WINE:  Mining giant’s grapes turn into a gem  

I DESPAIR at the way mining and coal-seam gas projects have swallowed up choice Upper Hunter vineyards but last week a lovely, elegant white wine lifted some of my gloom.

The 2012 Little Gem Chardonnay, reviewed today, is made from grapes grown on what was the iconic Roxburgh vineyard, between Denman and Muswellbrook.

The Little Wine Company winemaker, Suzanne Little, who worked at Rosemount and made the Roxburgh chardonnays in the 1990s, created the 2012 Little Gem from grapes bought from international mining giant BHP Billiton.

She told me last week that Roxburgh was a ‘‘beautiful piece of dirt’’ and she was delighted that, in again working with Roxburgh grapes, her winemaking career had come full circle.

BHP Billiton bought the 369 hectare property and its 173 hectares of vines, but not the Roxburgh brand name, from the Foster’s Group in October, 2009.

It made the purchase for an undisclosed sum so the property could serve as part of a buffer zone between the existing Mount Arthur North coalmine and Denman Road.

BHP Billiton said at the time it had no plans to mine on Roxburgh and would operate the vineyard and sell the grapes it produced ‘‘on commercial terms’’.

A spokeswoman for BHP Billiton told me that even if the company wanted to mine at some time in the future, it would need to go through the stringent governmental approval processes.

Grapes have been produced from Roxburgh, now known as Ogilvie View, each vintage since BHP Billiton took over and buyers have included Suzanne Little and her winemaker husband Ian, and the Scarborough family wine company.

The Roxburgh vineyard was established in 1969 by the now-defunct Denman Estate wine company, which sold the property to Rosemount in 1977.

Rosemount, then owned by multimillionaire yachtsman Bob Oatley and his family, turned the purchase to gold as Roxburgh chardonnays collected a host of show trophies and gold medals, including winning the 2000 Prix d’Excellence at one of France’s premier wine competitions, the 2000 Challenge International du Vin in Bordeaux.

As Suzanne Little says, Roxburgh is a heritage vineyard, so here’s hoping BHP Billiton will continue to act as a good custodian and produce the sort of grapes that made Australian chardonnay world-famous.

Free festive tastings

TO assist customers in selecting wines for the festive season, the First Choice Liquor stores at Kotara and Glendale are holding free tastings on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Friday sessions are from 4pm to 7pm and the Saturday sessions from 2pm to 6pm.

Wines in the tastings include the McGuigan Classic Sauvignon Blanc, the Cattier Non-Vintage Champagne, the Pewsey Vale 2011 Riesling and the Grant Burge Non-Vintage Blanc de Blancs.

New assistant winemaker

RICHARD Done, who had worked at the Scarborough winery, has taken over as assistant winemaker at Andrew Thomas Wines.

He succeeds Phil Le Messurier in the post of working alongside Andrew Thomas.

Andrew says he was sorry to lose Phil, who had played a major role in the quality and success of Thomas wines over the past six years.

Phil was a finalist in the Hunter Valley Wine Awards Rising Star judging and, in 2009, won the inaugural Alasdair Sutherland Scholarship, which honours the memory of one of the Hunter Valley’s most admired and respected winemakers, Alasdair Sutherland.

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