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  • Quentin Von Essen

Adrian Sparks - Hunter Valley Winemaker of the Year

When Adrian Sparks, joined the ranks of one of Australia’s premier wine families McWilliam’s Wines in 1998, he was able to explore and experiment with a plethora of different wine styles. It was here that he honed his craft and developed a deep love for white wines and in particular Chardonnay, a varietal that he has had incredible success with.

The Riverina-born winemaker has worked for the McWilliams Group, which owns Mount Pleasant Wines since he was studying chemistry in the late 1990's at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga.

A part-time job in the cellar door to earn some cash eventually turned into a full-time career in the laboratory, with Adrian switching his studies to learn more about winemaking.

After working his way up through the company to the position of Senior Winemaker, Adrian eventually moved from Griffith to the Hunter Valley in 2014 to join the Chief Winemaker Jim Chatto at Mount Pleasant.

He spent four years working with Jim before both men were once again promoted; Jim to the position of Chief Winemaker of the McWilliam’s Group, and Adrian to the top job at Mount Pleasant.

As only the fifth Chief Winemaker in the 98-year history of the winery, Adrian is following in the footsteps of some of Australia’s most celebrated winemaking alumni including the late great Maurice O’Shea, Phil Ryan and the highly celebrated Chatto.

A passionate advocate for NSW wines, at Mount Pleasant Adrian has continued to flourish as a winemaker par excellence while at the same time becoming a great champion for the region in both the winery and on the judging circuit.

At the 2019 Hunter Valley Wine Industry Gala, Adrian was awarded the prestigious title of Winemaker of the Year which recognises those Hunter Valley winemakers who have achieved success on the show circuit and have also made significant commitments to the promotion of not only their own wines but the Hunter Valley region.

And the awards just keep coming. The Mount Pleasant team walked away with 27 medals and trophies at the Hunter Valley Wine Show in 2019 and at the annual NSW Wine Awards the 2018 Mountain D Shiraz championed over all other wines to take home the title of overall Best Dry Red and be awarded the ultimate title of 2019 NSW Wine of the Year and claim the NSW Governor’s Trophy for Best in Show. It was the second year running that Mount Pleasant has been awarded the trophy for Best in Show, following the success of Old Paddock & Old Hill Shiraz 2017 at the 2018 awards ceremony.

While Adrian is overjoyed with the success he has had as a winemaker, he said his goals at Chief Winemaker didn’t revolve around awards.

"I’m more interested in just being true to what I believe in terms of winemaking, being true to the site, being true to Mount Pleasant and I suppose, true to the history, what O'Shea wanted to make, and what he was thinking when he made his wines," said Adrian.

“I think as a winemaker; you have to understand and respect what the winemakers before you were doing. As a result, I've got a good understanding of how Phil (Ryan) made his wines and having that experience working with Jim Chatto also provided so much education about the Hunter Valley and Mount Pleasant.

“And I think that's the most important thing; you need to be at a place to understand it, you can't just walk into a winery and make the best wines from day one. You have to understand the vineyards and the blocks and continuously educate yourself, and it all takes time, those things all take time.

“I think that's sort of what we've done in the last four years, tried to really understand the vineyards and understand the wine styles and think about what we want to achieve in the future and I think our best wines are still ahead of us.”


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