I spent three days in the Hunter Valley wine region of Australia in July. Located 1½ hours’ drive north of Sydney in New South Wales, the region is considered the birthplace of Australian wine. The Aboriginals were the first to occupy the area. European settlers arrived in 1797 and the first road between Sydney and Newcastle was built by convicts between1826 and1836.
The first vines were planted in the early 1800s. By 1823, some 20 acres of vineyards had been planted on the northern banks of the Hunter River. After an extensive study tour of Europe’s wine growing regions Viticulturalist James Busby arrived back with a collection of some 500 vine cuttings drawn from collections and private plantings. By 1840 the Hunter Valley’s registered vineyard area exceeded 500 acres. In the latter part of the 19th century four families established vineyards in the area; the Tyrrell, Tulloch, Wilkinson and Drayton families, alongside the well-known Dr Henry Lindeman.
The area which is divided into six sub-regions: Broke Fordwich, Lovedale, Mount View, Pokolbin, Upper Hunter and Wollombi Valley, and covers almost 9,692 square miles. Production in Hunter Valley is only 3% of total Australian wine production. It is the warmest wine producing region in Australia.
Over 150 wineries produce a wide array of exceptional wines and are renowned for producing some of the world's best and most distinctive styles of Semillon, Shiraz and Chardonnay, which are the hallmark of this region. Other varieties grown include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Verdelho.
We visited seven “Cellar Doors” as they are referred to there. My favorite wines came from Tyrrells, a fifth-generation winery celebrating 160 years. Each generation has made its own mark on the business, which was originally started by Edward Tyrell, an English immigrant who purchased 320 acres at the foot of Brokenback Range in 1858. Decades later Murray Tyrell would make his mark and is credited as the father of wine tourism as he started the work to bring people to the Hunter in the very early 1960s. Today, Bruce Tyrell (mid-60s) feels his contribution is the development of the Semillon varietal wines.
- Joyce Watson, IvP Wine Director