Exploring Australian Riesling: Uncovering the Regions, Renowned Producers, and Exceptional Wines

By | 8 May 2024

Ken Gargett profiles the sites and winemakers responsible for the finest Antipodean Rieslings.

By Ken Gargett

In the second part of his in-depth survey of Australian Riesling, Ken Gargett profiles the most significant regions, producers, and wines.

Australian Riesling: An underrated, pristine joy

If any region in Australia is synonymous with great Riesling, it is the Clare Valley in South Australia, which James Halliday once described as the “monarch of Australia’s Riesling regions.” Edward Gleeson, the first mayor of the township of Clare, who named the place after his birthplace in Ireland, believed the region had a future for grapes. He imported vines from the Cape and, by the late 1840s, had planted 500 of them on his own farm. Ken Helm and Trish Burgess, in their excellent Riesling in Australia (2010), note the Austrian Jesuits making sacramental wine at Sevenhill, originally from Clare Riesling (Crouchen) but later from Riesling.

Good Clare Riesling will be dominated by citrus, most notably limes and lemons, with hints of grapefruit and even crisp, appley notes. A wet-stone character can be evident and occasionally a touch of the tropicals. Florals, in varying degrees, are almost always present. Age provides a glorious toasty character, the best like fresh toast slathered with lemon butter. They will have depth, balance, intensity, and persistence.

Recent vintages here have been nothing short of stunning. Jeff Grosset and Stephanie Toole have been quoted as raving about 2021 but then having to pinch themselves when 2022 came along. Some may have fumbled the acidity question when it comes to 2022, but overall this is as good a vintage as most producers have seen. They are in raptures. Anyone who enjoys good Riesling simply must go overboard when it comes to Clare 2022. And drink them anytime over the next decade or two. Then along came 2023, yet another home run. Want to make a Clare Valley maker agonize? Ask him to pick the better year. Basically, the region has enjoyed three truly stunning vintages: 2021, classic; 2022, cool but brilliant; 2023 completed the hat-trick. Generally speaking, the 2015 to 2018 vintages were all excellent, with 2017 considered the star. Prior to that, 2010, 2005, 2002, and 1997 were standout years. So, too, was 2009 for many producers—indeed, some have this vintage as one of the all-time greats. Others opt for 2007 or 2012. It’s far too early to know about 2024, of course, but a severe frost in late October has apparently devastated up to 30 percent of the vineyards in the Clare. What the quality will be like remains to be seen, but at the very least, production will be considerably diminished.

Despite its name suggesting a valley landscape, the Eden Valley is actually situated at an elevation higher than the nearby Barossa and is cooler than the Clare. It produces Riesling that is often more refined and sterner than it’s Clare Valley counterpart. These wines feature an array of flavors, from intense lime and white floral notes, which transition into a honeyed toast and mild orange-marmalade character with a bit of cellar aging. Remarkably, some of the world’s oldest Riesling vines are found in the Eden Valley.

The quality of the vintages does not always parallel that of the Clare Valley. However, in recent history, the differences have been minimal. The last three years in particular have been fantastic for Eden Valley. Although the region may not have fared as well as Clare in 2023, it was undeniably a solid year. Some argue that 2022 might have been even better. Though the years 2018 and 2010 may not have compared to the heights achieved in Clare, the region performed exceptionally well in 2009 and 2011.

The discussion also extends to subregions such as Mt Barker, Denmark, Frankland River, and Porongurup in Western Australia. In these regions, Riesling often exhibits a honeyed note on the finish and occasional herbal hints, in addition to the expected citrus, floral, and minerality. What may be surprising to some is the fact that Riesling is only the fourth most planted white grape in the area.

As for the recent vintages, 2023 is shaping up to be promising. While 2022 proved to be somewhat trying, Riesling weathered the challenges remarkably well. Provided suitable crop protection, 2021 saw an excellent harvest. Apart from a few exceptions – 2014, 2006, and 2003 – the vintages since the turn of the millennium have ranged from good to excellent. Damien Smith of Frankland Estate pointed to 2018 as a standout vintage, but noted that subsequent years have been close competitors. The Margaret River area, considered a neighbour despite Australia’s sprawling geography, is evidently blessed with a treasure trove of excellent vintages.

Riesling lovers will tell you of the undiscovered marvel that is Ken Helm’s region, home to Helm Wines. The varying temperature conditions are beneficial to the intricacy of the wine. Nonetheless, striking red wines from the area, most notably the marvelous Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier, occasionally overshadow them. The local Rieslings are known for their crisp, refreshing tastes with a potential to mature and acquire complex flavors. Helm commends the area for its ideal Riesling-growing conditions. The climate allows the wines to sustain their flavors, acidity, and richness.

The Langtons vintage chart credits this region a perfect score for each vintage from 1999 to 2012. This high allocation may be a bit overgenerous or simply an error. For current assessments, disregard 2020. The years 2022 and 2023 show promising outcomes. 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019 are typically the more favorable years. Helm also anticipates 2023 to be among the best years during his tenure.

