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20Q: John Hughes, Rieslingfreak

Despite his Rieslingfreak label reaching cult-like status, John Hughes remains incredibly down to earth. Since 2009, Hughes has drawn fruit from some of the finest vineyards throughout both the Clare and Eden Valleys, handcrafting as many as six different expressions of Riesling in some years.

A perennial favourite of ours is the Mosel-like ‘No.5’, and if Thai, Vietnamese or Malaysian food happens to be on your radar, we strongly encourage you to have a bottle on standby. We recently caught up with John to find out what makes him tick…


1. What do you do for a living?

Winemaker and owner of Rieslingfreak. So, responsible for the winemaking, packaging, marketing and promotions of the brand.

2. Describe Rieslingfreak in a sentence.

Rieslingfreak is all about embracing the Riesling variety and showcasing the diversity of the Riesling grape.

3. Tell us about the 2016 Rieslingfreak ‘No.5’ Riesling. What should we be eating with it?

Rieslingfreak ‘No.5’ is an off-dry style, with 13g/L sugar. The grapes are harvested from the family property, situated north of Clare, in a sub-region called White Hutt. I have always enjoyed the sweet German wines and have always wanted to try and create these styles in Australia. I suppose with the ‘No.5’ that I am aiming for the German halbtrocken style. The wine can really be consumed at any time. I call it my ‘Sunday afternoon wine’: you open a bottle at midday, and by 5 or 6 o’clock there are normally a few empty bottles hanging around. Other than that, the wine complements the flavours of many Asian dishes.

4. How did you come to be in wine?

The family has had vineyards in the Clare Valley for the past 35 years. Being surrounded by great vines and wines, I was very much inspired to pursue a career in the wine industry.

5. What skill do you possess that nobody knows you have?

Carpentry. I love picking up a piece of wood and having a go at making something from it. I fall in love over any old piece of red gum or hard wood.

6. What do you miss most about being a kid?

Having no responsibility! Being an adult can really suck sometimes. The idea of going back to childhood and having food cooked for you, clothes cleaned and no financials to worry about sounds good sometimes!

7. Do you have a nickname?

Hughesy! I suppose it is obvious where this name comes from!!

8. The biggest myth surrounding wine is…

It needs to be consumed with food. Wine is a beverage that can be consumed anywhere anytime. A cold Riesling after work, or glass of bubbles as a celebration, or a glass or red just because! Food is not required if you have a good wine in hand!

9. What’s your knock off drink of choice?

Lord Nelson ‘Three Sheets Pale Ale’. This beer is made by a small company in Sydney, and they are doing a super-awesome job. Definitely worth a visit, should you be at the Rocks in Sydney anytime!

10. What’s your favourite sound?

A Champagne cork popping. Always a great start to any dinner party.

11. The most underrated grape variety on the planet is…

Riesling! Many people have the perception that Riesling is sweet. This goes back to the 70s and 80s where Riesling was made sweet, and Riesling was often seen as a style, and not a variety. The vast majority of Australian Rieslings are dry, and we really need to find a way to educate the consumer.

12. Where do you find inspiration?

Attending tastings where Riesling is represented. I have just come back from the Riesling Rendezvous in the US. Being around Riesling and winemakers for a number of days inspires me to go further with the Riesling grape. Being such a diverse grape, it is inspiring to see how other winemakers are experimenting with it, and the styles that they are making.

13. If you weren’t making wine, what would you be doing?

Schoolteacher. I love working with children, and watching them develop with your influence.

14. What would your superpower be?

Weatheristic. The ability to look into the future, and being able to change weather as needed. Imagine that, being able to control the weather… perfect harvest conditions each year, producing the perfect wines vintage after vintage after vintage.

15. What song do you never want to hear in the winery again?

Anything by Justin Bieber or One Direction!

16. What’s so special about your neck of the woods?

The strength one gains from being around so many young and diverse winemakers. I am based both in the Clare and Barossa Valleys, and the winemakers are forever sharing information and ideas. When we travel, we often consume and promote each other’s wines, which I see as a real strength in any winemaking community.

17. Whose wines should we be checking out?

Mac Forbes is making some diverse and interesting Riesling. Dönnhoff from Germany have some spectacular Rieslings, especially the 2012 ‘Oberhauser Brücke’ Riesling Auslese. I have just tasted this wine, and fallen in love – a sweet Riesling, which is well balanced, delicate, vibrant and designed to cellar for many decades.

18. The best way to spend a Sunday is…

A crusty loaf of bread, a heap of different cheeses and your favourite bottles of wine.

19. Got any guilty pleasures?


20. Johnny Cash OR Johnny Rotten?

Johnny Cash! Give me the country any day!


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We definitely recommend giving John’s 2016 Rieslingfreak ‘No. 5’ a try, and you can pick yourself up a bottle in our latest pack, 12 Under 20: Vol 2!