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Have we gone missing or what are we missing "The Next Big Wine Region"

Updated: Jan 9, 2021

BOB'S Hunter Centric Blog from AROUND HERMITAGE

I was a little surprised to read in the excellent Forbes magazine Laura Parker interview with Jo Thomas, of the Hunter Valley Wine Tourism Association, how little recognition there appeared to be in Laura’s view, of the Hunter Valley wine region within Australia. Laura Parker did, however, title the article “Australia’s Hunter Valley is the next Big Wine Region to Watch”.

We often take pride in our recognition in the UK but have we been doing enough to promote our region with increasing competition from newer regions as well as the old ones? Have we slipped under the radar that much?

Where the hell are you!!!

Have the big broad acre wines from South Australia, famous for their fortified wines in the nineteenth and early twentieth century and now big and bold and at times almost undrinkable reds taken over? Of course, our modern Australian export industry has been built on the reds of Barossa, Coonawarra and Great Western, etc. Shiraz is the most planted red varietal in Australia and its characteristics certainly reflect the place from where it comes. Big, bold and in your face! Great for BBQ’s but also many outstanding wines that will go on forever. Not to detract from these OTT wines but time to discover a more approachable alternative.

While the other regions were into Port and Sherry The Hunter was pioneering the production of fine table wines with elegance and character, producers such as Lindeman, Wyndham, Kelman, O’Shea, Mount Pleasant, Tyrrell and Lake all sought to make wines to entice the palate. Will all this effort be lost?

Now we often think the Australian wine industry is fairly young but in fact, it traverses four centuries from the late 1700s onwards, and the Hunter has been involved in wine production from the 1820s. In that time the European wineries adopted the new technology of cork closure which enabled aging of wines and of course, the vineyards were wiped out in the late 19th century by the Phylloxera infestation. So we grew up in unison with the rebirth of the European wine industry and in an age of scientific inquiry, we were quick to engage.

Jo Thomas also pointed out The Hunter accounted for only 2% of Australia’s wine production yet Burgundy only produces 4% of French wine production so size doesn’t count it’s the quality, style, and reputation that makes the difference.

A key element of the European wine industry is the community that exists around the making of wine and the traditions that had developed over centuries. When you travel to Burgundy or Tuscany for that matter, you cannot miss the strong sense of community and pride in their products. This, of course, magnifies the enjoyment and helps promote the wines and experience. Wines can be a statement of people and place and good wines especially so.

We have a strong and now diverse community in the Hunter. Not only centered on wine but also tourism-a growing part of our market. Recently Chris Bray organized a fundraising “Bubbles and Brunch”

Guests at the Bubbles and Brunch

at Peter Draytons on Hermitage Road and over 100 “Locals” raised in excess of $8000 for the Cancer Council. A great example of our ability to work together.

We have a community that comes together for wine shows, diverse promotions and more general supportive events such as ADFAS meetings and Sacred Places events. The friendly reception of guests in Cellar Doors, restaurants and accommodation venues reflects a community in harmony. All of this is important to create an appropriate image for our region. At the end of the day, it rubs of on our visitors and customers in a positive way.

I often compare the Hunter to Burgundy because of the dominance of small, mainly family-owned holdings- not broad acre vineyards such as Bordeaux or the Barossa- and also the importance of Terroir to good winemaking and to the characters of wine in both areas. Today we should also recognize the role of tourism as being important to both regions. There are some 130 wine producers and more than double that number of businesses with wine tourism-related interests in the Hunter!

While we both have hot summers and the challenges of rains, hail and sporadic storm around harvest. We have evolved well suited viticultural practices but it is the delineation of exceptional vineyards which have emerged over time that really stands out in both regions. This is emerging as an important point of difference and a means of creating new interest in the Hunter.

It was the Cistercian monks (those of Clos de Vougeot fame) who first noticed that different plots produced consistently good wines while others did not, recognizing the importance of Terroir to winemaking. Today it is central to the marketing of Burgundy wines. The individual “Climats” as the plots of land were called were recognized for the quality of grapes produced, there are some 1247 such plots!

Over time it also became obvious that certain varieties were admirably suited to the region so Pinot Noir became the Red of Burgundy. In a similar way, Semillon through experience became a natural white variety for the Hunter. Indeed at the high end of quality, these wines can be seen as vehicles for expressing the character or terroir of the blocks in which they are grown. Vineyards clustered around the Rothbury Creek, for instance, tend to produce outstanding Semillon.

Through experience here in the Hunter, the winemakers know which blocks produce the best fruit and actively seek out parcels for their wineries. However, this is a word of mouth thing without any formal classification. There is currently an initiative to delineate those blocks with old vines, some over 100 yrs with their roots longingly clinging to the Hunter soil and cared for by generations of grape growers.

The Burgundian Duke Philip the Bold in the thirteen hundreds, encouraged the sole production of Pinot Noir, banning the “vile Gamay” a high yielding, low-quality grape. He also banned organic fertilizers to reduce high yields which reduced the quality of the wines.