THE Granite Belt has Georgian Saperavi producers trembling, with one local winery bidding to outdo the natives at their own game.
In January Ridgemill Estate, Symphony Hill and Ballandean Estate claimed gold medals at the Saperavi World Prize, or SapPrize, in Tbilisi, Georgia, but until last week it was unknown the weight of those placings.
Ballandean Estate's Leeanne Puglisi-Gangemi received notification from Georgia their 2015 Saperavi in fact placed third in the world, a single point off the first- place getter.
"It wasn't until last Saturday they sent the points through which confirmed we'd placed third in the world which was really, really exciting and has us excited for next year,” she said.
The grand champion Saperavi came from Cirami Estate, in South Australia, and the second place was Gapstead Wines, Victoria.
"We got 92 points, the winning one was 93 and the one in the middle was 92.2.
"We were just thrilled with the gold medal to be honest.”
On the back of their success, winery owners Angelo and Mary Puglisi have been invited to Canberra to meet with the Georgian ambassador to Australia, George Dolidze.
The grape variety is said to have originated in Georgia with archaeological research showing evidence of cultivation dating back to 5000BC, quite the head start on Australian competitors.
In a clever ploy by the competition organisers, Georgian wines were judged in a separate category from overseas entries.
"They've very, very cleverly realised there is a lot of Saperavi popping up around the world so they want to see how it's going and I think they've been quite pleasantly surprised slash trembling in their boots a bit,” Ms Puglisi-Gangemi said.
"The only downside of this competition is they refused to let us show our wines against Georgian ones.”
In the right conditions the Saperavi vine is "magnificent”.
Ms Puglisi-Gangemi believes the Granite Belt is poised to take its reputation for Saperavi even higher.
"When we chose it, which would be around 15 years ago, we were confident it'd do well. There's always that little bit of a doubt but we were relatively confident we'd chosen a variety that would suit the Granite Belt beautifully and we haven't been disappointed.
"Australian winemakers these days, if they're going to put in something new, they're really going to do their homework. "It's just a beautiful grape to work with.”
Mr Puglisi, Leeanne's father, was the first on the Granite Belt to trial the variety, with others following suit soon after.
Aside from being a stellar wine, Saperavi leaves also reportedly have medicinal benefits. Ms Puglisi-Gangemi said they'd been engaged by a pharmaceutical company to use the vineyard to grow further plants.
Winemaker Dylan Rhymer is also owed plaudits for the winery's success.
"We wouldn't have the wine if it wasn't for him,” she said.
"Dylan's a very reserved winemaker and does what he does because he loves making wine.
"He's modest about the success and it's a great accolade to add to his list.”
The winery hopes to back up its success next year and Ms Puglisi-Gangemi is confident they can do even better. "I'm hoping the 2016 Saperavi, which we think is as good, if not better than the 2015, will see us win again.
"We've got another cracker sitting in the cellar waiting to be released.”