When 21-year-old science student Peter Dawson arrived for work at Thomas Hardy & Sons’ Mile End winery in Adelaide in 1976, he reported to production winemaker Tim James. Neither could have imagined that 34 years later they would have become lifelong friends and established a specialist chardonnay and pinot noir winery in Tasmania. The closeness of the friendship that developed is encapsulated in their roles as godfathers: Dawson of Melanie, eldest daughter of James, and James of Hugh, eldest son of Dawson. “We have always had a great unspoken bond, almost of brothers,” says James.

Both had highly successful careers as corporate winemakers: Dawson rising to the top of Constellation wines, James to that of BRL Hardy. James left Hardy to become managing director of Wirra Wirra in 2000, Dawson left Constellation in September 2009. Both had long been involved in choosing grapes in Tasmania for their bosses, and knew precisely where they wanted to source their grapes: the Ellis’ Meadowbank Vineyard on the banks of the Upper Derwent River. They secured long-term access to two blocks planted to 3.3ha of chardonnay and pinot noir in 1989, the vineyard as a whole one of the foremost in Tasmania.

I recently tasted all the Dawson & James wines released to date, and fully understand why Dawson says that “12 years on we continue to be enthralled by the expression of site in the wines, modulated only by seasonal variation”. James adds: “I think the best wines we can make are still to come, and that’s surely the best reason to keep on going.” Well, if nine trophies, 25 gold medals and 25 silver medals chiefly won in Tasmania and London since the first vintage in 2010 leaves the pair in Socratean dissatisfaction, woe betide the rest of the field.

2017 Dawson & James Chardonnay

From the Meadowbank Vineyard, whole-bunch pressed, fermented in very high quality French barriques (30% new), 50% mlf, which it absolutely needed, 8 months on lees. A wine of precision and elegance, a lightness of touch that suggests it will be very long lived. White flowers, crispness, apple blossom, grapefruit. 12% alc, screwcap

97 points, drink to 2030, $64

2018 Dawson & James Chardonnay

Pale straw-green; the bouquet has started to open up, touch funk plus cashew. The palate belies the high acidity, or perhaps indicates what it was before 50%-plus mlf. Its balance is faultless, oak invisibly mended into the fabric of the white stone fruits. 12.7% alc, screwcap

97 points, drink to 2030, $64

2018 Dawson & James Pinot Noir

Bright clear crimson-purple; a very good pinot, the bouquet fragrant and complex, the palate joining in the mix of dark cherry and truffled plum fruits, spice and whole bunch tannins. The fruit has absorbed 40% new Taransaud oak without batting an eyelid but enjoying the ride through to the aftertaste. 12.6% alc, screwcap

97 points, drink to 2029, $78

Join the Cellardoor Challenge community


Support our wineries and we'll keep you up-to-date with the latest wines we're enjoying and get special offers direct from our wineries Australia-wide.


Thanks for joining the Cellardoor Challenge inner circle!