Steph Cooke

Hilltops Region Punches High In The Young Gun Vineyard Of The Year Awards

Written by: The Hilltops Phoenix


Brian Freeman and Wendy and James Bowman from Freeman Vineyards and Barwang Wines are up for the Young Gun Vineyard of the Year Award for 2024. Photo by Camilla Duffy.

It is that time of year when precision and sustainable viticulture pays dividends, with the vignerons of the NSW Hilltops mid-harvest Vintage 2024, two cornerstone vineyards have particular reason to feel good about this year’s harvest.

The Young Gun Vineyard of the Year Awards announced the finalists in this year’s competition and the Hilltops region has punched high.

Both Barwang Wines and Freeman Vineyards have been declared finalists.

As the crows fly, there are about 15 km between them.

Both were established in the mid 1970s - Barwang by Hilltops pioneer Peter Robertson and the Freeman Altura Vineyard by the Dolderson family (previously called Hercynia). Members of the Dolderson family also worked on the Barwang vineyard.

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 half of the Hilltops GI vineyard area.

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

Freeman Vineyards specialise 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 his Hilltops venture and the finalist 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 granite soils and typically cool climate have proved ideal for high quality viticulture.

Sixth-generation Hilltops farmers, the Bowmans acquired the neighbouring property, the Barwang Vineyard in 2021.

It was previously held by the McWilliam family.

James Bowman, who recently launched a new series of Barwang wines, and is Vice President of Hilltops Wine, the local vigneron’s association said the 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 him.

“To have two finalists in these national awards is a terrific outcome for our small wine region that is increasingly earning strong recognition for its viticulture, mature vineyards and innovation, especially with Italian varieties,” Mr Bowman said.

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.

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Steph Cooke