Wine | John Quayle's grape game plan | John Lewis

DYNAMIC DUO: John and Diane Quayle at their Winbirra Estate property at Denman.
DYNAMIC DUO: John and Diane Quayle at their Winbirra Estate property at Denman.

JOHN Quayle, yes most of us know him as a rugby league Kangaroo, an ace Eastern Suburbs and Parramatta backrower, a reforming general manager of the NSWRL and an influential Newcastle Knights director – but what about a Hunter vigneron, olive-grower and Angus cattle grazier?

That little-known current aspect of the lives of John, 70, and his wife Diane comes into focus with the release this month of the classy Cloud Cloaked 2017 Winds of Change Hunter Chardonnay reviewed below.

It’s a wine made from John and Diane’s grapes by the Cellarmasters arm of Woolworths’ Endeavour Drinks Group, owner of Dan Murphy’s, BWS, and Langton’s Fine Wine Auctions.

John, the son of a Manilla Anglican clergyman, and Diane, the daughter of a north-west NSW poultry farmer, set up a Hunter presence in 1996 when they bought two old Hunter River frontage dairy farms on Dalswinton Road, Denman. They had earlier looked at buying a country retreat around Pokolbin, but were persuaded by their friend Dennis Muddle that the Upper Hunter was a better proposition.

As John quit rugby league management in 1996 and became an events manager for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, he and Diane began developing their 389-hectare Winbirra Estate for cattle raising, a grove of 3300 olive trees and an initial planting of eight hectares of chardonnay – a vineyard that now totals 65 hectares of chardonnay, verdelho, semillon, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon.

The Quayles get some of their grapes made into wine for their own consumption, but most of the annual vintage grape yield of 400 to 500 tonnes is sold to 13 different wine producers – including, over the past six years, Cellarmasters.

John and Diane moved out of Sydney and up to Denman as full-time residents in 2004 and love their tree change life.

John told me last week that the 2018 was shaping up well but being a successful winegrower in the Hunter was no easy task.

“Just like football, grape growing has many challenges, but you just have to keep going,” he says. 

“We’ve been hit by frost, hail and rain over the years, and it wasn’t until this year we were able to pick every berry on the vineyard.

“Not only do you need great soil and a meticulously managed vineyard, but quite a bit of luck because January rain has ruined many a vintage.”

The Cloud Cloaked 2017 Winds of Change Chardonnay, which been chosen by Cellarmasters as one of the six finalists in its 2017 white wine of the year judging, is on cellarmasters.com.au. 

Wine reviews

QUALITY-CLOAKED WHITE

THIS Cloud Cloaked 2017 Winds of Change Chardonnay is a lovely multi-faceted drop,with brassy gold hues and pear and crushed almond aromas. The front palate features lifted golden peach flavour, the middle palate has fig, preserved lemon, mineral and vanillin oak and the finish flinty acid. Get it on cellarmasters.com.au. PRICE: $17 (in case). DRINK WITH: seafood crepes. AGEING: six years.

RATING: 4.5 stars

FLAGSHIP SAILS PROUD

THE Tim Adams 2013 Aberfeldy Shiraz comes from a much-loved flagship marque. This 2013 has 14.5% alcohol, is inky purple and has potpourri scents and intense plum front-palate flavour. The middle palate has cassis, dark chocolate, mint and nutty oak and the finish dusty tannins. It’s at timadamswines.com.au, cellar door and bottle shops. PRICE: $65. DRINK WITH: Wagyu beef. AGEING: 15 years.

RATING: 5 stars

ZIPPY LUNCH QUAFF

WITH 11.5% alcohol, the David Hook 2017 Hunter Pinot Grigio is an ideal lunchtime quaff. It is green-tinted straw and has guava aromas and zippy pear front-palate flavour. The middle palate has melon, spice and flint and the finish slatey acid. It’s at davidhookwines.com.au, the Broke and Ekerts roads, Pokolbin, cellar door and bottle shops. PRICE: $18. DRINK WITH: pizza. AGEING: drink now.

RATING: 4 stars