Meet the Finalists: Winemaker of the Year 2019

These are the #winechicks who turn ideas and hard vineyard work into actual wine. From deciding what’s planted to when it’s picked and everything that follows, they often have their hand in it all. And the results speak for themselves. This award recognises an outstanding winemaker who is a leader in the profession, with a particular focus on the previous calendar year’s achievements.

This award is proudly sponsored by

Watch the AWIWA 2019 ceremony streamed LIVE from New York!

Tuesday 17 September 8pm NY time / Wednesday 18 September 10am AEST

Congratulations to this year’s Winemaker finalists! #winechicksrule

Natalie Cleghorn, Yalumba

Nat personifies two of Yalumba’s greatest passions – wine and horse racing. A former track rider at the neighbouring Hayes family, Natalie joined Yalumba in 1999. Initially employed in the laboratory, Nat took on winemaking studies through Charles Sturt University, joining the winemaking team in 2006 and graduating in 2009.

Along with working for many years at Yalumba, Nat has had experience winemaking across a number of the Hill Smith Family Vineyards, from Oxford Landing, through to the handcrafted artisan winemaking at Dalrymple. She has also undertaken a vintage in the world famous Priorat region in Spain, honing her skills with Garnacha and Carignan.

A passion for premium handcrafted red wines has seen Nat develop a sense of patience and faith in the ability of great fruit to become outstanding wine.“Over the years, I have developed a love for Cabernet Sauvignon and Barossa Grenache; these noble varieties have given me a great faith in a hands-off approach to winemaking,” she said. “They also provide the excitement of facing the challenges and the ultimate reward of allowing the vineyard to speak”

“I find winemaking not dissimilar to the racing world – both involve the breeding and handling of fine stock in the hope you create something special and memorable.”

Vintage 2017 saw Natalie increase her influence over some of Yalumba’s iconic wines as she became responsible for making Yalumba’s Coonawarra Collection wines including The Menzies Cabernet Sauvignon.

Nat is a Len Evans graduate 2017, has judged at Hobart Wine Show, Adelaide Hot 100, and been a Great Australian Red Judge in 2015. She’s also been an associate judge at Adelaide, Margaret River, Limestone Coast, Barossa Wine Show, and James Halliday Cabernet Challenge in 2016.

Vanya Cullen, Cullen Wines

Vanya Cullen has been winemaking at her family’s Wilyabrup estate since 1983. She was appointed to Chief Winemaker in 1989 and Managing Director in 1999. During that time she has been rigorously experimenting in the vineyard (especially with soil and trellis management) and in the winery all the while looking to give her wines greater complexity. Her palate has been honed by judging throughout Australia and overseas, and by her continuous pursuit of a thorough knowledge of the wines of the world.

“Winemaking is now in the hands of Vanya Cullen, daughter of the founders; she is possessed of an extraordinarily good palate. It is impossible to single out any particular wine from the top echelon; all are superb.” – James Halliday

Over the past decade, Vanya has transformed her family firm from one of Margaret River’s best into one of the country’s premium boutique wineries. Cullen Wines while remaining family owned has since evolved making quality wine from a certified Biodynamic, Carbon Neutral and naturally powered estate. Exemplary viticulture lies at the heart of her success but so, too, do care and thorough attention to detail in the winery.

“At the very top of the quality and ethical tree you might drink wine from the biodynamically certified vineyards of Cullen from Margaret River” – Tim White

Vanya Cullen was the winner of the 2000 Qantas/The Wine Magazine Winemaker of the year. She was the third recipient of this prize, the first Western Australian and the first woman to win the award. Vanya has judged at wine shows in every major city in Australia. In 2008, she was awarded the UK Drinks Business Magazine “Woman of the Year 2008” and in 2011 the “Green Personality of the Year” for her commitment to the wine industry and for demonstrating that you can operate a successful business while looking after the environment. In 2015 Vanya was inducted into the Australian Businesswomen’s Hall of Fame which honours and celebrates Australian female business owners who have been exemplary in their industries, are trailblazers and demonstrate inspiring and aspiring business journeys. In 2019 Vanya was named the Halliday Wine Companion Winemaker of the Year; Australia’s most prestigious wine award.

2018 marked Vanya’s 35th year of winemaking at Cullen Wines and 2019 celebrates Vanya’s 30th anniversary of becoming Chief Winemaker at Cullen Wines.

Jo Marsh, Billy Button Wines

Jo Marsh is a 4th time finalist in the AWIWA Winemaker of the Year Award! After 8 years at Seppelt in Great Western she moved to the picturesque Alpine Valleys and in 2014 launched her own label, Billy Button Wines. Jo has a very close relationship with her growers, making wine for 7 of them under their own label as well as several other vineyards. Not only has she improved their wine quality but assisted many with their entire brand proposition. She also works with her husband Glenn James on their other brands Shy Susan (Wine Companion New Winery of the Year 2020) and Clay Pot Wines and has recently launched another label, Anderson and Marsh, with her neighbour and friend Eleana Anderson of Mayford Wines.
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