Emerging as a serious contender, although with low output, is Tasmania. It’s speculated that Tasmania will become the source for many superior Rieslings. Climate change could possibly fortify this prediction. At the moment, anticipate pure Rieslings in an assortment of styles with distinctive acidity. The size of the island makes typical vintage information less useful. However, recent years have seen nothing worth actively avoiding.


Jeff Grosset is renowned as the “king of Riesling,” earning the title after the notable John Vickery. While Grosset is recognized for an array of superior wines, it’s his Rieslings that have truly elevated his reputation.

The affinity for Riesling originated in Grosset’s youth when he savored a bottle at the age of 15. By the age of 16, he was enrolled at Roseworthy College and after gaining experience locally and abroad, he inaugurated his venture in a milk depot in Auburn, Clare Valley. His first vintage in 1981 yielded 800 dozen. In the ensuing years, Grosset has triumphed with nearly every conceivable accolade, predominantly on the back of his impressive Rieslings. His operations not only boast organic and biodynamic certifications, but they also emphasize single-vineyard wines and were instrumental in the transition to screwcap closures at the century’s commencement. Grosset’s wines feature on almost every serious wine list and are found in the cellars of virtually every dedicated wine enthusiast, becoming practically synonymous with Riesling.

His fame is largely attributable to his two famed single vineyards – Springvale (previously labeled “Watervale”) and Polish Hill. Initially, the emphasis on single vineyards wasn’t as pronounced as it is presently. However, the marked differences that Grosset’s two wines displayed made a compelling argument against those who insisted that only France had a comprehension and mastery of terroir. Several bunches from each vineyard were enough to comprehend the striking disparity in the resulting wines; Springvale produced larger bunches and berries, compared to Polish Hill’s compact and significantly smaller yield. Furthermore, Grosset’s Rieslings exhibit a longevity, continuing to evolve and refine over an extended period. These wines are exceptional by all measures.

If one were to indulge in a young Grosset Riesling, Springvale would be the preferred pick, although it also matures wonderfully. The Springvale vineyard emanates a medley of heady scents – predominantly citrus and notably lime, teamed with a floral undertone. Polish Hill befits a longer stay in the cellar, emanating sharp, austere characteristics in its youth, pristine and incisive, with a notable length. The Springvale soil is comprised of red loam overlaying limestone, whilst Polish Hill boasts the region’s renowned Mintaro slate, challenging for any vine aspiring to thrive easily.

For us, Mr Grosset took some time to accumulate his thoughts on Riesling. “The year 2022 will be the culmination of years of labor for me. The quality of fruit produced is outstanding, pristine condition, and once again, the yield is impressive after three years of drought-induced low quantities.” On top of that, he also credits his remarkable 2022 yield to the continuous effect of A-grade organic certification of their wineries, vineyards, and bottling halls. The certification was effective from the year 2014 and biodynamic certification from the year 2018. It should be noted that Mr Grosset’s thoughts on such matters can’t be overlooked due to his extensive experience in the production of top-grade Riesling from specific sites.

“To witness this type of elevation in wine quality after so many years of continuous improvement is quite a revelation. But now, after pondering on your question, I am thrilled about how much more quality improvement one can achieve in Riesling compared to other grape varieties we cultivate like Cabernet, Shiraz, and Fiano. As you are aware, I have always believed that Riesling production is the purest form of winemaking that mainly depends on the grape variety and its environmental conditions. Winemaking does have an important role, but having a ‘deft hand’ is even more important when you aim to achieve the best variety from a specific site. I think Riesling will respond substantially better under true organic and biodynamic conditions compared to our already pollution-free environment here in Clare Valley. (By ‘true’ I mean independently evaluated and accredited.) Regardless, the increase in the complexity of insect and plant species in our vineyards and how it contributes to a distinct ‘sense of place,’ and most importantly, how this leads to an improvement in wine quality, is something worth mentioning.”

Mr Grosset has increased his range with Alea, a slightly off-dry Riesling, and the extremely scarce G110, from a single site—the Rockwood vineyard. The G110 is a breathtaking Riesling. The first release of the G110 was in 2019 and was priced at A$110 each. The wine comes from a rare Riesling clone—the 110—and ages for an extended period on lees. The 2021 variant, which I was fortunate enough to taste thanks to a good friend of mine, was remarkable. Pears, crystalline lemons, limes, spices… the complexity and length of flavors are astounding. Undernotes of green apples and florals. I am confident this variant has a good 25 years in it. I score it a 98.

Jim Barry

The Barry family, seasoned winemakers from the Clare Valley, are custodians of the coveted Florita, a renowned Australian Riesling vineyard. Locally, it’s as prestigious as the iconic Romanée-Conti is in the realm of Riesling.

The Florita vineyard, set up in 1946 by Leo Buring in the Watervale subregion, intended it for planting Pedro Ximénez grape variety for Sherry production, which largely dominated local wine consumption during the time. Palomino, Shiraz, Trebbiano and possibly Crouchen were also among the cultivars here. Riesling was non-existent in the vineyard. The vineyard’s name, Florita, derived from the Spanish term for “little flower”, was a subtle nod to Sherry flor. The Sherry produced here was referred to as Florita Fino.

