Regional Feature – Hilltops

Regional Feature – Hilltops

by Harriet Moore, 22 February 2017

Situated between the towns of Boorowa, Harden and Young, the Hilltops region is a cool climate wine region in southern New South Wales, Australia. Hilltops is rapidly emerging as one of the most exciting viticultural regions in Australia as the high altitude location coupled with the dry summer and autumn, provides excellent ripening conditions. The rich red soils of the region produce wines of great intensity of flavour and finesse.

Overview of facts

Vital Statistics: Taken from the Young Post Office: 1871-1991

Altitude: 450m to 540m

Heat degree days: 1627

Sunshine hours – Oct-Apr: 2041

Annual rainfall: 654 mm

Growing season rainfall: 355 mm

Mean January temp: 22.95 °C

Relative humidity, Oct-Apr, 3 pm – Average 38%

Harvest: Late Feb – May

Soil type: Free draining dark red granitic clay with basalt



The history of Hilltops dates back to the 1830s when European graziers moved to the area farming merino sheep and planting stone fruits and vines. The region’s fortune changed in 1860 as gold was discovered at the current site of the Lambing Flat Folk Museum in Young and within 12 months 20,000 miners flocked to the region to try their luck. During the same year, one of the regions founding fathers, Nichole Jasprizza, moved from his native Croatia and established a prosperous business selling cherries and wine to the local gold miners. By 1880 he sponsored three nephews to come to Australia to join the business, and by the early years of the twentieth century had won prizes at the Sydney Wine Show, and extended the vineyards to 240 hectares putting the Hilltops wine region on the map.

In 1969, Peter Robinson continued to pioneer the region by planting vines from cuttings he sourced from McWilliam’s Hanwood Estate to diversify his business. With help from Stuart McWilliam, he made his first wine and by 1974 Peter won a Silver medal at the Canberra Wine Show.  The region’s production expanded in the early 1980’s with McWilliam’s purchasing the entire property including the vineyard, winery and cellar door. Since that time, McWilliam’s have been a key driving force in the growth and development of the Hilltops region as an emerging premium wine region of New South Wales and since expanded the vineyards to over 105 ha.


The Hilltops wine region is cool-climate, with the bulk of the vineyards lying at an altitude of around 450 to 540 metres. The region has a continental climate, with relatively cool winters and rainfall throughout Autumn and Winter. The Summer months bring hot, dry days and cooler nights that complement the ripening season.

The higher growing altitude stamps a powerful flavour attribute on the resulting wine, appealing to a wide range of palates. As McWilliam’s Senior Premium Winemaker, Andrew Higgins, explains, “as you increase the altitude, you also take on more risk during the growing phase. It takes longer for the fruit to ripen, and you are at the mercy of unexpected weather patterns, such as frost. Positively, the grapes have better flavour and aroma retention, and the resulting wine conveys a superior freshness and structure. Generally cooler climate fruit provides an opportunity to make very elegant, medium bodied wines that pair excellently with food, which is what consumers are currently seeking.” This unique regional style of wine is being recognised around the world with the  McWilliam’s 1877 Hilltops Shiraz 2014 recently awarded the ‘Best Australian Shiraz’ at the International Wine Challenge in London and the new McWilliam’s Block 19 & 20 Single Vineyard Hilltops Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 named as the inaugural James Halliday Cabernet Challenge Trophy winner, scoring 97 points.

Grape Varieties grown in the region include:

Reds – Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Corvina, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot Rondinella, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Shiraz and Zinfandel.

Whites – Aleatico, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Viognier



Shiraz is the largest tonnage with 39%, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon with 28% and then quite a distance to the “new kid on the block” Pinot Gris/Grigio with 11%.  It’s also very interesting to see that China is the highest export market for Hilltops labelled wines with 73% and about 20%* of the total export market to China. In the past twenty years, there has been an acceleration of wine grape plantings in the Hilltops with over 600 hectares of vines producing over 4,000 tonnes* of wine grapes annually.

Some other notable wineries in the region producing quality wines include:

  • Freeman Vineyards is a small, specialist family winery, established in 1999 by Dr Brian Freeman. Twenty two different varieties are grown on the 57-hectare estate, including Australia’s only plantings of Corvina and Rondinella.
  • Lockwood Vineyards is a small 20 acre property located 5km North of Young. The first Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted in 1996, and since then a number of small blocks have been planted including Shiraz, Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Tempranillo
  • Chalker’s Crossing founded on a neglected plum orchard converted to a modern 10ha vineyard in late-1997 with the planting of Riesling, Semillon, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Moppity Vineyard was one of the first wineries in the region planting vines back in the 1980’s. The Reserve wines are typically sourced from the old, gnarly, low-yielding vines and the vineyards grown on dark red volcanic granitic clay and basalt soil.
  • Lindsay’s Woodonga Hill Winery is a pioneering winery in Young and District, with a reputation for medal winning wines. They offer a variety of wine styles reflecting the potential from grapes and fruit grown in the Hilltops Region.
  • Ballinaclash was originally a cherry and stone fruit orchard. They produce boutique style products and single vineyard wines made exclusively from their fruit.
  • Grove Estate Vineyard was established by the Flanders, Kirkwood and Mullany families in 1989. The property was purchased with the aim of producing premium cool climate wine grapes on its red volcanic soils. Since 1989, over 50 hectares of vines have been planted on the property, including the varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Zinfandel, Barbera, Sangiovese, Petit Verdot, Chardonnay, Semillon and Nebbiolo.

* Source: 2015 ABS Vineyard Survey

Reference material:

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