I often think the patchwork nature, small holdings, and landscape of the Pokolbin and Broke Fordwich wine subregions is similar to Burgundy. Indeed there is a move afoot to get Heritage recognition for some of the old vineyards that have survived and given that we are a phylloxera free area these vines are unique growing on their own roots. In Burgundy, they have defined “Climats” which are precisely defined vineyard parcels on the slopes of the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune that over time have come to be recognized by the fine wines they produce.
Now the term Terroir has been central to the marketing of French wines and in the recognition of the place and people from whence they derive. In a similar way in the Hunter has a unique terroir that determines our wine styles. Semillon is the classic example of a wine that reflects the soils, climate, weather and long term experience in adaption and production. Our medium-bodied reds similarly reflect and have unmistakable characteristics that we call Hunter.
Terroir and the climats of Burgundy also include and reflect the cultural nature of the people behind the wines. The towns of Beaune and Dijon and villages along the way all influence the ethical and societal background that helps create and market their wines and the tourism that comes to enjoy their area.
As we come to recognize the importance of wine-tourism in the Hunter, a $500 million PA industry, the definition of Heritage vineyards or perhaps Heritage areas can only help to advance the industry as a whole.
Recently I attended the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s Ayres and Graces concert at the Singleton Mercy Convent Chapel “Sacred Spaces”. Since 1995 the sisters have opened the grounds, gardens, cloisters, and chapel of this mid-nineteenth century Hunter treasure to the public. The acoustics in the chapel are excellent and the orchestra playing on Period Baroque instruments gave a wonderful performance.
As I listened to the exquisite music from the English and French Baroque by composers that included Handel, Purcell, and Lully I recalled the famous story of how Louis XIV was encouraged to drink wine from Burgundy, in fact from Nuits St George. It was traditional for the court of Versailles to drink the wines of Champagne, not the sparkling we all know but simple reds and whites from the cooler northern climate of France. Bordeaux had been linked to England with the wine trade and only in 1653, was it annexed to the kingdom of France when the army of Louis XIV entered the city.
As he got older, Louis XIV the Sun King, who ruled with absolute power, developed many ailments and was cared for by his physician Doctor Guy-Crescent Fagon. Wine in those days was considered a beneficial substance that built up your health and was far safer than water to drink.
So Dr. Fagon suggested the stronger Nuits St George, known for its health benefits, as a pick me up and it worked. Such was the power of the King that the whole court started drinking the wines of Burgundy, the wine merchants were quick to latch onto the royal association - a great marketing coup. It’s said the king could often be heard calling “ bring me some Nuits”
Probably the only street in a winegrowing area to be named after a Doctor, Rue Fagon in Nuit St George even has a bottle shop!
As a result in Burgundy, the 18th Century ushered in the period of “téte de cuvée” of wines made solely from the best grapes produced in single vineyards. To add to the distinctiveness of these wines techniques such as extended maceration and longer fermentations entered into the list of winemaking skills.
There are some 1247 different Climats now delineated in Burgundy that reflect the geological, hydrographical and climatic characteristics as well as the accumulated experience of winemaking over the centuries. They reflect the relationship of local communities with the land and the appreciation that certain blocks produce exceptional wines.
Many parcels of land are small while others such as the Clos de Vougeot were walled off in times gone by. The Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin occupy the Clos de Vougeot in the Nuits St George regions their headquarters. The Sydney chapter has held regular meetings in Pokolbin over the years, recognizing the many aspects we have in common with Burgundy.
Our community located between Singleton and Cessnock and surrounds, is fortunate to also have the modern state-of-the-art Cessnock Performing Arts Centre which brings the town and vineyard dwellers together. While wine tourism is the main game there is no doubt a community also needs to come together with additional interests that can engage people and lift the spirits.
ADFAS Pokolbin one of 37 small societies in regional areas and the cities of Australia that provide an opportunity for those interested in Decorative and Fine Arts to come together. About eight times a year lectures on architecture, painting, fashion, jewelry and interesting characters are held with a great lineup of specially selected speakers both Australian and from overseas. We get over 100 people along from all over the Pokolbin and Broke vineyard areas and as far as Maitland, it provides stimulating insights and the party afterward is a good opportunity to discuss not only the lecture but the weather, the crops, the harvest and all manner of things.
While as a wine region many of us tend to concentrate on the vines and winemaking but in reality we are a mixed economy with tourism, entertainment, agriculture, mining and a whole range of related activities. For the winemakers and viticulturalists having a cluster of vineyards and wineries with supporting industries is important but also is the support in terms of schools and hospitals, local government.
There is a significant part of our community who have come from the cities and invested in winegrowing and now live in the area. Alongside the established hard working winegrowing community, we have this mix of experienced people keenly interested in wine and in supporting tourism who are bringing new life to the Pokolbin Broke-Fordwich areas. Having opportunities for the old and new to enjoy the arts through such events as provided in Singletons Sacred Spaces and the Cessnock Performing Arts Centre helps build a vibrant community.
We also have a relatively new group of people living in the vine growing areas at the Vintage, Kelman and Cypress Lakes. These people are becoming our ambassadors and engaging them through community activities is key to continued growth in our area. Flickerfest is another growing local event on Hermitage Road.
Of course Concerts, opera in the vines and such entertainments have become part of our wine-tourism industry along with weddings (not yet funerals). But the smaller events aimed at those who live and work here are important in defining who we are. The backdrop of the proposed Historical Vineyards in highlighting the importance of winegrape growing in the area is as the Climats do in Burgundy.
But both regions are outstanding examples of grape cultivation and wine production with long histories in their development, Burgundy going back to the middle ages. Both have mixed economies and today wine tourism plays a key role in their economies. Having a welcoming community with the skills to support all the activities and the interests to keep the “locals” engaged is key to our long term success.
Author: Robert Lusby AM
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