Something about a timeworn dairy farm in the Adelaide Hills spoke to Andrew Nugent when he and his father stumbled across the property in 1997. It might have been the gentle, north-facing slope, or perhaps the fact that miners had struck gold in the same spot a century earlier.
Either way, the pair decided to buy the 32-hectare property and plant a vineyard, keen to make a statement in the cool-climate region. Nearly two decades after their first vintage in 2001, their aspirations have been realised. Named after the gold mine that once occupied the site, Bird in Hand produces close to 90,000 cases a year in four distinct tiers of wine, in accordance with a singular, ambitious philosophy.
"We give every parcel of fruit the chance to show the best version of itself," says chief winemaker Kym Milne. "We handle gently and preserve individuality, keeping all parcels of fruit separate, even down to individual sections of the same vineyard if it gives some superior parcels."
Milne, the second of only 24 Australians to earn the coveted title of Master of Wine, has witnessed an evolution in Australian wine since he joined Bird in Hand in 2004. "Winemaking has become more refined," he says, "with less emphasis on power and a move towards more aromatic, elegant, food-friendly styles."
Remaining current in a trend-driven, fragmented and oversaturated marketplace requires ingenuity and a strong sense of identity. As much as anything, though, Milne attributes the ongoing success of Bird in Hand to persistence. "We are continually focused on improving our craft and the uncompromising pursuit of quality," he says.
A turning point came in 2015, when the winery's first ultra-premium release – the $350 2010 MAC shiraz – took top honours at Winestate magazine's World's Greatest Shiraz Challenge among stiff competition. The bold, spicy 2013 Bird in Hand shiraz, just $33, was placed second.
Not content to rest on laurels, senior winemaker Dylan Lee began experimenting with cooler shiraz sites, trialling the use of wild yeast, whole-bunch fermentation and extended maceration. The resulting Bird in Hand syrah presented a brighter, fresher contrast to the label's esteemed shiraz, and the 2017 release – in only its second vintage – was named best Australian red at the 2019 International Wine Challenge in May.
While the wines speak largely for themselves, the estate now encompasses a cellar door, restaurant, kitchen garden and distinguished art collection – all of which invite a deeper connection with the brand. Eye-catching bottles are designed by the likes of Dion Lee and Henry Holland, and a series of concerts in the vineyard has featured the likes of Gang of Youths and Neil and Tim Finn.
"There's no question that awards have played a significant part of building our popularity," says Milne, "but our collaborations and events have enabled us to engage a much broader audience."