In a first for a New Zealander, Villa Maria Estate's Senior Auckland Winemaker Nick Picone was named Australasia's Young Winemaker of the Year last Friday night in Sydney at The Wine Society's awards ceremony.
From 150 entries, ten finalists were selected after in-depth wine tasting sessions by the judges. Picone was joined in the finals by other highly esteemed winemakers from around Australia and New Zealand, with Malcolm Rees-Francis from Rockburn Wines and Nikolai St George from Matua Valley Wines the other two Kiwi finalists. Picone was named overall champion after tastings of all contestants' wines.
Picone was humbled to be named as the overall winner at these awards, stating "I am extremely proud to be the inaugural New Zealand winner of the Young Winemaker of the Year Award, especially in a year with such high calibre finalists. I started out right at the bottom and it's so exciting to now be at the helm of New Zealand's most awarded wine company and to be the first Kiwi to win this overall prize". These awards are renowned as the most significant in Australia and New Zealand for young winemakers.
To enter this competition, which is now in its 12th year, winemakers must be under 35 years old and be principally responsible for the wines they have entered. In Nick's case, his assessed wines were the award winning Villa Maria Reserve Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2010, Villa Maria Reserve Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Merlot 2010, and Villa Maria Reserve Gimblett Gravels Syrah. New Zealand is well known internationally for its Sauvignon Blanc prowess, so it was interesting to see that all three Kiwi finalists submitted wines other than Sauvignon Blanc, showing the increasing depth and scope of New Zealand's wine industry.
Wine Society CEO Peter Wheatley spoke before presenting the award to Picone; "The Wine Society is proud to present this valuable and prestigious industry award for the twelfth time and is honoured to celebrate and acknowledge the industry's talented, up-and-coming winemakers".
Nick had an early start in winemaking, completing his first vintage at 18 years of age at Esk Valley Estate in Hawkes Bay. After completing a BA in Wine Science, he became Villa Maria's youngest Assistant Winemaker at 24 with a shift to the South Island's Marlborough region. In 2004 he was awarded the Yalumba scholarship to attend the Len Evans tutorial in the Hunter Valley in Australia. Nick became Villa Maria's Senior Auckland Winemaker in 2008, and began overseeing Villa Maria's North Island production, including in the Hawkes Bay and Gisborne. In total, he has completed 16 vintages including several in California and Italy. Nick was previously named as the joint winner of NZ Winemaker of the Year at the Royal Easter show in 2011.