As preferences evolved, in 1962, post Leo Buring’s demise, they introduced Riesling in the vineyard by replacing Pedro Ximénez. John Vickery, a Roseworthy College alumnus and winemaker for Leo Buring since 1955, was at the forefront of this decision. This phase also witnessed Lindeman’s procuring the Leo Buring business, ensuring to retain the young wine expert. Vickery had the distinct advantage of leveraging new-age refrigerated tanks, sterile filtration and advanced bottling lines.

The Leo Buring label saw the introduction of a range of Rieslings from various vineyards in 1963, but Florita continued to outshine. Distinctively, as of 1997, Leo Buring had earned an impressive 50 trophies and over 400 gold medals, primarily for their Rieslings, with the majority of top-notch ones being from the Florita vineyard. Having personally attended an extensive tasting session with John Vickery long back, I recall a few pitfall wines due to cork-related issues, but the session overall constituted one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. The superior quality of aged Rieslings, especially those from the Florita vineyard, was indeed memorable.

It was by the mid 80s when big corporations, notably Big Alcohol and Tobacco, took over many local wine producers. The manner in which they ran operations led to various mishaps, leading to vineyards being put up for sale. This was also a time when the South Australian Government was incentivising growers to abandon their vineyards. The decision-makers at Philip Morris noticed that their Riesling stocks were not moving, they had six years of supply and it just wasn’t selling. The hot commodity in the market was Chardonnay, and Riesling wasn’t getting much attention. So, in 1986, Philip Morris decided to sell their assets.

The Barry family had been associated with the industry long enough to understand the recklessness of such moves. Jim Barry, a household name in Clare Valley wine, owned several vineyards. His son Peter, also recognized widely in the industry, along with the upcoming generation – Tom, Sam and Olivia, were expanding their influence. Peter convinced his father that the family should buy Florita vineyard, against his mother’s apprehension about expanding their vineyard holdings. Not many at the time would think of investing in a Riesling vineyard.

However, there was a problem. Southcorp, a previous entity of Treasury, owned the Florita name. The Barrys had to wait for 8 years for the registration to lapse. The situation worsened when Southcorp renewed the name, making the Barrys wait for a total of 18 years to use the name, even though they could make use of the fruit. When the registration expired, Peter took the opportunity. Their first release of Florita Riesling was in 2004. The Barrys annually produce around 15,000 cases of Riesling, but only 300 to 400 dozen of Florita.

Upon reminiscing, Peter disclosed that he thought the deal they got was akin to the Dutch purchase of Manhattan for 60 guilders, roughly about $1,150 today. The property came with a small house in the southwest corner, which held no value for the Barrys. They decided to separate the property, selling the building and the nearby land, but keeping 75 acres of vineyard. The sold portion, along with the house, was bought by a local artist, Ian Sanders, who in 1993 started the Clos Clare wine label, with Jeff Grosset as the winemaker. By 1996, it was sold to Noel Kelly. In 2007, Kelly chose to sell the property back to Peter Barry. Seizing the opportunity, Peter and his sons, Tom and Sam, acquired the property, and on that land, they now produce the acclaimed Watervale Riesling under the Clos Clare label.

O’Leary Walker

David O’Leary and Nick Walker, now further complemented by Nick’s son Jack, were formerly amongst the best winemakers at Mildara Blass. They decided to independently set up a winemaking operation in the year 2000, a venture that was destined to be a success. In 2010, they made a move to new premises located in Leasingham. They have been known for creating remarkable wines, particularly their Rieslings, which offer great value.

In the past, O’Leary has worked with a range of wine producers in Australia, both small and large scales. His expertise is not only limited to Riesling—he won the coveted Jimmy Watson Trophy in the year 1988 and has been honoured as the International Red Winemaker of the Year twice—in 1992 and 1994. Walker has wine running in his veins with his father, Norm, and grandfather, Hurtle both being legendary figures in wine making. Hurtle had the privilege of working with Edmond Mazure, who migrated to Australia in the late 1800s to produce sparkling wine and is considered a significant pioneer in that style. Hurtle started working at Magill’s Auldana cellars in 1904.

Groset is a notable comparison when referring to the two principal Rieslings they produce—the Watervale and Polish Hill River, the slight variation in their names owes to ownership rights. The Watervale vineyard is featured on a dry-grown site with red loam over a layer of limestone. The Polish Hill River, on the other hand, is sourced from two nearby vineyards, featuring a gray loam over sandstone and slate. These vineyards have been organically cultivated since the 1970s and officially recognized as such since 2010. They additionally offer a high-quality Riesling known as Drs’ Cut. This vineyard, sharing its soil characteristics with the Polish Hill River, was planted more than forty years ago in the Polish Hill River region and is owned by two doctors.

Nick characterizes the recent vintages of 2021 as demonstrating an impressive structure and powerful fruit intensity. 2022 displays the power and features a delicate finesse. He regards 2022 as “textbook” and likens it to the exceptional 2002 vintage.


