Opinion | Deal restores Dalwood name to historic estate

VINTAGE LABEL: Bryan Currie, the senior winemaker and general manager of Hungerford Hill, Sweetwater and Dalwood wine operations.
VINTAGE LABEL: Bryan Currie, the senior winemaker and general manager of Hungerford Hill, Sweetwater and Dalwood wine operations.

IN a major coup for Hunter Valley wine history, the Iris Capital group of Sydney hotelier and developer Sam Arnaout has bought the right to restore the Dalwood name to the Branxton home of Australia’s oldest continuously operating vineyard estate.

In a deal negotiated with the Penfold arm of ASX-listed Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) over several months, Mr Arnaout will be able to call the property Dalwood and produce wine under the Dalwood label.

Bryan Currie, the senior winemaker and general manager of Iris Capital’s Hungerford Hill, Sweetwater and now Dalwood wine operations, said the deal would mean a Dalwood label 2017 chardonnay would be released next autumn and other shiraz and semillon wines would follow. Dalwood wines would be produced from the coming 2018 Hunter vintage.

Dalwood was the name given by pioneer George Wyndham to the 445 hectares of Hunter River frontage land he and his family settled in 1828, 16 years before Dr Christopher Penfold founded the Penfolds wine venture on the Magill Estate property in the foothills of South Australia’s Mount Lofty Ranges.

George Wyndham got the Dalwood name from a family estate in his native England and he his family and planted a vineyard and produced his first wine at Branxton in 1835. He and his son John went on to make Dalwood one of the best-known wine producers of the day.

In 1904 the then-family-owned Penfolds company bought the Dalwood property and wine brand and from the 1930s to the early 1960s it produced some superb reds and whites, including a 1930 cabernet sauvignon-petit verdot blend described by Macquarie St hand surgeon, author, winemaker and bon vivant Max Lake as “the best wine I ever tasted”.

In 1967 Penfolds sold the Dalwood site, but not the brand name, to Perc McGuigan, who had been its Hunter cellar master-manager for 28 years. Perc subsequently sold the property to a three-man partnership that included son Brian – who went on to build Wyndham Estate into an Australian wine giant before the French Pernod Ricard group acquired the estate in 1990 in its $73 million takeover Wyndham Estate company.

Under Pernod Ricard ownership the Wyndham site was a venue for concerts, wine sales, weddings and social and corporate events. In 2014, however, Pernod Ricard shut the estate and it remained in limbo until its sale to Iris Capital last December for a reported $3 million. After the purchase Iris Capital chief Sam Arnaout said his group would reopen the site and return it to its glory days.

Iris has a burgeoning Hunter wine empire, born in July 2016 with the 48-hectare Sweetwater estate in Rothbury, and was followed up last November with the Hungerford Hill complex. Iris has become a major player in the redevelopment of Newcastle CBD, buying a 1.66-hectare Hunter Street Mall site.

Before selling the Dalwood name to Mr Arnaout, Treasury Wine Estates last September made another important contribution to the Hunter Valley’s matchless wine heritage by selling the 147-year-old Ben Ean estate in Pokolbin, to Brian McGuigan and Colin Peterson. The $5 million to $8 million sale of the former asset of the Lindeman’s arm of TWE gave Mr McGuigan and Mr Peterson ownership of the Ben Ean winery building, vineyard, cellar door, function centre and restaurants. It also gave them the right to use the Ben Ean name on the site, but not as a wine brand.