Grower stories

The innovative, up-and-coming winemakers to watch in 2023

We shine a light on some of the inspiring men and women shaking up the wine world and making their mark in an industry already blessed with more than its fair share of talent.

A Riojan rising star – Javier San Pedro Ortega

A Riojan rising star – Javier San Pedro Ortega 

Born in Laguardia (Rioja Alavesa), Javier is the fifth generation of his winemaking family. At the age of five he was helping to clean his grandfather’s cellar, making his first wine at 17 at his father’s winery. After eight years working with his father, and successfully put his own stamp on the wines, in 2013 Javier decided to branch out and set up his own project – Bodegas Javier San Pedro Ortega. 

Javier, and his young team aim to surprise wine drinkers with a fresh new take on traditional Rioja and their efforts have already come to the attention of the likes of Jancis Robinson MW. The bodega makes wines under three distinct labels ‘Cueva de Lobos’ (Wolves’ Cave) – which Javier describes as ‘modern, aromatic and funny’; ‘Viuda Negra’ (Black Widow) – which is the wine we are offering and is a range based on the region’s old vines and finally, ‘Anahí’ – a medium-sweet white dedicated to Javier’s mother. 

The philosophy of the winery is to make authentic wines which tell the story of where they are from, made with respect for the land but from a contemporary and dynamic viewpoint. The Viuda Negra Crianza Rioja 2019 impressed buyer Pierre Mansour with its ‘dense and expressive dark fruit, given polish with some flashy new French oak.’ It is 100% tempranillo and from vines at least 20 years old. 

Javier might be a winemaker flying under the radar now, but we think he is one of Rioja’s rising stars and is definitely one to watch!

Winemakers João Pires and Matt Gant surveying vineyards Quinta da Pedra Alta Douro Portugal

Quinta da Pedra Alta 
A story of friendship and revival at this historic estate in the Douro 

This quinta ‘of the high stone’ is set high up in the Cima Corgo, a sub-region of the Douro Valley, a UNESCO world-heritage site. The stones in question are granite markers dating back to the original demarcation of the best sites for Port production in 1761 by the Marquês de Pombal. The quinta is the only one to have three of these quality markers remaining on one estate and its new young owners are determined to express the individuality of this site with its breathtaking 550m-high terraced vineyards and unique microclimate. 

The winemakers, Australian-based Matt Gant and João Pires, who was born and raised here, developed a friendship when Matt was broadening his winemaking horizons carrying out vintages in Portugal. They now make wine together in both hemispheres with João based at the quinta tending the vines he has got to know so well since 2009. With Matt’s international experience and mastery of blending and João’s deep knowledge of the terroir, they complement each other perfectly and share a vision for making wine that speaks of the land it comes from with as little interference as possible. 

Bringing a new lease of life to traditional ways and varieties, they hand pick and foot tread the grapes, co-fermenting and maturing white varieties with reds, as was done in the past. Their Pedra a Pedra Clarete 2020 is a blend of red tinta barroca (72%) and touriga nacional (10%), and white donzelinho branco (10%) and rabigato (8%). It is made in a light, fragrant, uplifted fruity style – something quite different from the full-throttle reds that you might usually expect from the Douro.

Sam Lambson Minimalist wines

Syrah lover Sam Lambson – the man behind Minimalist wines 

Sam first came to the notice of buyer Joanna Locke MW while he was still at Stellenbosch University completing the final year of his BSc in Oenology. Having worked harvests under some of the Cape’s most talented winemakers – Carl van de Merwe of De Morgenzon, Lukas van Loggerenberg and Chris Alheit, Sam has learned from the best. 

He has developed a special love of syrah, using savings from early business ventures to source exceptional fruit and in return for lending a hand at harvest, friends helped him out by sharing grapes, barrels and tanks, helping to get Sam started. He now rents space a Karibib Wine Craft, a communal cellar in Stellenbosch and is continuing his quest to make great syrah, though sourcing fruit from the right place is getting increasingly challenging. He was gutted to discover that two of the Elgin vineyards from which he previously sourced grapes had been lost to apple production and so to keep syrah vines in the ground, he is now leasing a small parcel of land.  

