Brangayne, the property, first came into the hands of the Hoskins family back in the 1930s. For sixty years Edgar and Winsome Hoskins – and later Don and Pamela Hoskins – farmed this plot, growing fruit such as apples, pears, peaches and cherries. Then, in 1994, they boldly replanted with grapevines, ripping up the fruit trees as part of a long-term strategy for a sustainable future, eventually turning it over to son David Hoskins.
That story of apples to grapes is not unique in the history of Orange, with much of the top vineyard land now sitting in spots that were once orchards, the highly prized volcanic soils found on the slopes of Mt Canobolas now as celebrated for growing grapes as they once were apples and stonefruit.
You can see the legacy of this change in the shape of the winery buildings too, with the likes of Ross Hill, Philip Shaw and more all using the old apple sheds as wineries – those old, heavy insulated sheds work quite nicely (save for the lack of drainage) to help keep wine at the right temperature.
For the Hoskins family it was a risky move at the time, but in hindsight a smart one (though there are still plenty of orchards dotted around the hill), particularly given the intense competition from cheap imported fruit…
What I never realised about the Hoskins family is that they are important growers, not just wine producers, with their vineyards producing 250 tonnes of fruit and only 50 tonnes kept for the Brangayne label.
Like many local producers, the Hoskins have two properties given over to vine in rather different parts of Orange, with the cellar door located on the original Brangayne vineyard sitting at circa 970-1000m altitude on the slopes of Canobolas and planted to Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The second Ynys Witrin vineyard lies at 860-880m on the western side of Orange (closer to Philip Shaw’s vineyard), with that plot planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Riesling.
This policy of having two different properties allows for diversity within the Brangayne range, helpfully explaining why their Cabernet Shiraz blend didn’t taste like some of the bonier examples grown on the side of Mt Canobolas.
One key thing to note here is that the Hoskins are grapegrowers, not winemakers, with the production taken care of by numerous makers around Orange and Mudgee over the years – and Simon Gilbert the most recent contract maker.
The only drawback of this arrangement is some variability in the wines, a tradeoff that is unfortunately bound to happen when you give away a little control.
Still, I don’t want to besmirch what the Hoskins do, as the wines are sound and the vineyard is beautiful. You can’t see it that well in the photo above but the original Brangayne vineyard was awfully green even when the rest of Orange was brown. An oasis, perfect for cool climate viticulture. Heck, there was still (delicious tasting) Chardonnay on the vine up there, even though most vignerons were either already finished bringing their fruit in or where just waiting for late-ripening reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
When I visited, we were lucky to have David Hoskins on hand to show us around, with his forthright honesty more than welcome. No bullshit there, just honest comment from someone who spends his days in the vineyard.
One interesting tidbit that David offered was that he is seeing a slowdown in Sauvignon Blanc demand. Huon picked on some stats the other week that suggest that Sauv Blanc is flatlining, and it seemed this trend is echoed in Orange, and I can’t say that I had much interesting Orange Sauv at all while I was up there. Graft it over to Chardonnay!
Anyway, David is very excited about the ’15 vintage in particular, describing it ‘as one the best years we’ve had around here for some time’ and his 2015 Brangayne Pinot Grigio – one of the few Orange Grigio that I’ve spotted – is varietal at the least, if just a bit uneven.
The Brangayne star wine has to be the beautiful 2013 Brangayne Isolde Reserve Chardonnay, which is showing some dominant biscuity oak for now, but with the most perfectly formed palate to ensure it will be a stunner in a year or town. Just to back up that sentiment, a 2002 Brangayne Isolde Reserve Chardonnay that David pulled from the cellar looked awfully youthful, even if it was showing some weird mothball and honey development that I didn’t love (but everyone else did. Patrick Haddock also came on this trip and bloody loved it).
While the Chardonnay dazzled, I was less keen on the 2013 Brangayne Pinot Noir, which looked just a little ferrous, beefy and chunky for massive love (some ’13 Orange reds are like that).
In contrast, the 2013 Brangayne Tristan – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot – looked anything but chunky, instead hiding its flavour in a sullen and closed personality with only a little mint to show for it. Once again, just to emphasise the need for age with these wines, the 2009 Brangayne Tristan was a wonderful, elegant and spicy wine, with a character that is fine and quite pretty. Sort of like a Yarra Cab blend ala Mount Mary, but with more mint, acid and berries. Lovely wine!
Ultimately this was a visit where you appreciate the value of a good site. Just to see the health of those vines, the green, lusciousness of the property, was a realisation that you could – and the Hoskins have – make beautiful wine from this plot of vines.
Now they just need to get cracking on grafting over the Chardonnay…