Rural communities rally in tough times. Locals band together and give what’s needed until it’s not. And the wine industry is no different. It may appear from the outside as wine brands competing for the same consumer, but inside the industry, there is a greater sense of unity.

Through drought, bushfires and unprecedented pandemic, wineries shared grapes and ideas of ways to persist. Business may not have been as usual across Australia, but the resilience among Canberra District Wineries in the Yass Valley was.

Clonakilla CEO and chief winemaker Tim Kirk is buoyed by the sense of optimism between the region’s winemakers; the enthusiasm for the quality of local wines and goodwill from wine lovers all over. So much so, he is even optimistic.

Despite Clonakilla losing its entire 2020 yield to smoke taint from a summer of hellish bushfires, a recent award has reminded Mr Kirk of how fruitful a good year in the Canberra District really is.

Up against 415 other wineries nationwide, Clonakilla ranked fourth place in The Real Review’s Top Wineries of Australia 2020 list. It was a significant jump for the winery which placed 74th on the 2019 list.

“It is a huge honour for us and a clear statement if we needed one that the wines of the Canberra District and Yass Valley can now stand shoulder to shoulder with any of the wines from anywhere in this country,” Mr Kirk said.

Tim Kirk – Clonakilla Winemaker – PHOTO David Reist

The accolade is based on reviews of Clonakilla’s 2018 and 2019 vintages, which reflected excellent seasons in the region according to Mr Kirk. A testament to that was the 98/100 rating given by The Real Review author Huon Hooke to Clonakilla’s 2018 Shiraz Viognier and 2018 Syrah.

“They represent the very best wines that we produce. 2018 was an excellent season. We had rain just when we needed it, a beautiful warm summer and a glorious autumn. We think our sites can capture the goodness of the season and an excellent season like we had in 2018 enabled us to do that. The wines from the 2018 vintage are singing beautifully, and the 2019 wines are just as good,” Mr Kirk said.

Clonakilla will stagger the release of 2018 and 2019 wines to cover the gap that should have been filled by the 2020 vintage.

Recent rain after two years of drought and an uplift in sales as COVID-19 restrictions ease have also boosted morale.

“The June long weekend is one of the major sales weekends of the year for local wineries and it was the first time we had been open for two-and-a-half-months. There was certainly pent-up demand; I think quite a lot of locals and people from Canberra relished the opportunity to break free from their COVID-19 lockdowns and come and experience the great opportunities the region offers.”

With flights in lockdown and borders closed, consumers have been forced to explore their backyards. It’s the type of travel that domestic markets such as the Yass Valley have long encouraged and can now relish in. Cheers to that.