Ten Natural New South Wales Winemakers to Love
Written by Kristine McCarthy
Organic. Biodynamic. Vegan-friendly. Minimal intervention. For some innovative winemakers in the southeastern Australian state of New South Wales, it's not just about what you put into the wine but what you leave out. From the North Coast Orange to the Southern Highlands to the Hunter Valley wine regions, meet the winemakers making waves with their natural wines.
Sam Leyshon of Mallaluka, Yass | Now at the helm of his family winery, Mallaluka, in Yass, a three-hour drive southwest of Sydney or an hour north of Canberra, Sam Leyshon (formerly of renowned Canberra District winery Clonakilla) aims to minimize the fingerprint on his wines, using low-impact techniques such as open-vat fermentation, basket pressing, and minimal additives. In addition to cool-climate favorites such as Riesling and Shiraz, his range includes lesser-known whites including Fiano, Vermentino, and aligoté, a little-known Burgundy varietal. There is no cellar door, but you can buy Mallaluka wines directly from their website.
Sam Renzaglia of Renzaglia Wines, O’Connell Valley | You don't often find a Rosenberg's goanna—an Australian reptile with rugged bodies and long tails—on a wine label, but there's a reason that Sam Renzaglia's Di Renzo range of wines features wildlife on its labels. At Renzaglia Wines in the O'Connell Valley near Bathurst, a three-hour drive west of Sydney, the focus is on restoring the local ecosystem. That influences how Renzaglia treats not just his vines — minimizing herbicides and pesticides and weeding by hand — but also how he treats the rest of the property, introducing nesting boxes and planting more trees to support native birds and koalas. Renzaglia's award-winning wines, made without fining and filtering, include chardonnay, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot.
Richie Harkham of Harkham Wines, Hunter Valley | When Richie Harkham describes his wines as "pure grape juice," he's talking about what he leaves out of the winemaking process: there are no chemicals, no preservatives, no additives, fining, or filtration. At this boutique Hunter Valley winery, which makes a maximum of 20,000 bottles a year, workers hand-pick all the grapes used to make its acclaimed Semillon, chardonnay, rosé, and shiraz. That's not the only thing that sets Harkham Wines apart: the winery operates according to kosher guidelines and has an on-site restaurant and accommodation for those looking for a more extended stay.
Jared Dixon of Jilly Wine Co, Clunes | Jilly Wine Co. is a 40-minute drive inland from Byron Bay in the village of Clunes. Winemaker Jared Dixon sources his grapes from the cooler New England region, just a few hours away, where settlers first grew vines in the early 19th century. The crisp highland air suits varieties such as Nebbiolo, Gewurztraminer, and chardonnay, and Dixon uses natural yeasts and avoids fining and additives, apart from a small amount of sulfur. The Clunes cellar door is open only by appointment, but you can pick up a bottle or two at the Clunes Store & Cellars on Main Street in town.
Tony Zafirakos at Ari's Natural Wine Co, Sutton Forest | Located in the picturesque Southern Highlands, a two-hour drive southwest of Sydney, Ari's Natural Wine Co is all about keeping it simple. Inspired by the techniques used in the Greek village where his father Ari grew up, winemaker Tony Zafirakos uses wild fermentation and harvests and processes his fruit by hand. His unfiltered, unfined, sulfur-free wines include unusual drops such as Pash & Pop, an orange wine made with Greco and zibibbo grapes fermented on skins, and Lucky No.5, a blend of the season's varieties.
James and Meagan Becker of M&J Becker Wines, Hunter Valley | In Australia's oldest wine-growing region, relative newcomer M&J Becker Wines operated by a husband-and-wife team, James and Meagan Becker, who are passionate about making wine that captures its environment with as little intervention as possible – so no fining agents or additives. As a result, you'll find pinot noir and chardonnay, as well as Syrah, made with certified organic grapes. A visit to their cellar door, located at the beautiful Roche Estate, will not disappoint.
Bryan Martin of Ravensworth, Murrumbateman | Situated in Murrumbateman wine country in the Canberra District, Ravensworth is a winery with a master at its helm, making wine that is a mixture of scientific exactitude and experimental flair. This is a family affair, with Bryan Martin making wine with his wife Jocelyn and brother David. Bryan crafts Ravensworth's wines at nearby Clonakilla winery, where he has worked for over a decade. His wines are mostly aromatic and light-to-medium-bodied, with Sangiovese being the most popular red variety. Other varietals on offer include Nebbiolo, Riesling, and Gamay.
Peta Kotz of Sabi Wabi, Hunter Valley | Sabi Wabi, founded in 2019, is another newer winery doing things differently in the Hunter Valley. Inspired by the Japanese term wabi-sabi - a world view centered on accepting transience and imperfection - this winery is all about eschewing flawlessness. Located on the banks of the Hunter River, the small-batch wine is made by Peta Kotz, who grew up in the area. Kotz's debut wine, Bright Eyes, was a sunny blend of chardonnay and Semillon. Production increased for 2021's vintage, and Kotz was able to make a white, red, and rosé. Fruit for the Semillon was sourced from Tranquil Vale Vineyard in Luskintyre, while the Shiraz from the rosé and red are from Lovedale, with a cooler year meaning more natural acidity. As always, the wines were made imperfectly, intentionally, and with minimal intervention.
Benson Brown and Joel Mucci of Benson & The Mooch, South Coast | Protégées of Tony Zafirakos at Ari's Wine, Benson Brown and Joel Mucci of Benson & The Mooch started out making their wine out of Ari's winery before setting up their own space in the South Coast, near Wollongong. It was their debut pét-nat that put them on the map. Called Disco Juice, it's a good-times wine, made for drinking at sunny backyard barbecues. Grapes are sourced from the Central Ranges and left pretty well alone – with no additions, sulfur, filtering, or fining. Other wines in the range have equally fun names and characters on the label: Purple Rain is a GSM blend with a slight spritz, and Gaucho is a Nebbiolo and Mourvèdre blend, out in late 2021.
Charlie O'Brien and Simon Jones of Chateau Acid, Central Ranges | Although their wine is based on principles of minimal intervention, you'll find the winemakers' personalities splashed all over Chateau Acid. Old friends Charlie O'Brien and Simon Jones are heavily involved in the music industry, inspiring the aughts-style club poster vibe of the labels that Jones – also a graphic designer – created. It's a fun brand, but they are serious about their wine, sourcing grapes from the biodynamic and organic certified vineyards of Rosnay Organic Vineyard in Canowindra. The Bianco, Vermentino with three weeks skin contact and 12 months in a terracotta amphora, has been a hit. They've also produced a popular Grenache, chardonnay, and a Rosato – a refreshing and tangy Grenache-Syrah blend.