Still in his early 30s, Joshua Cooper has spent more than a decade refining his craft and his well-honed palate. No wonder he’s our Young Winemaker of the Year.
Josh Cooper is the son of established winemakers but he’s his own man. Recently turned 32, he has a suite of beautiful wines that are all his own doing. He is ploughing his own furrow.
Cooper was raised in Victoria’s chilly Macedon Ranges, regarded as the coldest wine region on mainland Australia, where his parents Alan and Nelly run Cobaw Ridge winery.
His focus is on single-vineyard pinot noir and chardonnay, and the wines are based on established vineyards in the Macedon Ranges and surrounding areas. For example, Cooper’s three chardonnays are from the 38-year-old Cope-Williams vineyard at Romsey, the Captains Creek vineyard at Blampied near Ballarat, and the Portree vineyard at Lancefield. Meanwhile he makes the pinot noir from Doug’s Vineyard at Romsey and Ray-Monde at South Gisborne.
He also has a Heathcote syrah, and there’s a Pyrenees cabernet sauvignon waiting in the wings from the 2020 vintage.
Cooper is a hands-off winemaker, whose wines would probably qualify as ‘natural’. The only thing he adds is sulfur dioxide. The chardonnays spend a year in oak on lees without stirring or racking, and are bottled unfined and unfiltered. Their hallmark is fruit purity, and they are delicate, racy and refreshing.
As the son of vignerons, was it automatic that he would follow in their footsteps? “I always enjoyed the vineyard and the seasonal aspect of it,” says Cooper. “Vintage is an exciting time. I thought long and hard about what else I’d like to do, that I would prefer to do, and I decided there wasn’t anything.”
The Macedon Ranges is an exciting region, with a lot of younger people starting up new ventures, as well as top-flight established winemakers, such as Matt Harrop (ex-Shadowfax, now Curly Flat) and Doug Neal (ex-Paradise IV, now Hesket Estate), moving to the area. Close by are Chris Dilworth and Loique Allain of Dilworth & Allain, winners of this year’s Young Gun of Wine award, and Ben Ranken, who has taken over the former Portree vineyard and renamed it Wilimee.
"I thought long and hard about what else I'd like to do, that I would prefer to do, and I decided there wasn't anything."
Cooper has been one busy lad. He was 19 when he went to the University of Adelaide and undertook the oenology course, graduating in 2011.
Since then, he has gained experience working for many wineries, both here and overseas. There was Chalmers at Euston on the Murray River in 2007, 2008 and 2009; Sogrape Vinhos in Portugal in 2007; M. Chapoutier Australia at Heathcote in the summers of 2009 and 2010; Hewitson Wines in the Barossa Valley from 2008 to 2011; Yabby Lake’s Heathcote Estate in 2012; Tyrrell’s in the Hunter Valley in 2012, 2013 and 2014; Domaine de la Vougeraie and Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron in Burgundy, both in the 2012 vintage; and Château de Béru in Chablis in 2013.
Between 2012 and 2017, he worked full-time at Hanging Rock Winery, Macedon. He is grateful to the Ellis family at Hanging Rock for allowing him time off to travel.
He started Joshua Cooper Wines in March 2012 and his labels are beautifully designed using lino-cut prints made by friend Loique Allain, of Dilworth & Allain. Apart from his extensive CV, he has either judged or associated at a number of wine shows in recent years and was a scholar in the Len Evans Tutorial in 2019.
He was elevated to a full judge at Royal Melbourne Wine Awards in 2019 and 2020.
As for Cobaw Ridge, Josh has been on hand to help out most vintages and has recently taken on more involvement there. He anticipates that he will take over the family business when his parents retire, but this is not on the horizon at present. And he still finds time to make his own wines at Cobaw Ridge.
His other interests include playing guitar and Aussie rules football, but breaking too many fingers doing the latter means he no longer does much of the former.
Josh Cooper embodies many desirable attributes of a top winemaker: a sound education, a well-honed palate, and broad experience in diverse wine businesses in other regions and countries. His family background in wine is a bonus.
Photography By Richard Cornish.