Hilltops Wine Region

“Incredible produce, country charm and seriously great wine”

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

The history of Hilltops starts in the 1830s when European graziers came to the area farming merino sheep and planting stone fruits and grapevines.

The region’s fortune boomed in 1860 as gold was discovered at the current site of the Lambing Flat Folk Museum in Young.  Within 12 months 20,000 miners had descended on the region to ‘try their luck‘.

Nichole Jasprizza moved to Young from Croatia during the 1860s Gold Rush and established a prosperous business selling cherries and wine to the local gold miners.   By 1880 his three nephews from Dalmatia had come to Australia to join the business, and by the early years of the twentieth century had won prizes at the then Sydney Wine Show, and extended their vineyards to 240 hectares, putting the Hilltops wine region on the map.

By 1900 Nichole and his three nephews had continued to prosper and now owned around 600 acres of orchards and vineyards.

Unfortunately Nichole Jasprizza was shot and killed in 1902 (presumably not due to the quality of his wines!)

In 1969 Peter Robertson began the modern era of wine grape growing in the Hilltops region when he planted eight acres of vines on his ‘Barwang’ property.  In 1974 Peter set up a winery and produced his first Cabernet Sauvignon which won a silver medal at the Canberra Wine Show. Peter continued growing grapes and making wine at Barwang until 1988 when the property was purchased by McWilliam’s who produce wine under the Hilltops Barwang label.  A wine trophy has been named in Peter’s honour, which is awarded each year for the ‘Hilltops Wine of the Year’.

THE NEXT GENERATION

Phil and Jill Lindsay established their Woodonga Hill vineyard in 1986 and a few years later set up a winery and cellar door which they still operate. This makes them the longest continual viticultural operators in the Hilltops region.

Phil and Jill were also involved in helping to establish the ‘Hilltops Vignerons’ Association’ which had its first meeting on 4 August 1983. Unfortunately this Association became inoperative by 1989 but in 1994 they were instrumental in setting up the ‘Hilltops Growers’ Association’, which was incorporated in March 1995. As members of Hilltops Inc. they assisted with the submission to have the ‘Hilltops’ region recognised as a separate GI wine growing region.

In September 2018 Phil and Jill Lindsay were granted “Lifetime Membership” of the Hilltops Wine Association – the first to be recognised in this way.

Brian and Sue Mullany began the plantings of Grove Estate Vineyard on their wedding day in October 1989 at the existing vineyard. This site was originally planted by one of Nichole Jasprizza’s nephew’s, Baldo Cunich in the 1870’s. Since then the vineyard has grown in size to over 100 hectares with vineyards now on two sites around Young. Grove Estate has a great relationship with the Clonakilla winery in Murrumbateman and many of their wines are made in conjunction with winemaker Tim Kirk. The Grove Estate Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are the traditional standout wines from this vineyard. However, now days the Italian variety of Nebbiolo is outstanding.

Brian Freeman was Professor of Wine Science at Charles Sturt University for a decade until 2000 where he helped educate a generation of winemakers

and viticulturists and was pivotal in establishing the National Wine Grape Industry Centre at Wagga. In 1999 Brian established his own 50 hectare vineyard in the Hilltops region near Young (since expanded to 200 hectares) and in 2004 launched his first wine. Brian investigated Italian varieties and has established Rondinella and Corvina – the only plantings in Australia. This combination won the ‘Best Mature Dry Red’ at the NSW Wine Awards in 2009 and 2011. In 2012 Brian received the Graham Gregory Award which acknowledges outstanding contribution to the NSW wine industry. Since then the FREEMAN portfolio has expanded to encompass Prosecco, Pinot Grigio, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese and the winery has consistently been rated 5 STARS in the Halliday Wine Companion.

MORE RECENTLY

Celine Rousseau is  a French-trained winemaker who was instrumental in forging a reputation for the wines of Chalkers Crossing located on the northern outskirts of Young. Several wines in her portfolio won prestigious awards and are still available under the Chalkers Crossing  cellar reserve program. The winery is currently managed by winemaker Xanthe Freeman who completed her wine science degree at Charles Sturt University. Cellar Door open by appointment.

Jason and Alecia Brown purchased the Moppity Park vineyard in 2002, which was planted in 1973. This vineyard was run down and required a lot of work to get back into full production but by 2006 Jason and Alecia were able to release their first wine. This was their 2006 Shiraz which won ‘TOP Gold’ at the London International Wine and Spirit Competition. In 2008 grapes from their vineyard were included in the Eden Road Hilltops Shiraz wine which won the Jimmy Watson Trophy in 2009. Since 2009 their wines have won over 90 Trophies and Medals in different wine shows. They now have wines under three different labels including ‘Moppity’ and ‘Lock and Key’ and have been acclaimed “one of Australia’s most successful wine companies” with wines which express “varietal and regional integrity”.

Xanthe Freeman represents the latest generation of winemakers and viticulturists in the Hilltops region and has had winemaking experience in other NSW regions and Italy. Xanthe assists with winemaking and viticulture at the family owned and run property near Young and is also helping out at Chalkers Crossing winery.  In 2012 her FREEMAN Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 was awarded the Peter Robertson Trophy for the ‘Hilltops Wine of the Year’.

THE HILLTOPS REGION

The Regional Heroes are Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, along with a range of red and white grapes, including Italian and Spanish varieties.

The Hilltops Region is approximately 375 km from Sydney (approx 4-hour drive) and 165km from Canberra (approx a 2-hour drive).

The Hilltops wine region is based around the NSW towns of Boorowa, Harden and Young on the south-western slopes of the Great Dividing Range.  Most of the 20 vineyards in the region are around 500m in altitude and produce exceptional ‘cool climate’ wines.

Hilltops is one of NSW’s most exciting wine regions with Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz having established a reputation for elegance, balance and proven ageing attributes.  More recently, Italian and Spanish red varieties including Rondinella, Corvina, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Tempranillo have attracted a discerning following.  Distinctive white varieties include Riesling, Semillon, Chardonnay, Viognier and Pinot Gris.

Ten local wine producers have their wines at the ‘Hilltops Regional Cellar Door’ located in the Young Visitor Information Centre.  Wines can also be sampled and purchased at a number of Hilltops vineyard cellar doors, while many of the local pubs, clubs and restaurants stock Hilltops wines.

Cherries are the food hero of the Hilltops region, especially around Young, which is known as the ‘Cherry Capital of Australia’.  The region also produces other fruit including stone fruit, pears, apples, strawberries and olives.  These can be purchased in season from farm gates and at the farmers’ market.  Local produce features prominently on menus at regional cafes, restaurants and bakeries.

The Hilltops region forms part of the NSW Gold Trails celebrating the state’s gold mining heritage.  Visit sites and view artefacts of national importance, particularly at local museums, try your luck at fossicking and gold panning and lose yourself in 19th century streetscapes.  All this is set against a backdrop of undulating, picturesque rural scenery.