Symphony Hill winemaker Mike Hayes, 53, Queensland's first winemaker of the year.
Symphony Hill winemaker Mike Hayes, 53, Queensland's first winemaker of the year.

Winemakers upstaged by shock winner

HE left school at 15 to chip weeds in the vineyard, and last night he was named winemaker of the year.

Mike Hayes, from Ballandean on the Granite Belt, upstaged some of the finest winemakers in the country to claim the coveted award from the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology in a glittering ceremony in Adelaide.

"I am especially proud, and humble, because it is the first time a Queenslander has won the award," he said.

Hayes, 53, the youngest child in a family of nine children, is chief winemaker at Symphony Hill, a five-star winery in the high, cool climate boulder country south of Stanthorpe.

He added: "At last! We have stepped out of the dark ages and achieved some of the recognition we deserve.

"It's a win for Queensland and a win for Queensland wine." Hayes' career has taken off in recent years with gold medals at the esteemed Royal Melbourne and Royal Sydney and Royal Brisbane wine shows.

So far this year he has won 20 gold medals and 16 trophies at metropolitan and rural shows.

He was chosen from among nearly 1000 of Australia's best winemakers.

In the final round of judging he triumphed over Fiona Donald from Seppeltsfield in South Australia, Jeremy Dineen from Josef Chromy Wines in Tasmania and Julian Allport from Moores Hill in Tasmania's Tamar Valley.

Hayes says his proudest achievement was winning the top gold at both Sydney and Melbourne shows.

The wine was finalist for Best Shiraz Trophy and Best Single Vineyard Wine Trophy at 2011 Royal Melbourne.

Largely self-taught, he recently completed a masters in viticulture and winemaking.

In 2012 Mr Hayes was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to research alternative varieties known on the Granite Belt as "strange birds".