The Clare Riesling from Pikes is considered a consistent favorite by many, however, it still manages to often go unnoticed. I’ve been observing the Rieslings and other wines from this family business from the start, and they never fail to impress or offer extraordinary value.

The current winemaker, Steve Baraglia, sees Riesling as a variety that better handles climatic conditions compared to most other varieties. He also believes that the wine’s style is predominantly influenced by the climatic condition of the region. His goal is for the wines is to reflect their origin and he sees Riesling as the best representation of that. ‘Our approach is to encapsulate what the fruit tastes like in the vineyard and bottle this with minimal intervention.’ Baraglia points out that their vineyard at Polish Hill River boasts a soil more than 650 million years old, composed of red-brown clay loam. The subsoil is mainly slate. He notes that they are situated at quite an elevated location and receive slightly more rainfall, which aids their vines in producing subtle Rieslings.

Pikes started off in the mid-1980s when the family acquired 66 acres (27ha) in the core of Polish Hill River. Edgar, the family’s patriarch, had a considerable history in the wine and hospitality sectors. Nevertheless, his sons Andrew, adept at viticulture, and Neil, skilled in winemaking, ran the business. Over many years, the duo established the winery as one of the most trusted in the region. You’d find it hard to locate a reputable cellar or wine list in Australia that doesn’t feature their wines. Neil may have retired, but Andrew is persisting at full tilt.

We saw their Reserve Riesling rebranded in 2005 as the Merle, in honor of Merle, Andrew and Neil’s mother – a truly delightful woman. I’ve had the privilege of meeting her a few times. We both didn’t particularly cherish Sauvignon Blanc, if I remember correctly. I can also recall Neil’s slight dismay when she remarked that it tasted much better as juice, prior to it being fermented into wine. However, she harboured no such reservations regarding their Rieslings. To be specific, The Traditonale 2023 is their 39th release, whereas the Merle (previously known as the Reserve), invariably sits among the best Clare Rieslings, year after year.


I recall the first time I discovered a Clare Valley winery named Rieslingfreak, exclusively dedicated to producing nothing else but Riesling wines. I wondered if this venture was focused more on marketing gimmicks than actual quality. That was until I met the proprietor, John Hughes. A few conversations and tasting sessions later, it became quite evident that what we have here is pure commitment to the craft of Riesling wine (and one of the most cordial gentlemen you’ll find in the industry).

Beginning his winemaking journey with the impressive 2009 vintage, Hughes had initially only made the Clare Valley Riesling. His portfolio has since developed to include a diverse selection of Riesling wines. Originating from Clare Valley, where his family owns a Riesling vineyard, Hughes now collaborates with growers from the Eden Valley and Polish Hill River subregion. His range of styles are versatile and high quality. Hughes isn’t shy of residual sweetness or texture. His wines are labeled using numbers that signify different regions and styles. Some examples include No.1, produced in the family’s White Hutt vineyard during top-quality vintages. No.6, also from White Hutt, ages in cellars for at least five years prior to release. No.9 is a sparkling Riesling, aged on lees for 30 to 36 months. Finally, No.10, the Zenit Riesling, is a multi-regional blend that Hughes and his equally passionate Riesling-loving wife Belinda, a winemaker, initially developed for their wedding.

Hughes wonders if any other grape variety can provide the versatility of Riesling. Regarding vintages, Hughes believes 2023, cooler and wetter compared to the usual, offered pure but challenging wines. However, he considers the 2017 vintage to be the standout.


Upon hearing Neil Pike’s retirement, he wasted no time in returning to the winery. His retirement project, Limefinger, comprises of only two Riesling wines — but their quality is remarkable.

The inaugural launch was back in 2020—a product named The Learnings—sourced from St Clare Gardens Honey Home Block, positioned north-east of Watervale. These vines were implanted in 2002 on red loam overlying limestone and red clay. Only 230 dozen were crafted, yet it caused ripples. The production of this Watervale dropped later to around 1,250 bottles. In the bountiful 2021 vintage season, the production increased to include about 2,000 bottles of Polish Hill River Riesling, The Solace, crafted from Neil’s own block—red-brown loam over slate, with an elevation of 1,450ft (440m). The vines were ingrained in their roots in 1994. Neil regards this as a slice of paradise and deems the wine produced from it as “the world’s top-notch oyster wine.” Questioned about the difference, Neil characterized The Learnings as exhibiting “aromatic, limey florals, soft, and rich in flavor. On the other hand, the Solace is notably lean and taut, revealing a significant grapefruit hint and the slate characteristics specific to this vineyard.”

