Meet the Finalists: Winemaker of the Year 2020

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 2020 ceremony streamed LIVE from the Langton's TV Studios in Sydney

Hosted by Merrick Watts & Jane Thomson. Tuesday 24 November 7:30pm AEDST.

Congratulations to this year’s Winemaker of the Year finalists!

Natalie Cleghorn, Yalumba

Natalie Cleghorn

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, Merlot 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 and Hill Smith Family Vineyards iconic wines and vineyards becoming responsible for making Yalumba’s Coonawarra Collection and Wrattonbully wines including The Menzies Cabernet Sauvignon and Smith & Hooper Vineyards.

Cate Looney, Brown Family Wine Group

Cate Looney is a highly regarded and awarded winemaker, with almost 25 years of experience at senior and management level. Cate joined the winemaking team at Brown Family Wine Group (BFWG) in 2005 (then known as Brown Brothers) and was promoted to Senior Winemaker in 2016. She leads a winemaking team of five and is responsible for the day to day operations of the 20,000 tonne BFWG Milawa winery, producing both commercial and premium wines across a multi-branded portfolio.
Cate also has direct responsibility for the BFWG traditional method sparkling wine range and has been the driving force behind the exceptional quality of the Patricia and Non-Vintage Pinot Noir Chardonnay wines, two of the most awarded sparkling wines in Australia.

Cate has a Bachelor degree in Wine Science from Charles Sturt University and a Diploma in Food Science from the University Western Sydney. Prior to joining BFWG she was the Winemaker at Scotchmans Hill on the Bellarine Peninsula for five years, and she was the Ron Potter Scholar at the Charles Sturt University winery while she completed her studies. Cate has extensive experience as a wine show judge, is the Secretary of the Australian Sparkling Wine Show Committee and sits on the Charles Sturt University Wine Courses Industry Advisory Committee.

Natalie Fryar, Bellebonne Wine Company

Natalie’s wine life started as a vintage lab tech when still in school and she’s never really looked any other direction! She studied at Roseworthy, and worked in a variety of wineries in Victoria, before finding that sparkling production was the avenue for her at Seppelts in Great Western in 1995. She worked there for 6 years before moving back to her home state of South Australia to become the winemaker at Jansz Tasmania for the Hill Smith Family, a position she held until 2014 when she moved full time to Tasmania to start her own business, Bellebonne, based on a single vineyard in Pipers River in the north east of the state.

What motivated her the most to make what she makes is being in Tasmania. Natalie’s wines are elegant and bracing, complex and powerful, and that all comes from the island. Natalie’s professional development in sparkling winemaking, from Seppelts to Jansz to Bellebonne has given her the knowledge and skill to guide the fruit as it needs to be.

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