The Hunter Valley is back.
After years as some sort of vinous backwater (or at least it was generally conceived to be one for some time), the Hunter is producing fine, attention garnering wines once again. And I put the blame squarely on Tyrrells.
Tyrrells, one of Australia’s oldest family run wineries, are arguably the most important wine producers in the Hunter Valley, with the largest production (along with Mcwilliams) of any single maker in the region. To get a sense of their resources, drive up the Broke Road to the Tyrrells front gate and look around you. Every row of vinous stock within sight either belongs to, or is contracted to, Tyrrells. What’s more, Tyrrells have also got dibs on some of the best fruit coming out of the Hunter in general. Look only at the old Stevens vineyard, source of arguably the finest Shiraz (and Semillon) grapes in the region, the fruit shared between some of the most respected names in the region, much of it going to Tyrrells.
But beyond just volume, it has been the somewhat prophetic message of single vineyard wine production that has had the most influence. Suitably, the first single vineyard wine Tyrrells released was a Stevens wine, sourced from the 1993 vintage – that was 1997, and since then the range of single vineyard wines has burgeoned, with every year bringing new, interesting single vineyard Tyrrells releases (like the Canberra wine below). Mcwilliams has also led the push to single vineyard releases, although with a slightly more narrow focus.
What this has ultimately done is to highlight the fantastic, underrated terroir and vineyard resources that the Hunter has to offer, a fact overlooked (or perhaps just unrealised) by so many wine drinkers. It has meant that the emphasis of the Hunter Valley has (smartly) focused back on what it does best – old vine Semillon, Shiraz (and occasionally Chardonnay).
The result has been both more interesting, terroir driven, high quality wines for us to drink, coupled with a silent, even more beneficial purpose – encouraging more Hunter makers to celebrate their great vineyard resources with high quality single vineyard bottlings.
To witness this first hand, pop into a few established Hunter vignerons whilst you are up at Tyrrells, and check out the proliferation of premium, largely single vineyard releases, each and every one of them serving to highlight Hunter terroir, whilst also driving up quality of regional expression. Even the average examples are a monumental step forward from the sweaty, heavily sulphured wines of yore.
Besides Tyrrells, although firmly backed by them, the other driving influence to rising wine quality is the Hunter Valley Vineyard Association (HVVA). A pertinent example of a well organised regional wine industry body, the HVVA has been credited with raising the profile of the region and also by bringing the occasionally fragmented community together. If politics doesn’t get in the way, it is these sort of industry bodies that can drive the success of an entire wine region. For clues as to why the HVVA has worked, just look at the high calibre committee (here).
Finally, the last reason why the Hunter Valley is back on form comes down to winemaking talent. The new generation of Eather, Thomas & Iuliius have all hit the scenes in a flurry of brilliance, coupled with the continuing high standards of Spinaze, Margan, Riggs & Ryan, not to mention the reinvigorated Tulloch, now back in very competent family hands. It all results in a gaggle of smart makers, all with an eye firmly on the future, all making wines that pay homage to the classic Hunter Valley wine styles. (I’ve probably left out a few great names too).
It’s a great time to be drinking Hunter wine…
I’ll be publishing the notes from a few new Hunter wines tasted recently (once the notes make it from notebook scrawl to online) that really inspired this Hunter love. Two wines in particular, a Tyrrells Shiraz and a Thomas Semillon, were some of the most impressive wines I have tasted this year…