Neil has always been my gauge point for Clare vintages, often presenting all aspects. When elicited for his favourite among 2021, 2022, or 2023, he advised that only time can tell, however, “I believe ’22 is winning currently. Just,” He depicted 2023 as “yet another remarkable Riesling vintage. A marginally cooler and more humid growing season resulted in a harvest that was a week to ten days later than the previous year’s,” although the examination during harvest was “almost the same.” Neil mentioned that 2023 noticed slight botrytis, however it didn’t cause issues as long as clusters were discarded before the pickers arrived. When questioned about the best vintages in his career, he suggested, “1982, 1992, 2002, 2012, 2022—a fascinating numerological pattern seems to be happening here!” Neil will provide more insight, including the pre-screwcaps era—“1982, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1992, 1995, 1997, and 1998.” As for the screwcaps period, “2002, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2021, 2022, and 2023.”

Lastly, Neil shares his views on the Clare Riesling style and the level of dryness they should achieve. He observes an increase in ‘bone-dry’ (< 1g/l) wines in the market today. He said, “I’ve always advocated for a minor amount of residual sweetness (3–4g/l) in my wines—it permits me to harvest earlier, obtain lower alcohol levels and maintain higher acid levels.”

Mt Horrocks

Stephanie Toole might not have been Australia’s first female winemaker, but she certainly made her mark at a time when they were few and far between. Originally hailing from New Zealand and having gained experience in Western Australia, she made her move to the Clare and went on to carve out a successful career, founding the much-loved Mt Horrocks winery. Life must have been trying, especially given that she is married to Jeffrey Grosset. It’s not uncommon to encounter those who wrongly presume that Jeffrey must be the force behind the wines – a deeply offensive and false assumption. Though it’s certain that they share ideas and have greatly benefitted from each other’s insights, it is also clear that they run separate operations.

Stephanie purchased Mt Horrocks in 1993, and five years later, transformed the old Auburn Railway Station into a cellar door. Her unwavering commitment to expanding her horizons led her to acquire land at Watervale in 2000, where she plants biodynamic vineyards. This is a tradition she shares with Jeff, as they’ve both bought only land and never a vineyard. Stephanie’s deep appreciation for Australian art adds another layer to her multifaceted personality. Her wines, particularly the Rieslings, have been lauded as exquisite examples of what the subregion has to offer.


When discussing Australian Riesling, it’s impossible not to mention Orlando. This owes largely to the contributions of Colin Gramp and Guenter Prass, who were instrumental in shaping the course of Riesling in the country, and to the Steingarten vineyard.

Gramp came from a lineage deeply rooted in wine making, being the great-great-grandson of Johann Gramp, who founded Jacob’s Creek in 1847. Tragically, his father perished in the disastrous Kyeema air mishap, which also led to the loss of Tom Hardy and Sidney Hill Smith, prominent figures in the industry.

On the other hand, Prass hailed from a family of German winemakers but initially pursued a career in the German merchant navy. Despite both men serving in World War II, they didn’t find themselves on the same side. After the war, Prass ended up returning to the wine industry. When Orlando acquired two cold and pressure-fermentation tanks to prevent oxidation, revolutionizing the Australian industry and especially the production of Riesling, a winemaker was needed. Gramp was already the technical director by 1947, and Prass joined him for an unpaid three-year leave from his work in Germany. Although Prass’s new wife, accustomed to Berlin’s bustling city life, found the Barossa of the mid-1950s quite shocking, they also found the people to be incredibly welcoming. The industry was dominated by fortified wines at the time. After their initial three-year assignment, the couple returned to Germany briefly before ultimately making their way back to Australia, the Barossa, and Orlando.

The release of the slightly sparkling Barossa Pearl by Orlando forever changed the landscape of the wine scene. The popularity of this wine soared, with sales reaching up to 10 million bottles before they stopped keeping track. The concept was birthed to coincide with the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, and rumors even suggest that its success may have been due to a misunderstanding, with Victorians mistaking Barossa for Barassi- Ron Barassi, an incredibly influential Australian Rules football player who recently passed away. Regardless of the reason, it was a hit!

The success of Barossa Pearl inspired many duplicates- with Sparkling Rinegolde, Pearlette, Mardi Gras, Tiffany, Viva, Sparkling Est, Starwine, Gala Spumante, and Porphyry Pearl being just a few among the many. While many of these were quite successful, if any contained Riesling, it might have happened more out of sheer luck than intentional design, as Barossa Pearl was rumored to be a mix of Riesling, Muscat, and Semillon. However, these innovative production methods brought attention to the potential of creating good quality Riesling, providing consumers with wines that brought forth an exciting new freshness. It was indeed a dawn of a new era.

Guenter Prass passed away in 2015 at the age of 88, and Colin Gramp departed in 2020 at the ripe age of 98. Both were given honorable awards for their significant roles in advancing Riesling in Australia, with Prass receiving the Order of Australia (AM) in 1990, the inaugural Wolf Blass Award in 2003, and the Maurice O’Shea Award in 2004. Gramp also received an AM and later the Wolf Blass Award in 2014.

In 1962, they aspired to mirror the caliber of Riesling that Germany was renowned for, which meant finding a unique location. This was reminiscent of the philosophy that Croser would later prioritize. It boiled down to either relocating up north or down south; south being Tasmania which proved a step too far at the time. They chose to move up, eventually planting the renowned Steingarten vineyard at an elevation of 1,475ft (450m). This vineyard spans across 9 acres (3.6ha), and two thirds of its vines today remain from the original planting. Prass once noted that the vines were trained in heart shapes, to mirror the Mosel. The latest release, from 2020, continues to impress judges both locally and internationally. More details.

