Hunter Valley Wine Industry Association: www.winehuntervalley.com.au
The area fell into depression for many years, but gradually made a comeback in the 1950s and early 1960s spearheaded by Maurice O'Shea and Murray Tyrrell, two of Australia's most famous red wine makers at Mt. Pleasant and Tyrell's respectively. Lake's Folly became Australia's first weekend boutique winery in the 1963 and began wine tourism. Rothbury Estate, which opened in 1968 distributed its wine through its club, an unusual marketing practice at the time. The Hunter Valley has played a major role in the development of the corporate and boutique models of wine industry.
Today the region is still booming, at least in wine tourism terms. The Hunter Valley is rightly world famous for its Semillon (previously known under the misleading name, Hunter Riesling). The classic Hunter Semillon is for a gentle lemon and dried herb wine in its youth that develops into a rich and complex toasty wine with a decade of cellaring.
Shiraz is the Hunter's premium red variety and tends to be medium bodied with a regional leatheriness. When young it can be spiky and awkward but with 20 years cellaring it can develop great velvety complexity that will reward the handful of wine-lovers with enormous patience.
Sadly the impatience of 99% of wine drinkers who don't cellar wines for long term means that the best of the Hunter Valley is pushed aside for wine styles from other regions that are ready to drink straight away. Many of the more tourist focussed Hunter producers are producing a softer drink now style aimed at the booming restaurant trade.
A group of the best new Hunter Valley producers (such as Thomas, Meerea Park, David Hook, De Iuulius, Mistletoe are collaborating in the 'Hunter Valley - The Next Generation' project to bring the focus back on the the region's contemporary premium wines including single vineyard Shiraz and Semillon releases.
Other successful varieties in the region include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Verdelho.
The region still has many corporate large players as well as many small boutique wineries. There is a large concentration of wineries in Polkolbin which is also a major tourist destination.
Festivals such as Hunter Valley Harvest Festival, Budfest and Jazz in the Vines have fuelled enormous interest in the region that serves the very large population between Sydney to Newcastle.
The recently opened Vintage Hunter Wine and Visitors' Centre is also serving the industry as well as tourism by profiling the regions facilities and providing accommodation booking services. top
Hunter Valley region
In historical terms the Hunter Valley was Australia's first major wine region, notwithstanding the unsuccessful 18th century efforts in the Sydney basin.
The capital of the Hunter is Newcastle with many significant towns within the region, including Cessnock, Maitland, Singleton, Muswellbrook, Scone and Murrurundi. The region is unofficially divided into the Lower Hunter and Upper Hunter Valley with one official sub-region Broke Fordwich. The greatest concentration of vineyards is in the Lower Hunter between Cessnock and Branxton.
The main topographical features are the alluvial flats of the gently undulating valleys and the impressive Brokenback Ranges. The region is fed by the Goulburn, Hunter, Paterson and Williams rivers. The region has a hot, humid summer and cool winter. The Hunter Valley's fertile river flats and its close proximity to the first colony at Sydney Cove led to its development as an agricultural region in the early 1800s. Most of the rain falls in the growing season and during the harvest which can cause problems with fungus and rot.
Not surprisingly the region's pioneers have created several lasting legacies for the industry. James Busby, the man credited with establishing the first serious collection of grapes vine varieties in Australia, was associated with the Hunter Valley through his brother-in-law William Kelman. Kelman is thought to have been the first to plant vines in the Hunter.
George Wyndham was another pioneer who planted grapes in 1832. Penfolds bought the property in 1904 naming it Wyndham Estate (the brand survives today in the retail chains). Dr Henry Lindeman purchased land around Raymond Terrace in the 1830s (and is celebrated by another widespread retail brand although the original Ben Ean winery has long ceased production). The fourth pioneer with an on-going legacy to the contemporary industry was Charles King whose Mt. Pleasant vineyard passed onto O'Shea family and survives today.
More vineyards were planted after the Great War under the soldier settler scheme but mainly succumbed to the economic disaster of the Great Depression. However, larger vineyards such as Tullochs, Elliotts and Wyndham Estate bought the financially crippled soldier lots enabling the larger corporate vineyards to remain productive and supply wineries outside the region.