The name Sam has given to his wines says it all in terms of his hands-off approach– like many of the up-and-coming producers featured here, he believes in minimal intervention when it comes to making the wine. The fragrant, spicy nature of Sam's ‘Experimental’ 2020 Elgin syrah proves that he has hit on a winning formula. We look forward to tasting many more experiments from Sam and love the touch of wild garrigue (or should that be fynbos?) that they display.


Viviana Malafarina – reviving historic vineyards in Basilicata 

It was perhaps a curious decision by owners Feudi di San Gregorio to appoint Viviana as general manager and winemaker at their newly acquired Basilisco winery in Basile. Why employ someone with no previous experience in the wine industry to be custodian of some of Italy’s most historic vineyards? But extraordinary places require special people to look after them. Viviana is just such a person and her route into wine was no less unconventional. A degree in Slavic languages led to a teaching job in Kyiv, she has crewed and been a chef on a superyacht and a tour leader on the Orient Express. On her travels she met the Chairman of Feudi di San Gregorio, Antonio Capaldo, who invited her to take on this next adventure.

Viviana Malafarina

Viviana fell in love with her new job and this special part of the world where the wines are aged in cellars dug out of the tufa rock in the sixteenth century by Albanian refugees. The ancient vines are organically farmed, some in the old traditional way, mixing vegetable plots and olive trees amongst the vines. Picking up skills from consultant winemakers Lorenzo Landi and Denis Dubourdieu, Viviana took over the reins from the 2013 vintage and tends the vines alongside Feudi’s agronomist Pierpaolo Sirch. Having turned into a self-confessed ‘soil freak’, Viviana now vinifies each of the vineyards on the 60-acre estate separately, getting the most out of each exposition. The wines of Aglianico del Vulture have rightly earned the epithet of being the ‘Barolo of the south’, and Viviana’s wines, with their fragrance and poise demonstrate this beautifully. Already well known locally for her attention to detail and dedication to the land, Viviana’s is surely a name we will hear a lot more of in the future. 

Carlos Mazo

Carlos Mazo’s old-vine garnacha is being talked about in hushed tones! 

When Carlos inherited his parents’ vineyards in Rioja Oriental he decided to start producing wine as a family for the first time. Together with his wife Isabel, he created Vinos en Voz Baja (‘whispering wines’) to make and commercialise the fruit of their nine plots of old vines totalling just six hectares. The venture couldn’t have come at a better time with garnacha enjoying a bit of a revival of fortunes at the moment. The grape does particularly well in this warmer southern part of Rioja and when the fruit of distinguished old vines like these are given the individual focus and attention that Carlos affords them, the results are stunning. So, despite these wines being ‘softly spoken’ they are full of personality and Carlos’ Costumbres 2020 (which has a tiny bit of graciano in the blend too) is fermented using indigenous yeasts in open wooden vats and then aged in used French oak barrels. The resulting wine is ripe and purply with subtle herbaceous peppery notes and a delight for lovers of varietal garnacha. Shhh! You heard it here first! 

Enrico Dellapiana of Rizzi

Enrico Dellapiana of Rizzi – breathing new life into Barbaresco 

Enrico Dellapiana is part of a young group shaking up Barbaresco in Italy’s northwest where reds are made from Nebbiolo, the same grape as its larger neighbour, Barolo. Eschewing the often fiercely tannic and impenetrable traditional style, he aims for expressive, vibrant wines with aromas of herbs, cherry and wild strawberry, that are approachable younger but still able to stay the course. Enrico runs the estate with his sister Jole and they have built up one of the largest holdings in Barbaresco with 35 hectares of vines on slopes straddling both sides of the Rizzi hill, home to their winery. Forward looking and innovative, Enrico is representative of a new movement in his region with increasing emphasis on sustainable production and more perfumed, elegant wines that are more expressive of their terroir. Enrico isn’t just a talented winemaker, he is also a gifted artist, designing the labels for his riserva Boito wine and even hand-painting the limited-edition magnums himself. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly light nature of the 2019 Rizzi Barbaresco, though it is soft enough to be enjoyed in its youth, like its more chunkier forebears, it too will age gracefully with ease until 2029. 