Pewsey Vale

An older vineyard that holds equal significance in the Riesling world lies within the Hill-Smith/Yalumba realm, the Pewsey Vale in the Eden Valley. It marked its 175th anniversary last year, originally having been planted in 1847. The team is of the belief that those initial plantings included Riesling. A special commemorative Riesling from 2022 was released—a total of 1,847 bottles that were individually labelled with retro ’60s labels and had hand-numbered labels. The Hill-Smith family became owners of the vineyard back in 1961 and ever since, it has been fully committed to Riesling, displaying their unwavering dedication to the variety through its highs and lows.

One of Australia’s foremost vintners, Louisa Rose, has been crafting the wines since 1996. Her belief is that the success is attributed to the “lean soils, an altitude of 500m [1,650ft], rock formations, and peculiar microclimates… and also meticulous, green viticulture.” The vineyard adheres to organic and biodynamic practices. The estate spans 358 acres (145ha), with 125 acres (50ha) dedicated to vine cultivation. The soil is characterized by low-fertility, and gray sandy loam.

Another reason Pewsey Vale has won favor with consumers is that matured examples are available at very reasonable prices. The Anniversary offering, along with the latest release, includes vintages from 2022, 2016, and 2012. 

Peter Lehmann

Although celebrated winemaker Peter Lehmann is better known for his reds, top-notch Riesling held a special place in his heart. His longtime assistant Andrew Wigan was primarily responsible for the wine production for many years—so much so, that their premiere wine, the Reserve Riesling, was renamed Wigan in 2003. While every winemaker in Clare/Eden will speak of their Rieslings’ aging potential, these wines have consistently demonstrated it. An Eden Valley superstar.

Crawford River Wines

Though not typically associated with excellent Riesling, Henty in southeast Victoria is emerging as a unique wine region. Known for its cold climate and volcanic soils bound to pristine acidity, it’s a family-run vineyard established in 1975 by John and Catherine Thomson. The daughter, Belinda, currently manages the vineyards and winery. Initial plantings were dominated by Riesling and Cabernet, extended in later years, 1994 and 2001. Over time, the vineyard has gained recognition as one of Victoria’s leading Riesling producers, all from clone G198. The family’s unique wine-making process involves using a substantial portion of whole-bunch-pressed fruit and wild yeasts, followed by five weeks of lees aging. There’s also the Noble Dry Riesling, developed from botrytis-affected fruit, but it never surpasses off-dry.

Mac Forbes

Next comes Mac Forbes, another heavyweight in Victorian Riesling and widely recognised for his groundbreaking styles. A stalwart of sweet yet textural Riesling, Mac has been making the RS Rieslings since 2005 using Strathbogie Ranges fruit. Unhappy with conventional Riesling stereotypes, Mac pioneered a new direction, unlocking varying sweetness levels. Despite encountering disease and yield issues in 2023, the end product presented “intense fruit concentration, beautiful acid balance, and an unexpected purity.” This difficulty is expected to amplify the wine’s demand. The previous years, 2022 and 2021, yielded outstanding and nearly impeccable results, respectively.

Mac designates his Rieslings with labels indicating the level of residual sweetness in the wine – this is why RS22 has 22g/l RS. Traditionalists may not approve of Mac’s methods, but he is enthusiastic about the diversity of styles emerging in Australia, which are no doubt influenced by imported European wines challenging the conventional ‘Clare Valley’ stereotype. Epitomes, lees work, foudres, oxidative handling, and a departure from rigid formulas make this an exciting time to enjoy Riesling. Perhaps most thrilling of all is the growing acknowledgment of how soils influence the final wines, and Riesling is the perfect way to explore these soils.

When it comes to his own wines, Mac prefers Granite soil. His vineyards are exclusively in the Strathbogie Ranges, which boast an elevation of 600m, a variety of granite forms, mature vines, and exhilarating fruit. The only obligation is to avoid ruining it through arrogance or negligence. Mac allows for hours of skin contact, a lengthy press cycle, and then either foudre or concrete, for extended, slow fermentation. They remain on gross lees until bottling. Apart from SO2, there are no additions. These wines are some of the most thrilling in the country for those who can look beyond traditional Clare Rieslings.

Lark Hill

Lark Hill is now managed by Chris Carpenter. His parents, Sue and Dave, founded the estate in 1978. Since 2006, the estate has been fully biodynamic, making it one of the earliest to adopt this practice in Australia. Chris views Riesling as a central variety in their offering. Their Riesling vineyard, located at an elevation of 2,800 ft (860 m), is one of the coldest in the region. The soil is comprised of decomposing shale over clay and is roughly 400 million years old. A subterranean watercourse runs beneath the block.

