the key figures in the Australian wine industry for 35 years. Educated at the University of Adelaide, where he was deputy chancellor for eight years, and at UC Davis in California, Croser was been a winemaker, educator and judge. He formed Petaluma in the Adelaide Hills in 1976 and was a regional pioneer. He now owns the Tapanappa label in partnership with two leading French wine families and is true to his belief in "site-specific" wines. He makes a chardonnay from his family's Tiers vineyard in the Adelaide Hills, red blends from the Limestone Coast and a pinot noir from the Fleurieu Peninsula. A former president of the Winemakers Federation of Australia, he was named "Man of the Year" in 2004 by leading British wine magazine Decanter.

What to drink: Tapanappa has just released its outstanding new 2008 Tiers Chardonnay ($75) and 2007 Foggy Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir ($50).

Where to go: Tapanappa does not yet have a cellar door.

RISING STARS

Samantha Connew

Samantha Connew is one of Australia's brightest young winemaking talents yet she came to her role as senior winemaker at Wirra Wirra in McLaren Vale by a circuitous route, studying law before falling into the grip of the grape. Connew worked at wineries throughout Australia and the US before taking responsibility for the wines at Wirra Wirra in 2002. Five years later, she was named international red winemaker of the year at the International Wine Challenge in London. She says winemaking has to be enjoyable: "It's only through being adventurous in both the vineyard and the winery that we challenge ourselves to transform good wines into great ones."

What to drink: Wirra Wirra's Angelus Cabernet Sauvignon and RWS Shiraz are renowned but drinkers on a budget can enjoy the 2009 Mrs Wigley McLaren Vale Rosé and Mrs Wigley Moscato for under $20.

Where to go: Wirra Wirra's rustic cellar door in McLaren Vale offers tastings and cheese platters.

Helen McCarthy

English-born McCarthy may be No.2 to chief winemaker Adam Eggins at Clare Valley winery Taylors, but she's already made a huge impact. McCarthy worked at Barossa Valley Estates and Penfolds before moving to Taylors as senior winemaker, where she has responsibility for the much-praised Jaraman range that blends fruit from two different regions. She won two of Australia's biggest prizes for young winemakers in 2008: Australian Gourmet Traveller WINE magazine's Kemeny's Medal and The Wine Society's members' choice award at the young winemaker of the year awards.

What to drink: The Taylors reserve wines under the St Andrews label are excellent but also check out the 2006 Jaraman Cabernet Sauvignon ($30).

Where to go: The Taylors cellar door is a 90-minute drive north of Adelaide.

For a great wine holiday see southaustralia.com or phone 1300 671 082.

South Australia Experiences is published by Fairfax Media in conjunction with South Australia Tourism Commission. Details are correct at the time of publication and may be subject to change. All writers travelled courtesy of SATC.

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