4 March 2024

Hilltops region's oldest vineyards named among the top 41 'young guns' nationally

| Edwina Mason
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Brian Freeman of Freeman Vineyards

Brian Freeman founded Freeman Altura Vineyard in 1999. Photo: Camilla Duffy.

They might be buried deep amid the grapes of the Hilltops region right now, but two of the region’s wine greats are celebrating their finals berth in the Young Gun Vineyard of the Year Awards.

As the local vignerons battle heatwave conditions to pull in the fruit of the 2024 harvest, the announcement places Barwang Wines and Freeman Vineyards among 41 finalists nationally.

The awards, run by the Young Gun Group, were initially established in 2007 to champion the work of young wine labels and winemakers on the rise, but have since expanded to include the Vineyard of the Year classification to highlight the vital role of viticulture in Australian wine, championing not only top vineyards but their stewards.

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As the crow flies there are only about 15 kilometres between the two vineyards, both established in the 1970s; Barwang by the pioneering Peter Robertson and Freeman Altura Vineyard, previously known as Hercynia, by the Dolderson family.

Such were the synergies, when vines and wine were still fledgling foundation stock out in the rich granite country, members of the Dolderson family worked on the Barwang vineyard.

Sixth-generation Hilltops farmers James and Wendy Bowman

Sixth-generation Hilltops farmers James and Wendy Bowman now own Barwang Wines and have already introduced five new wines to the Barwang portfolio. Photo: Camilla Duffy.

Four decades later Barwang Wines is now owned by pastoralists James and Wendy Bowman, and Freeman Vineyards by one-time wine academic, Brian Freeman.

Their combined vineyard holdings account for about 50 per cent of the Hilltops Geographical Indication (GI) vineyard area.

The Barwang vineyard is predominantly planted to classic varieties – cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and chardonnay with newer blocks of pinot gris, malbec and tempranillo.

Freeman Vineyards specialises in growing Italian origin varieties – prosecco, pinot grigio, Fiano through to sangiovese, nebbiolo and the very rare dual varieties – rondinella and corvina that are the foundation of several wines in the Freeman portfolio.

Brian Freeman, who founded Freeman Altura Vineyard in 1999, said his original research highlighted the immense potential of the elevated rolling hills of the region where the red loam-topped granitic soils and typically cool climate have proved ideal for high quality viticulture.

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Sixth-generation Hilltops farmers, the Bowmans acquired the neighbouring Barwang vineyard in 2021 from the McWilliams family who had bought it from the Robertson family.

They’ve already released five wines – Barwang Impromptu Sparkling Chardonnay, Rose, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon – all crafted from premium grapes of the 2022 and 2023 vintage, to introduce the new Barwang portfolio in 2024.

“These hills grow top-class grain, prime lambs and the district also harvests terrific quality cherries and stone fruit, but it’s the local viticultural heritage that really excites us,” said James Bowman, who has recently launched a new series of Barwang wines.

James is also vice-president of the local vignerons’ association Hilltops Wine and said two finalists in these national awards was a terrific outcome for the small wine region that’s increasingly earning strong recognition for its viticulture, mature vineyards and innovation, especially with Italian varieties.

The 2024 Vineyard of the Year Awards category winners will be announced in Melbourne in mid-June in conjunction with a series of trade tastings in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

Original Article published by Edwina Mason on About Regional.

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