‘From grape to glass’ to quote Pup Neeley as she summed up winemaker James Lusby’s description of the importance of the vineyard in making exceptional wines. In the run-up to our Around Hermitage First Release Wine Week, we have been conducting interviews and making short video’s with the men and women involved with the dozen vineyards found in our part of Pokolbin who are taking part in this event. Some great stories and lot’s of personal effort lies behind these blocks of vines in what is Australia’s oldest wine region. The one thing that unites this diverse group of individuals is their passion for wine along with their appreciation of the terroir and the history of the Hunter Valley. There is no doubt that over the years the Pokolbin vineyard area has come up with some outstanding patches of ground–the combination of soil type, the aspect in relation to sunlight exposure, and importantly beyond the general climatic cover, some special individual microclimates. But such is the capricious nature of vineyard areas, there can be variations in quality in blocks only a few hundred meters apart or even within a given block of vines.
This observation was made by James Busby back in the 1830’s when visiting famous Shiraz vineyard on the Hill of Hermitage in France. The 300 acres on the hill produced wines of varying quality. ‘The lower part is too rich to yield the best quality, and near the top is too cold to bring its produce to perfect maturity’. ‘Even the middle region, the whole extent does not produce the finest wines’. Busby noted a belt of calcareous soil crossing the hill enhanced the middle region. M. Machon who owned the property said ‘it required the grapes of the different soils to be mixed in order to produce the finest quality of Hermitage (Shiraz). So while externally the surrounding land seemed similar without the calcareous soil underneath the wines produced were of only half the value. This observation is relevant to the Pokolbin subregion as it has a variable geological and soil mix and within some parts such as near the Belford Dome of Lime the quality of the red wines is enhanced. At the northern end of Pokolbin, the ancient geological Belford Dome of Limestone exerts its influence. Many dams put in along Hermitage and Old North Road have leaked due to the drainage through the porous limestone deposits. Red clay soils over the limestone is a feature of the area and often digging down a meter or two will reveal deposits of limestone and indeed clumps of fossilized sea shells.
Also, our famous Hunter Semillons often come from the creek bed soils, sandy loams over deeper clay beds, such as along the Rothbury and Jumpup creek tributaries. So in our area, there is a patchwork of soils that are more suitable to reds and other patches suitable to white wines. Local knowledge and experience have always played a role in vineyard selection in the great vineyard areas of the world and here in Pokolbin, it is the case also! So, getting back to our First Release Wine Week, the vineyards centred around Hermitage, Deasys, Old North Roads and Sweetwater are getting together for a new initiative in November- the 1st release their Premiere wines. It’s that time of the year when the white wines of the 2018 vintage have been bottled and the reds of the 2017 vintage have been aged in oak sufficiently to also be bottled and free up the barrels for 2019. The vagaries of the geology and microclimates Around Hermitage produce wines of different styles so among the twelve wineries and cellar doors there is a lot to choose from. This is a unique opportunity to experience in a relatively small area a great variety of single vineyard wines that reflect both the terroir and the human input that makes great wines. Every cellar door has a story to tell, and they all exhibit multiple awards reflecting the excellence of their wines. This unique part of Pokolbin includes soils from some of the most famous Semillon vineyards along the Rothbury Creek and Jump Up Creeks and their tributaries. Some on tasting include the Braemore Thomas Semillon, the Tintilla Angus Semillon both from Rothbury Creek soils. The Misty Glen Semillon from Mary Anne’s Creek and Theleme Black Farm Semillon from Black Creek. Ridgeview in Sweetwater is releasing its Pinot Gris and there are Chardonnay’s on hand to try as well! (after all the HVD block on Hermitage Road was the source of Murray Tyrrell’s original bottling of Chardonnay back in the late 60’s early 70’s) note some Chardonnay will still be in barrels at this time but prior bottlings will be available. The influence of the Belford Dome of Limestone has enabled some outstanding Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet wines to be produced Around Hermitage. Degan Estate is releasing its award-winning 2017 Shiraz and Hunters Dream its Cabernet, Macquariedale vineyard has a unique “Nothing but Grape” organic 2018 Shiraz. Andrew Thomas is releasing his Sweetwater Shiraz, Tintilla Estate has it’s 2017 James Cabernet Merlot available. Wombat Crossing and Tintilla Estate are releasing trophy winning Shiraz from the famous 2014 vintage-wines exhibiting outstanding flavours and ageing characteristics. Two of the oldest growers of Sangiovese in the Hunter, Tintilla and Belebula, with vines now around 25 years old will be releasing their wines-Tintilla Saphira Sangiovese 2017 and the Pokolbin Estate 2017 Sangiovese. This is a somewhat unique cluster of wineries centred around the Belford Dome and fringed by the Semillon loving creek beds sourcing their grapes locally, truly reflecting the Hunter terroir, its history and the people. If you want to enjoy “The Good Life” the topography of this area is amazing, journey around Hermitage and Deasys Roads and take in the views from Old North Road and Sweetwater.
Breath in the atmosphere and see how the break in the Great Dividing Range extends across rolling hills to the Barrington Tops. The unique ability of this natural gap in the mountain range to draw in the cool sea air modifies the temperature adding to the complexity of the Pokolbin wines. Views that rival the best in Burgundy or Tuscany with vineyards and olive groves plus our own Australian outback character. Make a long weekend of it and stay at one of the delightful boutique guest houses, book lunch or dinner at one of our highly rated restaurants.
Importantly stop off and taste the new releases, talk to the winemakers and their families, and enjoy the fruits of their labours.
A unique week of premiere 1st releases not to be missed.
For more information on the 1st Release Wine Week see aroundhermitage.com.au
I have used the following in preparing this blog;
James Busby: Journal of a Tour through some of the Vineyards of Spain and France 1833 Stephens and Stokes Sydney
Author: Robert Lusby AM ©Around Hermitage Association