Ken and Judith started the vineyard, winery and cellar door in 1973 and have built it into one of the leading wineries in the Canberra District.
It continues to be a family affair with all of the family (including recent additions) playing an integral part in the business.
Matthew Helm (son) trained as a chef at the Hyatt in Canberra and has worked in: Gleneagles Scotland; Kempinski Hotel in Munich Germany; Bathers Pavilion Balmoral Sydney; Oberoi on the Red Sea Egypt; Rayavadee Resort Thailand and Raffles Singapore. He is currently working at Galaxy Casino in Macau, where he lives with his young family. Matthew consults on food and wine matching for Helm Wines.
Stephanie Helm (daughter) started making wine when she was nine years old at Helm Wines. She was running her own winery at The Vintner’s Daughter vineyard alongside her husband, Ben Osbourne, before she turned 30. The Vintner’s Daughter is an award winning winery 15 minutes as the crow flies from Helm Wines.
Natalie Helm (daughter) is a public relations consultant. She provides marketing and public relations advice to Helm Wines and assists at vintage and peak periods at the cellar door.
We look forward to welcoming you at the cellar door.
Handcrafted wines for nearly half a century
The winemakers are Ken Helm AM and Rory Shingles. Ken is a fourth and fifth generation descendant of German vinedressers from the Rhineland, who established vineyards near Albury and Rutherglen in the 1860s.
A blending of food, wine and politics
Methodist temperance ladies used to meet and swear abstinence in what is now the Helm Wines tasting room.
“The Canberra District might produce less than 1% of Australia’s wine but it’s the second most important wine region in NSW, and it’s all based on the quality of the wines.” – Ken Helm
The Methodist Temperance Ladies would be horrified if they came back and saw the thriving wine industry that’s grown up in their neighbourhood. The Helm tasting room is a former schoolhouse, a tiny wooden structure accommodating a maximum 20 pupils, built in 1888, which operated as Toual Public School till 1940. Its bell features on the Helm label.
The Methodist attitude also permeated the farmers of the district, who were famous for their fine wool and resisted the wine industry in its infancy.
“Newcomers were not welcome,” says Helm. “The Yass Shire wasn’t keen to have wineries. They’d say ‘This is the fine wool hub of the world!’ They wouldn’t even let us put signs on the roadside.”
Fine wool to fine wine.
“Today,” says the 76-year-old stalwart of the Canberra District wine industry, “wine is the most important industry in the Yass Shire. It employs more people and generates more income than anything else. It’s come a long way in a short time. The Canberra District might produce less than 1% of Australia’s wine but it’s the second most important wine region in NSW, and it’s all based on the quality of the wines.”
At Helm wines we like to make a number of different styles of Riesling. We let the vineyard dictate the terms, but the drier styles are the ones that Ken enjoys, and he thinks that’s what the community likes to drink. They work beautifully with crustaceans and shellfish when they’re young and then as they continue to get older of course, you can move right through to schnitzel and pork like they do in Germany.
Trumpeting the district's reputation
A quarter of a century of wine making and promoting, together with pioneering the development of Canberra Region wine styles has been a passion for Ken Helm. He has been involved in the development of the National Wine Show, Cool Climate Wine Show, Wine Press Club of Canberra and in numerous promotional events for the Canberra region. He served for 12 years on Yass Shire Council and 2 years as Mayor (1985 – 1999). From 1988 to 2000 Ken was involved in local and federal politics, lobbying for the wine industry.
In 1999, the NSW Government awarded Ken the Graham Gregory Trophy for a major contribution to the NSW Wine Industry. He instigated the International Riesling Challenge held at the Hyatt in Canberra in 2000 and was awarded the Wolf Blass Award in 2006 for contribution to the promotion of Riesling.
Ken’s flagship wines are Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon. He has connections with Riesling makers from all over the world, developed over the years with trips to the vineyards and wineries of Mosel, the Rhine valley and Bordeaux, providing new inspiration and contributing to the development of his wines.
In 2000 Ken instigated the Canberra International Riesling Challenge and his role as Chairman for 18 years and continuing role as a Board member, allows him to constantly keep abreast of new developments in Rieslings around the world.
Escape to Helm Wines for an experience of wine, history, politics and good fun
Helm Wines is more than just a working winery. A visit to Helm Wines involves wine tasting in the historic 100 year old Toual School House, which inspired the use of the school bell on our label. A tasting with Ken may also involve discussing wine, politics and history trivia or perhaps a look behind the scenes on a guided tour of wine making and viticulture. Helm Wines hopes that your visit is not only enjoyable but also educational. At Helm Wines, we believe that “visitors should be treated to not only a good wine, but also to experience the art of wine making”.
An inexpensive family day out, the grounds of Helm Wines offers great potential for a picnic, with picturesque rural scenery and the chance of seeing many native birds and wildlife such as kangaroos, wallabies, hares and shy resident echidna.
Australia Day Honours
In the 2010 Australia Day Honours, Ken was awarded a Member of the Order (AM) for service to the Australian wine industry as a winemaker, through the promotion of the Riesling white grape variety and as a supporter of cool climate wine producers, and to the community of the Canberra/Yass region.