The Lark Hill Vineyard Riesling fruit is steeped on skins for a duration of 12 hours post-crushing. A small quantity of the extracted juice is kept aside for “back-sweetening”, a technique employed to counterbalance the acidity levels. The vineyard prides itself on an exclusive production of a mere 120 dozen. They also boast of a Regional Riesling, a variety perceived to be a bit more forward than its counterparts, and their Leyline Riesling, a dessert-style wine from the original vineyard, with 100g/l RS and 9% ABV.

Frankland Estate

The revelation of fine Riesling’s birth beyond the confines of the dynamic Clare and Eden valleys had to be accepted by consumers. It was an even bigger realization that it was the Great Southern region, located in distant Western Australia, making its mark in the world of Rieslings. Judy Cullam, her husband Barrie Smith, and their progeny leading the Frankland Estate deserve the credit. Judy’s association with the international Riesling community spans over a long duration. They started plantation in 1988. Today, Judy’s children, Hunter and Elizabeth Smith guide the estate on this journey. Riesling constitutes approximately 50 percent of their wine production—a commitment they take very seriously.

The team has explored different avenues of Riesling production over the past nine years, experimenting with textures, intensity levels, styles, and every possible aspect of creating a concoction that tastes uniquely divine. Damien Smith shares that since 2015, their quest for flavour diversity and additional textural complexity in their Rieslings has only intensified. According to Damien, the climate and organic viticulture contribute hugely to the natural acidity of the wine. However, their recent endeavours are more inclined towards cultivating more exotic flavours of the fruit, like the stone fruit, tropical, orange citrus-like mandarin, and the spiced elements, which they believe can only enhance the variety. They employ varied techniques in the vineyard and winery, including wild yeast ferments, barrel-ferment components, and extended lees contact in tank and barrel. All these attempts stem from their desire to refine the taste of their unique wine. The team insists that the process is gradual and is an ongoing one. Their perseverance is evident in some of Australia’s most sensational Rieslings produced over the past half-dozen vintages, that range from superb to exceptional.

Frankland Estate offers a standard Riesling in addition to their site-specific wines. These unique offerings include those from Isolation Ridge and Poison Hill, as well as their Alter Weg, which undergoes fermentation in large-format, old oak. The Smith Cullam is the estate’s premium selection. The Isolation Ridge wine also benefits from maturation in barrel as well as nine months on lees.

Howard Park

Despite being perceived primarily as a Margaret River winery, Howard Park also stands out as a prominent Great Southern producer with exceptional Rieslings. The producer maintains the stance that their Rieslings take a separate direction from the stringent acidity and citrus notes of South Australian varieties. Richard Burch, a key figure at Howard Park, points out that “acid integration plays a pivotal role in the structure and taste of these wines.” Factors such as granite soils, proximity to the Southern Ocean, and the highest location in Western Australia, albeit a modest 1,200ft (360m), also play their part.

Established in 1986, Howard Park launched with two wines, including a Riesling made from Great Southern fruit by John Wade. Ever since, the search for optimum Riesling sites in the region has continued. Chief winemaker Nic Bowen views Riesling as “the poetry of the earth and an excellent conveyer of the site it is nurtured in.” He adds, “Our Riesling is grown on sites with shallow, decomposed granite soils that offer effective drainage and are rich in minerals and typically have low pH values. The altitude of the site is fair (300m+ [1,000ft]) and faces southwards, making it relatively cool. This leads to very soft, mineral-rich acidity in the fruit, with floral notes.” Jeff Burch, the founder of Howard Park, reinforces Bowen’s sentiments, commenting, “Riesling has an innate ability to reveal its origins, and the Great Southern region offers an exceptional environment for growing Riesling. Each sub-region carries a distinct and exciting signature.”

The team also releases mature Rieslings, illustrating the development potential and complexity that the region fosters. In addition to its standard Rieslings, Howard Park introduces Arbor Novae, a small-batch Riesling. Every sold bottle aids Carbon Positive Australia, an organization restoring degraded land for over two decades. The wine originates from the Gibraltar Rock vineyard in the Porongurup subregion, renowned for its primeval Karri loam soils.

Castle Rock

The Australian wine scene features numerous attention-seizing, celebrity, self-centric winemakers. Rob Diletti isn’t one of them. He has unobtrusively labored at the family winery Castle Rock -set up by his parents, with the first plantings about 1983- and allowed his wines to speak for themselves. They have been consistently reverberating quality for a while now.

The estate situates on the eastern slopes of the Porongurup Mountain. Recently, Rob has augmented a new wine to his range: the A&W Riesling, named after his parents, Angelo and Wendy.

The A&W introduces a variety of Rieslings. Their flagship wine is the Estate Riesling which is a blend of six different blocks they have planted. The Diletti Riesling is aged in puncheons and barriques for nine months on lees with the objective to intensify texture and complexity. The Skywalk Riesling is designed for a slightly lower acidity, richer texture, and earlier drinking. Lastly, there is a medium-dry style with 21g/l called RS21. These wines definitely deserve your attention if they aren’t already.

