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Annual Hunter Valley Legends Awards celebrates the achievements of past, present and future


Hunter Valley Legends Awards 2023 Photo by Elfes Images E2 9975 

Annual Hunter Valley Legends Awards celebrates the achievements of past, present and future

Last night’s 16th annual Hunter Valley Legends Awards at Rydges Resort Hunter Valley brought together over 380 industry professionals and guests from the Hunter Valley wine and tourism industries. The event serves as a tribute to the region's rich heritage, honouring the enduring influence of the Hunter Valley and its dedicated winegrowers, winemakers, and tourism operators. Over many years, these visionary individuals and businesses have demonstrated a willingness to innovate and push boundaries, shaping the region for generations to come.

Four Living Legends were inducted on the night, taking the total number of Hunter Valley Legends to thirty-three.  John Davis, Graham Doran and Dr Harry Tulloch were inducted as 2023 Wine Industry Living Legends, for their pioneering approach to viticulture in the Hunter Valley and the wider Australian wine industry, and John Stevens as 2023 Tourism Living Legend for his work in championing sustainable vineyard and tourism planning.

John Davis, Owner and Managing Director of Pepper Tree Wines, Briar Ridge Vineyard, Tallavera Grove and Carillion Wines, has forged a reputation as an astute viticulturist with a skill in matching soil types with the most suited grape varieties. As the first to plant emerging varieties in the Hunter Valley, including Fiano, Vermentino, Albarino, Sagrantino, Tempranillo and Petit Verdot, John has championed innovation in his vineyards, and more broadly through his investment into soil mapping across the Hunter region. His tireless work for women, diversity, and equality in the wine industry was recognised through his award in 2019 as Champion of Diversity & Equality at the Women in Wine Awards.

Graham Doran, throughout his over 50-year career in viticulture, has worked with some of the Hunter Valley’s most iconic vineyards.  His work for work for Mount Dangar Vineyards and Mount Pleasant led to outstanding outcomes with countless trophies and medals awarded. Graham led numerous viticultural trials unique to the Hunter Valley, and documented his knowledge, for future generations, in the recently published Beginner's Guide to Viticulture in the Hunter Valley (2022).

Dr Harry Tulloch has been a true pioneer through his immense innovative viticultural research, which led to the selection of premium-quality Semillon and Shiraz clones. Shiraz clone 1654 is still in circulation today and has become one of the most widely planted in Australia. Throughout his career, Harry has championed new styles of wines, and was the first in the Hunter to incorporate Verdelho into blends of Semillon. Harry’s viticultural legacy continues to this day with his work monitoring vineyard trails and clonal selection plantings at Keith Tulloch Wines.

John Stevens was inducted as the 2023 Tourism Industry Living Legend to honour his 35-year commitment to tourism development in the Central Coast, Newcastle and Hunter Valley. The Vintage Development is one of the region’s most significant and ambitious integrated tourism developments, which has delivered significant infrastructure improvements for the Pokolbin area. John’s contribution has included the important Vineyard Vision master-planning which enabled the industry to have a voice for sustainable vineyard and tourism planning.

In recognising the immense contributions of the four newly inducted Living Legends, the night also recognised the depth of talent currently contributing to the success of the Hunter Valley. Jenna Vaughan, De Iuliis Wines’ Sales and Marketing Manager, was named Riedel 2023 Young Achiever of the Year. Her communications and marketing background has helped her excel in multiple roles in the Hunter Valley, in the field of brand development and marketing, as well as promoting wine education through her work for the Hunter Wine Show, Hunter Wine Cru and as the Administrative Assistant for the Len Evans Tutorial.

The First Creek Winemaking Services 2023 Winemaker of the Year was awarded to Andrew Thomas. Andrew’s 37th consecutive Hunter Valley vintage speaks of his continuous engagement and passion for the region. His contribution includes investing in the modernisation and revitalisation of his vineyards, replanting vines with preservation of genetic purity, promoting quality and diversity of the signature Hunter Valley varieties, Semillon and Shiraz, along with the application of innovative techniques in the winery. His approach to winemaking both grounds the region’s core values and pushes it into avant-garde thinking.


Nicolas Looby from Margan Wines & Restaurant was named Jurds 2023 Viticulturist of the Year.

Nicolas manages and mentors a team of six full time vineyard staff at Margan Wines, promoting sustainable and regenerative methods and approaches to viticulture. The Margan Ceres Hill vineyard has recently been selected to be part of the National EcoVineyards Program, where Nick will focus on improving soil health, establishing ground covers and functional biodiversity to improve vineyard health.

Out of 19 finalists, Winmark Wines were crowned Wine Selectors, 2023 Cellar Door of the Year. Karin Adcock, owner of Winmark Wines in Broke Fordwich, has transformed the property over the last six years to now feature a cellar door, sculpture walk, art gallery, gift shop and four guest properties.

Accommodation Operator of the Year was awarded, for the second consecutive year, to Spicers Guesthouse, one of the Hunter Valley’s leading luxury retreats. Stay n’Sip was announced as Tourism Operator of the Year. After only 18 months in business, co-founders, Pierre Toumanoff and Mercedes Mendoza, take their private wine experiences directly to guests at their accommodation or venue.

These three awards, which are judged by independent assessment, recognise businesses for their visitor and online experience. The average score from the independent assessment for visits to tourism businesses increased by 10.7% compared to last year.

The 2023 Outstanding Contribution of an Individual was awarded to Liz Riley, a renowned national viticulturist, consultant and advisor. Throughout the difficulties of recent vintages with flooding and disease pressure, Liz worked on behalf of the region to coordinate an emergency response for aerial pest and disease application. She is recognised throughout the national wine industry for her work and collaborative approach, being recently named as a Viticulturist of the Year by The Wine Magazine and is a finalist for the 2022 Young Gun Wine Awards Vineyard of the Year.

Congratulations to all the finalists and winners of the 2023 Hunter Valley Legends Awards.

  • Riedel Young Achiever of the Year: Jenna Vaughan (De Iuliis Wines)
  • Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism Association Tourism Operator of the Year: Stay n’ Sip
  • Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism Association Accommodation Operator of the Year: Spicers Guesthouse
  • Jurds Viticulturist of the Year: Nicolas Looby (Margan Wines & Restaurant)
  • Wine Selectors Cellar Door of the Year: Winmark Wines
  • First Creek Winemaking Services Winemaker of the Year: Andrew Thomas (Thomas Wines)
  • Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism Association Outstanding Contribution of an Individual: Liz Riley (Vitibit)
  • Hunter Valley Tourism Legend: John Stevens (The Stevens Group)
  • Hunter Valley Wine Legends: John Davis, Graham Doran, Dr Harry Tulloch

For further comment, images or interviews, please contact Julia Moore at Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism Association; or 0499 053 655.

For images (photo credit: Elfes Images), please click here.


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