Tommy Grimshaw from Langham Wine Estate

Tommy Grimshaw, the UK's youngest head winemaker 

Langham Wine Estate’s head winemaker has also been named ‘Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year’ by the International Wine Challenge before he’s even turned 30! Tommy was brought up in Totnes, the son of a social worker and photographer. A summer job bottling and labelling wine got him into the wine scene and rather than face A-level resits he left school to work at Devon’s Sharpham Vineyard. He stayed there six years, working his way up to assistant winemaker. In 2019 Tommy joined Langham’s as assistant winemaker working under Daniel Ham, taking over from him in January 2020. His approach and that of the vineyard team is very much about low-intervention, not because of any trends towards more ‘natural’ wines he says, but rather because the goal is to get maximum expression from the varied chalk soils at this Dorsetshire estate. Only wild yeasts are used for fermenting the base wines which are then unfined and unfiltered to retain their flavour. Tommy uses some oak to ferment the wines too for added texture. Discover all these characteristics and more in the cranberry and orange-peel scented Non-Vintage Rosé Brut 

Nikos Karavitakis, challenging conventions in Crete

Nikos Karavitakis, challenging conventions in Crete 

Nikos Karavitakis is part of the new generation in Crete who are challenging the notion that the traditional oxidative-style of wines are best. He is the fourth generation of the family to farm at Kolymbari near Chania and like his father champions local indigenous varieties such as vidiano, kotsifali and mandilaria as well as Greece’s star white grape, assyrtiko. What sets Nikos apart is his attention to detail in the vineyards, farming sustainably and sending out his own agronomist to advise growers whose grapes supplement their own. He has also built a shiny new winery equipped with modern kit and this appetite to look forward while maintaining the best of his family’s traditional values makes him someone we’re keen to follow.

>Discover Karavitakis wines 

Christina Wess

Christina Wess – a precocious talent in Austria 

Members will probably already be familiar with this name as we have been talking about what a talent she is for a number of years now. Still only in her mid-20s, Christina is one of Austria’s most gifted winemakers. She cut her teeth making wine across the principal vineyards of Europe before returning home to help out her father Rainer at the family’s winery, itself only founded in 2003. Christina is incredibly committed to the advancement of not just her own wines but those of her countrymen (and women). Her skills have earned her a place as the youngest ever member on the board of the Österreichische Traditionsweingüter – a prestigious group of key winemakers from the Lower Austria region who ensure that the highest levels of quality wine production are upheld across the area. 

Not content with making wine at Rainer Wess, Christina has now also set up her own side project with her new husband David and their Mexican winemaking friend Alonso. Rainer Wess Tres Compañeros Gemischter Satz, Kremstal 2021 is a quirky field blend of neuburger, muskateller and sauvignon blanc, that’s very different from the usual style of Wess wines with its hints of orange, honey and sweet spices. 

>Read more about Christina and Rainer Wess 

Muscadet’s ‘Bêtes Curieuses’ Jérémie Huchet and Jérémie Mourat

Muscadet’s ‘Bêtes Curieuses’ Jérémie Huchet and Jérémie Mourat 

These ‘curious beasts’ of the Loire are passionate champions of the new Muscadet crus officially recognised by the INAO in 2011. They met in London at the International Wine Fair in 2005 and soon became firm friends. Recognising that they are kindred spirits, they decided to set up this joint venture. It combines their slightly different but complementary approaches and makes the most of their different experiences making wine both in the Loire and overseas. Huchet is a vigneron in the terroir of Château-Thébaud, and a master of Muscadet, Mourat is from the Vendée and chenin blanc is his specialism. Together they bring out the best in these new Muscadet crus and their Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Château-Thébaud 2017 aligns power with minerality and tension, delivering fresh wines with the texture and weight of a versatile unoaked white Burgundy which can keep well too. They are definitely ones to watch as will be these new expressions of top Muscadet. 

>Discover the wines of our winemakers to watch in 2023 

Joanna Goodman

Senior Editor

Joanna Goodman

Part of our Marketing Team for over 30 years, Jo has been editor of Society News for much of that time as well as contributing to our many other communications.

Back to top