Pressing Matters

Greg Mellick, the founder, holds a revered position in the wine, legal, and defense sectors (holding the rank of a Major General in the ADF Reserve). In 2002, Greg and his wife Michelle established Pressing Matters, and their first vintage was introduced in 2006. Greg’s admiration for the wines of Mosel and Burgundy influenced their focus on Riesling and Pinot Noir. The wines are crafted by the gifted Samantha Connew (who also creates her own Stargazer) at the new 200-tonne winery.

The Rieslings are produced with varying levels of sweetness, as anticipated from a Mosel enthusiast, and named appropriately (as we observed with Mac Forbes). Hence, we have R0, R9, R69, and R139. The vines are planted at a density of 5,000/ha, incorporating a variety of clones.


For most Australian wine aficionados, the word Freycinet brings to mind images of aged sparklers, captivating Pinot Noir, or exceptional Chardonnays. Once I had the chance to taste an aged bottle of Freycinet Riesling and found it as vibrant, balanced and fresh as the day it was bottled, but with complex and finely woven textures. I believe the Freycinet Riesling is one of Australia’s best-kept wine secrets.

In 1978, Geoff and Susan Bull created the Freycinet estate, planting their first vines the following year in a ten-acre vineyard. By 1983, they were producing their first wines. This made them the first commercial vineyard on Tasmania’s eastern coast. Their daughter Lindy Bull, after gaining experience in Western Australia’s Great Southern region, returned home in 1993 accompanied by the now invaluable member of team Freycinet, Claudio Radenti. Claudio and Lindy’s experiences in the Great Southern region made the inclusion of Riesling into their vineyard a necessity. The Freycinet team gives credit to the early Tasmanian wine trailblazers for their help during the beginning stages, and they now pay the kindness forward. Indeed, when I asked Claudio about his Rieslings, he immediately recommended several from other producers that I should try.

The estate has grown to cover forty acres, including six acres dedicated to Riesling. In its early stages, the aim was to develop a slightly fruity style of Riesling, thus some Müller-Thurgau was blended into the Riesling. However, this practice ended with the 1998 vintage.

“The cool climate here gives us wonderfully balanced fruit, full of intense flavors yet still delicate,” explains Claudio. “We have fantastic acid and pH ratios that lead to excellent taste, a refreshing palate, and long-lasting wines. This natural balance in the fruit means winemakers don’t have to tweak much.” The aim is to keep the soft floral fragrances intact. Their focus is not on pushing boundaries, rather letting the elegance, finesse, and high quality of pure Riesling shine.

As can be expected, wineries are indeed exploring and pushing boundaries along with their traditional Rieslings. Due to space constraints and the limited quantities of these wines, most wine connoisseurs may not encounter them at such an early stage, unless they visit these wineries. The explorers in this realm are many of the younger generation, eager to make an impact and stir things up, but there are also well-known Riesling experts taking up the challenge. What follows is a brief roundup of the ongoing developments in this sector. If we revisit this scenario in a decade, many of these wines will likely have become mainstream, and their creators, household names.

A lot of this activity revolves around what can be termed as highly textured or “orange” wines. Skin contact—long shunned by Riesling producers —is contributing to complexity, texture, and different aromas of these wines. The inability to find a proper tag for these styles may have impeded their progress to some extent.

Interestingly, some of these young innovators might learn that Australian winemakers were probing similar wines almost a century ago. It’s suggested that the renowned Jack Mann experimented with skin contact for his initial “White Burgundy” back in 1932. Various fermentation containers—like, different types of oak, amphorae, ceramic eggs, etc,—contribute to diversifying the styles. Single-vineyard Rieslings are almost commonplace here, along with those of varying sweetness levels. It remains to be seen if Riesling is the perfect grape type for these experimental approaches.

Several proponents have achieved success, including Brendon Keys from BK Wines, Abel Gibson of Ruggabellus, Tom Shobbrook, Anton von Klopper, and James Erskine among others. From Tasmania, Domaine Simha presents its Lotus Amphora Riesling, processed in clay amphorae for 90 days via a wild ferment, then maturing sur lie for six months. Xabregas Madmen of Riesling presents a still but turbid sample, encased in a sparkling bottle sealed with a crown.

Winemakers have also been noticed taking another route where they have either travelled to or from this country, or partnered with international peers to create Riesling. Although these versions are captivating and frequently excellent, the logistics indicate that they are unlikely to be anything more than a novelty for Riesling (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). One case in point is Kanta, where we see Shaw+Smith collaborating with Egon Müller. Andrew Margan produced a German Riesling from Trabener Würzgarten vineyard in Mosel. Clare’s Barry brothers and Mosel’s Ernie Loosen created a sort of Freaky Friday arrangement, with Loosen crafting a German-style wine from Clare produce and the Barrys creating a Clare style from Mosel. However, Brian Croser from Tunkalilla Riesling in Oregon’s Willamette Valley was ahead of them in this venture.

Acknowledgements are due to Brian Croser, Jeffrey Grosset, Neil Pike, and many others for providing information, samples, and support for this article.

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