On the evening of August 02, 2023, Mark Walpole was awarded the 2024 Halliday Wine Companion, Viticulturist of the Year.

Walpole, the winner of this year’s Viticulturist of the Year Award, is known within trade as a viticulturist’s viticulturist; he is the real deal. Known for his passion for sangiovese (of which he is arguably the chief Australian authority) Mark is also, truth-be-known, an authority on viticulture. Not that he would ever put such a label on himself. What Walpole mostly is, though, is curious. At the heart of every great viticulturist is a relentless desire to experiment, and every day – that is indeed what Mark Walpole does.

You can view Mark’s exclusive Hallliday Wine Companion interview here.

Established in 1997, Fighting Gully Road commenced planting the Aquila Audax Vineyard, an elevated north-facing site, just 3km south of Beechworth. Firstly, planting just cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir grapes. Mark describes the site as being of low disease pressure due to its exposed open nature and regular air movement. He was originally inspired by the climate and varieties found in Bordeaux, which has many similarities to what is found in Beechworth; and the elevated vineyards of the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany, Italy where shaley shallow soils produce grapes with concentrated colour and flavour.

I believe it is important to have a pragmatic approach to viticultural practices – not being tied to prescriptive methods which reduce flexibility and adaptability. We need to be able to respond quickly and efficiently to whatever the season throws at us. The past five years have shown exactly what that can be!”

Mark has been working to adapt his vineyard to changes in climate including new varieties that ripen later and have better natural acidity; while new plantings are being established to accommodate new equipment allowing reduced dependency on non-organic inputs; and contract labour. Today, they have expanded with significant areas of sangiovese, tempranillo, shiraz, chardonnay, gros manseng; and more recently grenache and verdicchio with now over 11.5 ha planted to vine. Plus, the black truffle farm alongside.

Mark has planted several varieties that while often referred to non-mainstream or ‘alternative’, are becoming increasingly popular in the Australian domestic market and seem very well suited to the Beechworth wine region. For Mark, viticulture is the critical link to great wine – without high quality grapes, good wine is not possible:

Having great grapes coming into the winery makes our job there easy, ninety percent of the job is done. Anything less just makes our winemaking more difficult with a lower than ideal result.”

At Fighting Gully Road, we have a no-compromise approach to making the best wines, always trying to make a wine of higher quality than the previous vintage – and in that way, our quest is never complete.

Watch the interview from the 2024 Halliday Wine Companion Awards, here. The local newspaper Ovens & Murray, also featured Mark’s accolade on the front cover. Read the full story here.