Trophy Collector — how a Canberra shiraz stole the Sydney show

There was no phone call, no email, no press release. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for a tip-off from one of the judges, Alex McKay’s success at Sydney’s 2010 Royal Wine Show might’ve escaped our notice. His Collector Reserve Shiraz 2008 won a gold medal and four trophies, including the Dr Gilbert Phillips Memorial Trophy for best red wine of the show.

It’s a significant win for Alex and Canberra shiraz, especially as Collector Reserve pipped one of Australia’s shiraz blue bloods, Best’s Great Western Bin O, for the top honour.

Alex reckons “it’s an achievement for the show to pick a wine like that. The judges are better and the classes are more sympathetic to this style”. But he’s not viewing the success of this elegant, cool climate shiraz as the end of big, traditional styles from warm areas. He says these regions have suffered a couple of very hot vintages, resulting in “a lot of over-ripe wines from South Australia, and they’ve not been doing well because of it”.

The Collector wine comes principally from the Kyeema vineyard, Murrumbateman, containing some of Canberra’s oldest shiraz vines, planted by Ron McKenzie in 1983. (Part of the small viognier component in the blend comes from Wayne and Jenny Fischer’s Murrumbateman). It’s been source of Kyeema Estate Shiraz (now part of Capital Wines) but the vineyard also provided fruit to Hardy’s during their period in Canberra. As Hardy’s winemaker, Alex appreciated the superior quality of Kyeema fruit and consequently maintained the relationship when he set up on his own after Hardy’s departure from Canberra.

Without this fruit, we wouldn’t have a Sydney trophy winner. But it demonstrates Canberra’s potential for shiraz – good sites with properly managed mature vines can make great wines.

Alex made the trophy winner in the old Madew winery at Lake George (now part of Lake George Winery). He fermented numerous batches of the Kyeema fruit, ranging from half a tonne to four tonnes. They were all natural – that is, spontaneous, without the addition of cultured yeasts. Controversially, he used whole grape bunches in about 40 per cent of the ferments.

Whole grape bunches include stalks — and these add distinctive stalky and herbal aromas and flavours, as well as bolstering the tannins and, hence, texture of the wine. But generally a little bit goes a long way.

At the time, Alex thought he might’ve gone “a bit too far – I was a bit scared”. He says that this herbal, stalky, slightly hard edge was most apparent in the young wine and admits, “a lot of people could be turned off by it”. However, he sees the character becoming better integrated into the wine with every month that passes and the fleshiness seems to increase.

I’ve tasted the wine only once, at a Senso dinner hosted by Clonakilla’s Tim Kirk last October. I noted the whole-bunch stalky character. It was certainly right up front. But the wine was delicious – silky, smooth and elegant with the stalky character adding complexity. “Superb” was the final comment.

I’ve not tried the wine since last October. But Jeremy Stockman, a judge the Sydney Show, tells me his main impressions were the wine’s purity and brightness – a wine of sufficient depth to bear comparison with Best’s legendary Bin O Shiraz.

Collector Reserve Canberra District Shiraz 2008 is available at around $46 from fine wine outlets and Alex expects to sell out within one month as he made only 1,000 six packs. He also offers the outstanding Collector Marked Tree Shiraz 2008 at $26 and has in the pipeline an $18 Canberra shiraz – a joint venture with fellow winemaker Nick O’Leary


Collector Reserve Shiraz 2008’s four trophy winning streak at the Sydney Royal Wine Show began modestly. A gold medal won alongside Wolf Blass Gold Label Adelaide Hills Shiraz Viognier 2008 – its only competitor in class 52 (premium shiraz viognier blends) – put Collector in the running for the John Swann Memorial Trophy.

It was tasted off against gold medallists from the other eligible classes – Lillydale Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2008, St Hallett Barossa Valley Gamekeepers Reserve Shiraz Grenache 2008, Yellowtail The Reserve Shiraz 2008 and Brookland Valley Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2008.

In this first ballot, “purity and brightness got it through”, recalls judge Jeremy Stockman – saying that of the other shirazes in the taste-off “one was too oaky and the other fruity but simple”. Collector then, by default, seized the Leslie Kemeny Memorial Trophy as none of the gold medallists from other eligible classes was from the 2008 vintage.

The real test of Collector’s mettle, though, came in the taste off for the Dr Gilbert Phillips Memorial Trophy for best red wine of the show. It faced a ballot against the other red trophy winners – Blue Pyrenees Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Yalumba Hand Picked Barossa Shiraz Viognier 2008, Vasse Felix Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Hardys Thomas Hardy Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Wolf Blass Gold Label Pinot Noir 2008, Best’s Great Western Bin O Shiraz 2008 and Xanadu Next of Kin Cabernet Sauvignon 2009.

Stockman recalls “one seriously good cabernet in this class, but I voted one and two for the shirazes”. And Collector won the tally and the trophy. Winemaker Alex McKay, an associate judge at the show (associate scores don’t count), says he thought he recognised his own wine in the first taste-off but remained sceptical of its prospects – and then felt “surreal” as it stepped up to become red of the show.

It’s not clear from the catalogue of results ( which wines Collector faced in the taste-off of for the Busby Trophy (best wine or brandy from New South Wales). But in theory it might have been lined up against whites, reds, bubblies fortifieds and brandies.

Collector Reserve Canberra District Shiraz 2008 — Trophies won at the 2010 Sydney Royal Wine Show

  • John Swann Memorial Trophy
    Best dry red wine two years and older in premium classes
  • Leslie Kemeny Memorial Trophy
    Best 2008 vintage red wine from premium classes
  • Dr Gilbert Phillips Memorial Trophy
    Best red wine of the show
  • James Busby Annual Prize
    Best wine or brandy from New South Wales

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010