Whilst Doug Neal might not be the name that immediately comes to mind when asked about great Australia winemakers, his Midas touch has long been sought after within the industry. Whilst much of his last two decades has been devoted to elevating the wines (and status) of other brands, at long last Doug’s talent is now being showcased for his own benefit. He currently holds down Huon Hooke’s #1 ranking for 2022 Australian Chardonnay (Gaffy & Neal Merricks North) and #1 ranking for 2021 Victorian Shiraz (Altera Terra Wood’s Paddock Shiraz).

The #1 Chardonnay is a partnership between Doug and long-term friend and associate (and Principia owner/winemaker) Darrin Gaffy. Not only is their second release of the Gaffy & Neal Merricks North Hooke’s finest 2022 Aussie Chard, but there’s never been another Australian Chardonnay rated higher in any vintage this past 20+ years. At $75/b it certainly screams incredible value considering it is sitting pretty at the top of the pile for best Australian Chardonnay… EVER! With less than 60 doz made this unbelievable achievement WON’T LAST LONG!

In the last few years, Yarra Yering has been on a tear winning award after award and holding down Victoria’s #1 ranking for many wine categories and deservedly so. However, in 2021 they have met their match. Enter Altera Terra (Doug’s own brand) and his 2021 Wood’s Paddock Shiraz, sourced from a single vineyard in Avoca (in the Pyrenees region of Victoria, home to the likes of Mount Langi and Dalwhinnie). The wine is considered an outstanding achievement in wine circles with Hooke elevating it to the new #1 ranking for Victoria Shiraz (beating out both the 2021 Yarra Yering Underhill Shiraz (now #2) and the $275+ Yarra Yering Carrodus Shiraz (now #3). Jeremy Oliver has also chimed in with 98pts for the 2021 Wood’s Paddock, calling it “one of the finest Australian shirazes made with Rhone Valley inspiration”.

Whilst Doug is quite reserved abut his involvement with Giaconda, he is proud of the decades long friendship he has had with Rick Kinzbrunner and the mentorship role Rick played in Doug’s earlier years. The two have travelled the world together and regularly catch up to discuss winemaking techniques and how to improve what many might already believe is ‘perfect’. Indeed, the most recognised wine journal in the world, the Wine Advocate, recently acknowledged the 2021 Giaconda Estate Chardonnay as ‘perfect’ wine, achieving the first ever 100pt score for an Australian white wine. Doug says that whenever he meets a new customer to discuss his French oak barrels he always takes an old bottle of Giaconda with him to showcase the merits of the barrels he imports (yes, his barrels are the ones used by Rick at Giaconda). With Huon Hooke rating both the 2021 Giaconda Estate and the 2022 Merrick’s North @ 98pts Doug’s biggest challenge in the not too distant future will be deciding which of Australia’s two great Chardonnay’s he will showcase moving forward…

Doug Neal is one of the unsung heroes of winemaking in southern Victoria. His early experience in winemaking was at Giaconda, where he worked the vintage for 15 years and is still close to the owners, the Kinzbrunner family. He was winemaker at Paradise IV near Geelong for 13 years… He’s been tucked away from view in the relatively small and quiet Geelong region: one wonders how much bigger a profile he might have, had he been in the Yarra Valley, for example. I’ve been following Neal’s activities for several years and admiring his achievements, and the subtle influence he’s been having in several areas of Victorian wine. For many years he has imported barrels from France – at various times, Sirrugue and Bossuet. He’s back managing Sirrugue’s business in Australia and New Zealand now. Sirrugue oak is a key influence in the style of Giaconda wines, especially the magnificent chardonnay.” Huon Hooke