A ‘triple threat’, with expertise in vineyards, winemaking and management, Crowe is an extraordinary talent – and deserving winner of Winemaker of the Year.
Within a field of solid finalists, Sarah Crowe’s winemaking prowess stood tall, with the estate-grown wines of Victoria’s Yarra Yering impressing the judging panel with their expression and refinement.
Crowe’s relentless pursuit of quality and discerning palate allows her to make mesmerising, modern wines across various styles. We celebrate her accomplishments with the 2021 Gourmet Traveller WINE Winemaker of the Year award.
When Crowe was appointed Yarra Yering’s winemaker and general manager in 2013, it was as if the stars had aligned. Here was a rising talent and a much admired one. She learnt her craft at Brokenwood in the Hunter Valley, starting in 2001 pruning vineyards and working her way to assistant winemaker while simultaneously studying viticulture through Charles Sturt University. She moved to Bimbadgen in 2010, and as senior winemaker, brought a new level of sophistication to the wines.
She was now a ‘triple threat’, with expertise in vineyards, winemaking and management. She had also worked vintages abroad. The timing was perfect.
Moving to Yarra Yering proved to be a pivotal, life-changing role: a dedicated winemaker with extraordinary raw talent at the helm of one of Australia’s most iconic labels, and she grasped the opportunity wholeheartedly.
From her first vintage in 2014, Crowe’s wines were met with high acclaim. The wines from subsequent vintages were even more spectacular. Importantly, she managed to satisfy the loyal clientele whilst refining the styles to a new high. As a result, she was cast into the limelight, where she has remained ever since.
Crowe has thoroughly modernised the wines without eroding the label’s legacy.
Yarra Yering’s first vines were planted in 1969 by Dr Bailey Balfour Carrodus and Reg Egan, though the two soon parted ways; Carrodus went on to make the first wines from the site in 1973.
Carrodus was one of the true characters of the Australian wine industry, an intuitive winemaker known for his eccentricity and erudite manner. Born in Sydney, he was schooled in New Zealand and studied horticulture at Victoria University of Wellington. A scholarship brought him to Australia, where he obtained his Diploma in Oenology from Roseworthy Agricultural College, graduating with second class honours and the tasting prize. After a brief stint teaching at Roseworthy, he headed to Oxford to complete a DPhil in Plant Physiology. Following a short period in the scientific world, he ultimately dedicated his life to the production of fine wine. Just before his sudden death at the age of 78 in 2008, Paul Bridgeman was employed to take over from assistant winemaker Mark Haisma, and the property was eventually sold.
Without Carrodus, the charm of the label could easily have faded. But then along came Crowe.
Like Carrodus, Crowe initially studied horticulture, and with her interest in plants, her wine industry journey began in the vineyard, not the cellar.
On her arrival, there was much to be done, particularly in the old, dry-grown vineyards. Soil improvement, re-trellising, clonal trials and select replanting were just some of the initial projects with the vineyard team. In the winery, new equipment was purchased, screw caps replaced corks, oak was pared back, and more emphasis was placed on the perfume and tannin profile of the wines.
One of the founding principles of Yarra Yering has been the blending of different varieties. Crowe expanded the range with a Light Dry Red made from pinot noir and shiraz, and a New Territories shiraz touriga.
With the winery at capacity, the focus is to continually improve the quality rather than grow the volume.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Crowe’s Yarra Yering journey is how she has thoroughly modernised the wines without eroding the label’s legacy. With sensitive winemaking, the site expression is stronger than ever, and the spirit of Carrodus lives on with Crowe’s like-minded pursuit of excellence.
Eight years in, Crowe’s mark is indelibly etched on the wines. Not in an obvious, glorifying way, but with quiet confidence. The wines have a harmonious composure with impressive depth and complexity, though at the same time, they’re inviting and personable, much like Crowe herself.
Congratulations to Sarah Crowe for making a thrilling range of wines, which help redefine the paradigm of Australian wine.
Photography by Tina Smigielski