Signature chardonnay, family succession, China export bans and microbats were all in the mix for the winner of the 15th President's Medal on Wednesday night.
Awarded at Sydney Royal Show, the medal is for a wine, beer, cider, or fine food producer and embodies the mission of the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW to improve the quality of agricultural produce through competitions, as well as satifying the organisation's vision for a community that understands and values award quality produce, said RAS president Michael Millner.
"Every wine, beer and cider, dairy and fine food competition held throughout the year rewards excellence and provides valuable feedback to exhibitors, who are ultimately struggling for a place at the table tonight," he said.
Co-judge and celebrity chef, Ed Halmalgyi, said the competition was all about finding a blueprint.
"Which business models and what designs allow us to have more incredible food, drink and agricultural businesses into the future," he said.
Despite three finalists from the award's home state - the most ever in one year from NSW - the medal went to South Australian entrant, Hamish Maguire, Shottesbrooke Wines, McLaren Flat, SA.
The vineyard's 2020 vintage Adelaide Hills chardonnay was among those served with the event's meal, which also featured ingredients from the other finalists, Pecora Dairy, Braidwood; Stockyard Beef, Jondaryan, Qld; Sunshine Meats, Sydney; Rio Vista Olives, Mypolonga, SA; and, long-time entrant and previous winner, Tathra Oysters, Tathra.
The Shottesbrooke experience is about more than the wine, and includes behind-the-scenes opportunities to make visitors think about the region and its people.
Ed said this was the highest accolade that anyone in the country could be awarded if they were a food or drink producer.
"I think for me, the really amazing thing is the number of businesses that make it to this end of the competition, with the individuals from the business, it is not their first job. The number of people who have been lawyers, or accountants, or clinicians or doctors ... and then they're suddenly making cheese, or they're processing beef," he said.
His co-judge, Michael Bullen, also managing director at Dairy Hill Consulting, said it was great to see just how brilliant the producers were, and how focused they were on quality and the stories they shared about theirproduct from an idea through to the success they're now seeing.
Hamish was thrilled with the win and said a lot had changed since the business' previous tilt at the award in 2019-20.
"The China tarriffs that came in caused huge disruption to our business. There was an opportunity for us to really take stock, look at the cards that had been dealt to us and change direction, and change our approach to the domestic market, to domestic tourism and really sell a drink, dine, stay philosophy, using all of the different facets of our estate," he said.
"We firstly want people to come to the cellar door looking for wine, but then offer them other things, other experiences, other behind-the-scenes opportunities, that makes them think more about the region and the people within it, so we have structured tastings, a behind-the-scenes wine maker for the day - all are experiences to get more out of just drinking that wine."
He also has a family and is looking at the next generation's opportunities and how he can do more to improve their "patch of land" to ensure his family has a future to look forward to. Sustainablilty, environmental and economic, is also an important criteria for the award.
"Number one is to minimise our water usage and then being able to treat and re-use the water that we do need to use in the production of wine, so from underground monitoring of water to make sure that we're irrigating our vineyards when needed, rather than on an ad hoc basis, to then capturing, treating and re-using our winery waste water on woodlots that are planted all around our property," Hamish said.
From a community perspective, wine is the most important industry in town, so they also focus on using local employment, services and trade to keep more of their revenue within the local region.
The business supports the Childhood Cancer Association, and in April this year 40 CEOs will visit with a hat and a pair of snips to help pick the shiraz to be crushed, bottled, and used to raise funds for the charity.
In a separate community initiative, the vineyard also allows a local conservation group to put up nesting boxes that house six of the seven species of microbat found in their area.
"It's our little part of providing habitat for these little guys ... apparently they eat up to 1000 mosquitoes an hour," Hamish said.
"It is such a great opportunity to look inwardly at your business and your strengths and what you can improve at and we've genuinely loved the process and obviously it's very nice to take it home, but I would say that win, lose, or draw, we loved being part of it and loved talking about our business."
The medal winners receive Sydney Royal artwork to place on their packaging, assisting to identify them as a premium product.
Sydney Royal judges evaluated more than 4000 entries, before narrowing them down to champions, gold, silver and bronze medalists, from which the eventual finalists were selected.
Love agricultural news? Sign up for The Land's free daily newsletter.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.