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Young Gun of Wine win salutes McLaren Vale Grenache

Primary Industries

A decision to turn his back on a career in accounting to pursue a passion for wine is paying dividends for McLaren Vale winemaker Rob Mack.

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Mack, who founded Aphelion Wine Co in November 2015 with his wife Louise Rhodes, finished on top of a field of 12 finalists to take out the main prize at the Young Gun of Wine awards held at MONA in Hobart on Monday.

The win vindicates the 36-year-old’s decision to take up a career in wine after grappling with numbers until his late 20s.

“I never really decided which way I wanted to go up until about 2010 when I did my first vintage at Kilikanoon in the Clare Valley and that sorted things out for me,” Mack said.

“Up until then I’d done an accounting degree and I started working in that field but I definitely wasn’t keen to pursue it.

“I was passionate about wine back then and decided to try and turn it into a career – I’ve been working at it for the past eight years and am certainly getting recognition for it now.”

Aphelion Wine is a two-person operation – Mack and Rhodes – that specialises in Grenache and also produces Mataro and Sagrantino.

Mack leases space at a McLaren Vale winery and sources grapes mainly from established growers in the Blewitt Springs sub-region in northern McLaren Vale.

He said while he would like to one day have his own vineyards and winery, the more immediate goal was to establish a shopfront, preferably in his home town of Willunga.

“Eventually I’d like to set up myself but more importantly we’d like to get a little cellar door retail space so we can start more face-to-face customer relationships where we can pour wine for people rather than doing most of the selling impersonally,” Mack said.

“We’re creeping up every year, and are up to around the 1500 case mark now so we are getting to the level where we can start supplying places nationally and not selling out straight away.”

It is the second successive year a South Australian winemaker has taken out the award – Michael Downer from Murdoch Hill in the Adelaide Hills was the 2017 Young Gun.

Rob Mack accepting his 2018 Young Gun of Wine award.

It is also no huge surprise that Mack went on to win this year’s award after being judged the competition’s best newcomer in 2017.

The win helps cement McLaren Vale as Australia’s premier Grenache producing region at a time when the demand for the medium-bodied wine is on the rise.

“There’s just some amazing old vineyards that we take fruit from that makes my job very easy to be honest – they just sing out of the glass with their aromas,” Mack said.

“Our first vintage was 2014 and even that recently it was still quite a difficult sell almost just because it was not Shiraz but it’s definitely getting more popular now.

“In Melbourne we have a lot of success in particular, Sydney is really jumping on now too and we’ve got a really strong supporter over in Perth.”

Aphelion has sold about two thirds of its latest vintages and Mack expects a surge in sales following the win.

“We work with a distributor on the East Coast and I was talking to them earlier today and they’ve seen quite a big spike in interest already so a lot of retailers are jumping,” he said.

“I’m expecting a few more pallets going east pretty soon and there won’t be a lot left.”

Other winners at the Young Gun of the Year Awards included Melanie Chester from Sutton Grange Winery in Bendigo, who took out the People’s Choice Award and Gilli and Paul Lipscombe from Sailor Seeks Horse in the Huon Valley, who won the Winemaker’s Choice Award.

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