Wynns’ new head of viticulture named 2021’s best by ASVO

November 18, 2021
By Ioni Doherty

Ben Harris from Wynns Coonawarra Estate was last night awarded 2021 ASVO Viticulturist of the Year at the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology (ASVO) Awards for Excellence, the news coming at the same time that he has been announced as head of the Wynns’ Viticulture team, filling the shoes of industry stalwart Allen Jenkins who retired last month after a 20-year tenure.  

Colin Bell, 2021 ASVO Viticulturist of the Year Advisory Committee Chair said, “Ben Harris is one of the most respected and regarded viticulturists in the industry. He has a massive role but still finds the time to push viticultural excellence, offer his time to industry and, most inspiringly, offer his time to young individuals starting their journey.

“Technical projects like data-based harvest predictions, virus elimination, and robotics make Ben’s contribution highly relevant and essential to the industry. What really stood out was his commitment, integrity, and contribution outside of his role and his great ASVO values and leadership style.”

“It’s an honour to be awarded the 2021 Viticulturist of the Year,” said Ben, “The ASVO plays an important role within the Australian wine community, promoting the best R&D, innovation and assisting the extension of research into practice. Many exceptional viticulturists have won this award in the past and it’s a career highlight be recognised alongside them.” 

The news follows the announcement in September that Ben has been selected to participate as a 2022 Len Evans Tutorial Scholar. 

Winemaker of the Year – Alex Cassegrain, New South Wales

Alex Cassegrain from Cassegrain Wines in the Hastings River wine region in NSW, was named the 2021 Winemaker of the Year. Mr Cassegrain is well known in the industry for his significantcontributions to the Australian wine industry and investigation into finding the best possible solutions for the effects of smoke taint in wine grapes following the devastating New South Wales’ bushfires of 2020.

Since then, Mr Cassegrain has collaborated with growers, suppliers, research companies and agencies to further the industry’s understanding of smoke taint, and how it can best be treated during and after ferment, to either mitigate or reduce its effects on wine.

Mr Cassegrain said, “I strongly believe that this award is one for everyone involved in our work, in particular the growers who went through such an ordeal during the bushfires. The idea of leaving grapes on the vine due to something quite unknown like smoke wasn’t a solution and that’s where we decided to try everything to see if we could turn a negative into a positive, and in some cases we did. Receiving this award gives me the confidence to always push the boundaries and to continue to be innovative.”

Mr Cassegrain is confident in the coming years, through trial and error, innovations and experimentation, the industry will be in a much better position to navigate through the challenges associated with smoke taint as a result of bush fires. Sharing this information, knowledge, and techniques will be the most important outcome.

 Following his research, Cassegrain Wines was able to secure a $1 million grant from the Cooperative Research Centres Projects. Using these funds, together with industry partners in Australia and NZ, longer term projects using innovative methods will be implemented and managed, which Mr Cassegrain hopes will add much to the future understanding of the impact of fires in viticultural regions.

·      ASVO Winemaker of the Year                     Alex Cassegrain, Cassegrain Wines

·      ASVO Viticulture Paper of the Year            Dr Marcos Bonada, PIRSA-SARDI 

·      ASVO Oenology Paper of the Year             Dr Martin Moran, Mordrelle Wines

·      ASVO Dr Peter May Award                         Dr Meg Whitener, Bell’s Brewery, Michigan

Fellows of the Society – Sue Hodder & Peter Clingeleffer

Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology (ASVO) President Brooke Howell announced two new Fellows of the Society, Sue Hodder and Peter Clingeleffer. ASVO Fellows are bestowed with this honour for their particularly outstanding and meritorious contribution to the grape and wine industry and to the Society.

 “The selection of Fellows was particularly difficult this year because of the extremely high calibre of candidates within the ASVO membership”, said Ms Howell. “The collective wisdom that both these individuals encapsulate is extraordinary as is the diversity of their background and experience.”

Ms Hodder will celebrate her 30th vintage at Wynns next year.

Ms Howell said, “The wisdom that Sue encapsulates is extraordinary as is the diversity of her background and experience. She is a quiet achiever, often putting others before her. She is still very active in the industry and for ASVO and has contributed across both winemaking and viticulture.”  

In response, Ms Hodder said, “I’m humbled to be a Fellow of the ASVO. The current Fellows include some of the most important people in the history of Australian wine who have made immense contributions throughout long careers.”

“I’m also thrilled for Ben, whose success has not come overnight. He has combined practical experience with innovative thinking for several decades and his future success is guaranteed. I look forward to working with Ben on the next chapter of Wynns Coonawarra Estate.”

Mr Clingeleffer has had a long career in research at CSIRO, promoted on numerous occasions to Senior Research Scientist in 1983, Principal Research Scientist in 1988, and Senior Principal Research Scientist in CSIRO Plant Industry in 1998 in recognition of outstanding performance. Peter is now an Honorary Research Fellow and is one of Australia’s most influential viticultural research scientists.

Other work includes leading projects that have led to new approaches in crop forecasting, disease incidence and deficit irrigation techniques, and phenotyping the entire CSIRO wine grape variety and clone collection to assist adaptation for climate change, which will underpin the planned Wine Australia Variety Selector Tool.

Recognised and respected nationally and internationally, Mr Clingeleffer chaired the former National Vine Improvement Committee for 15 years, is a member of the scientific committee of the international vine training and management group (GiESCO) and the ISHS grapevine mechanisation group. He has also willingly donated his time to countless paper reviews for the Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research.

AVSO Scholarship Recipients – Stephanie Eyles & GabrielleCastelluccio

Stephanie Eyles is the recipient of a scholarship to attend the Advanced Wine Assessment Course (AWAC) and Gabrielle Castelluccio the recipient of a scholarship to attend the Advanced Viticulture Course (AVC).

The ASVO has offered an annual scholarship to attend the Advanced Wine Assessment Course (AWAC), delivered by the Australian Wine Research institute (AWRI) since 2015.

Ms Eyles of Rhône Girl and Fighting Gully Road, was a finalist in the Gourmet Traveller WINE new wine writer award. She has published articles in Gourmet Traveller WINE and was accepted into the Wine Communicator Australia Mentor Program in 2019.

Ms Castelluccio is a Viticulturist & Technical Officer for Accolade Wines based in the Barossa Valley. She is new to the industry, having completed a Graduate Diploma in Viticulture & Oenology in 2019 and is passionate about having a wide variety of innovative ideas and practices to ensure the industry can maintain relevance and sustainability into the future.

This year the ASVO also introduced a scholarship for one member to attend the Advanced Viticulture Course (AVC), also held by the AWRI.

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