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SOME INTERESTING NEW VARIETALS AND BACK TO BACK GREAT VINTAGES HAVE GOT
HUNTER VALLEY WINEMAKERS EXCITED, AND RETAILERS SHOULD GET EXCITED TOO,
AS ANDREW GRAHAM REPORTS.
he Hunter Valley is on a roll.
Historically, Hunter winemakers do battle
with the weather gods every year as ill-timed
rain ruins far too many harvests.
But not in 2018. Or 2017, or 2014. In fact, the
region hasn’t lost a crop since 2012 – a true golden
run of vintages, leaving everyone smiling.
It’s not just the sun that has been shining either,
with visitor numbers up and Sydney trade sales on
But dig below the surface it’s not all smiles and
pallet orders for Hunter Valley winemakers, as there
are two key challenges to face – how to crack onto
more wine lists and expand sales outside NSW.
Right now though, there is enthusiasm a go-go.
If given one word to describe the 2018 vintage,
Andrew Thomas of Thomas Wines knows what it is,
“Outstanding,” he says.
One of the most outstanding things about the 2018
vintage was the weather. Or the lack of bad weather
more like it, with a growing season that was unusually
dry, with abnormally low humidity – both of which
meant healthy crops and minimal disease pressure.
This was anything but your normal Hunter vintage
though, with Jeff Byrne of Agnew Wines noting that
it was his shortest and earliest harvest in 20 years. Of
course, while Byrne thought it was odd to be picking
Shiraz in January, he’s “pretty excited about what’s in
the tank now”.
Actually, this was a year where the weather gods
played nice all round, as Gwyn Olsen of Pepper Tree
and Briar Ridge explains: “Vintage 2018 has been
pretty exceptional,” she said.
“While it was very dry, we escaped any serious heat
events this year when compared to last year. There were
many cool nights and mornings which allowed for great
acid retention and floral fruit notes. I wore a jumper the
morning we picked the Dairy Hill Semillon.”
Such perfect conditions meant that picking
decisions were made solely on ripeness, and fruit
came into the winery in perfect health.
For a reference point about where 2018 sits, many
believe it’s akin to 2007 – one of the more celebrated
red vintages of recent times.
Indeed Shiraz looks to be the early standout,
according to Chris Tyrrell of Tyrrell’s.
“I would say this vintage personally reminds me a
little bit of 2007, and a little bit of 2014,” he said.
“Whites above average and reds exceptional if I
had to grade them... Shiraz is very much like 2007;
incredible colour with great natural chemistry and
lower alcohols than 2014. They are going to be great,
(with) impeccable balance in the wines already even
at this early stage.”
The hero at Tyrrell’s is more unexpected though.
“Pinot Noir may be the best I have seen in my time
here, it all looks fantastic.”
Enthused Hunter winemakers are everywhere at
present, like Angus Vinden of Vinden Estate.
“The Hunter Valley has been experiencing an
amazing run with 2014, 2017 and 2018 all being
vintages of exceptional status. So far 2018 has been
praised by both growers and winemakers alike; we
are buzzing about the quality of these wines.”
Of course, there has to be a negative to the very
dry (only 150mm since Easter 2017) vintage, as
“The only real downside of this vintage was the
yields, with most vineyards slightly down.”
NOT JUST THE SAME OLD
SEMILLON AND SHIRAZ
If you’re looking for an example of what the fresh
face of the Hunter Valley looks like, then Vinden is
Since taking over his parents’ estate four years
ago, Vinden has branched out into a smorgasbord of
different varieties and reinventions of classic styles,
including a smart single vineyard Tempranillo; a
Pinot Noir Alicante Bouschet blend that is built to be
‘light, funky and delicious’ and an especially vibrant
That’s just the start of what’s to come for Vinden
too, with plantings of Gamay, Mourvèdre and
Cinsault in the pipeline.
Speaking of Gamay, it is a grape that is ‘so hot
right now’ in the Hunter, especially after the success
Tyrrell’s has had with the variety.
“The 2017 Gamay was incredibly well received
and we sold out in three weeks. I wish we could have
made more, this year is a similar volume however
we will be planting some here onsite to increase our
production in future years,” said Tyrrell.
Another alternative variety that has found traction
in the Hunter is Fiano, with a handful of makers
delivering some beautifully crisp and vital wines.
Briar Ridge has already found success with the grape,
but this year will be the first with both an estate Fiano
and an Albariño.
For The Little Wine Company, it has been a host
of Italian grapes that have delivered (plus their
benchmark Gewürztraminer), with the new 2016
Barbera and Sangiovese just freshly released, the 2016
Sangiovese already a trophy winner.
Over at Mount Pleasant, the alternate varieties
under the B-Side label have been hits too.
Originally conceived as a label for winemaker’s
experiments, the label has now morphed into one of
the more popular ranges at cellar door. Look out for
the new release of B-Side Tempranillo Touriga, Shiraz-
Montils and Fiano wines with a very exciting pair of
Italians in Sagrantino and Mencia to follow in 2020.
Briar Ridge Mount
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