Tertini Shows the Way as Highland Wines Impress

It’s just a year since winemaker Jonathan Holgate was crushed and seriously injured when a hopper of grapes fell on him during the 2011 vintage, but this accident was a long way from his mind when he monopolised the trophies at his local wine show. Tertini Wines, near the Southern Highlands town of Berrima, won five of the nine trophies presented at the 2012 Australian Highlands Wine Show.

Holgate, the quiet and unassuming 30-year-old Tertini (tastings) winemaker, starred with riesling and pinot noir. The 2008 Tertini Riesling (tastings) won best riesling, best dry white wine and best wine of show. And the 2009 Tertini Pinot Noir (tasting) won best pinot noir and best red wine of show.

In a quirky finish, and unknown to we judges, Tertini’s riesling beat Tertini’s pinot noir for best wine of show. And prior to that, Tertini’s ’09 pinot noir had beaten Tertini’s 2010 pinot noir for best pinot noir of show.

Jonathan Holgate is married with two young children, and things looked pretty gloomy for them last harvest, when a loaded bin of grapes toppled and crushed him, damaging several vertebrae in his lower back. “It wasn’t the fault of the equipment or winery set-up,” he says. “I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Holgate had several months off work to recover, resuming full-time at the start of this year and is still on light duties, but to meet him, you would never suspect he’s been through such a major setback. He has recovered well considering he could easily have ended up in a wheelchair. According to Tertini Wines general manager Robert Kay, Holgate is a terrific winemaker, and a dream to work with. A highly focused winemaker, he is always on the job and seldom gets out in public, needing a major prompt to attend industry events.

Aside from the trophy winners, and gold for its 2010 pinot noir, Tertini also did well with silver medals for its ’09 riesling (tastings) and ’09 reserve noble riesling.

Holgate makes the wines at High Range Vintners, a contract winemaking company which has over the years made wine for several highlands vineyards. It shares common ownership with Tertini Wines – the owner is furniture retailer Julian Tertini, who founded Freedom Furniture and after he sold that, Fantastic Furniture. The original partners in High Range Vintners ran out of money about 18 months ago and Tertini bought it.

When he decided to diversify into wine in 2000, Tertini chose a site on Joadja Road that was originally planted 145 years earlier, by pioneer Joseph Vogt. However, he didn’t plant the exact same land as Vogt: his advisers chose a slightly better part of the same block but in a more elevated site. There are now seven hectares under vine.

The competition was a shoo-in for the Southern Highlands. A bit of history: there had been a Southern Highlands Wine Show for a number of years but this had gone into a two-year hiatus until it was decided to re-invent the show with a national catchment, the only stipulation being that only wines made from grapes grown above 500 metres could be entered. To reflect the key sponsor, it was named the Dan Murphy’s Australian Highlands Wine Show. The local region continued to support it strongly, with approximately half the 200-odd entries being Southern Highlands wines. Other regions well represented were Orange, Mudgee, Canberra District, Hilltops and Queensland’s Granite Belt,

The other four trophies went to Cherry Tree Hill Diana Reserve Chardonnay 2009 (tasting Southern Highlands) for best chardonnay, Robert Stein Reserve Cabernet Shiraz 2009 (tasting Mudgee) for best red blend, Freeman Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (tasting Hilltops) for best cabernet sauvignon, and Z4 Wines Zane Shiraz 2009 (tasting Canberra District) for best shiraz.

Jonathan Holgate is optimistic about the region’s potential, and one of his few outside consultancies these days is for Berkelouw, the book retailer, which has a vineyard near Berrima and is about to get serious about wine, building a new cellar door complex. Its brand is Bendooley (tastings). At least, he’s optimistic about the cool-climate, early-ripening grape varieties, especially riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir, and says too many hectares of late-ripeners such as cabernet sauvignon were planted in the past. “Our future depends on climate change, and whether the climate is going to get drier or wetter. If it’s to be drier, like Tasmania we may see some of the later-ripening reds that we haven’t had in the past. If it’s going to be wetter, we’ll need to focus even more on the early-ripening varieties, and get more into sparkling wine.” To that end, he is soon to release Tertini’s first sparkling wine, a 50/50 pinot noir chardonnay 2009. It’s ready to go and just waiting on labels. The highlands’ leading winery Centennial has already done very well with sparkling wines, and I for one will keenly await Tertini’s efforts.

Tertini wines (cellar door prices)

Pinot Noir ’09 $55 (tasting)
Riesling ’08 $38 (tasting)
Reserve Noble Riesling ’09 $26
Riesling ’09 $30 (tastings)

Cherry Tree Hill

Cherry Tree Hill’s Diana Chardonnay ’09 is $30 (tasting).

First published in Sydney Morning Herald, Good Living – 13 February 2012.

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