THREE trophies at last week's 2014 Hunter Valley Boutique Winemakers' Show have capped off a momentous nine months for winemaking couple Damien Stevens and Jodie Belleville.
This year Damien and Jodie quit their jobs at the First Creek winery, welcomed the arrival of a new baby daughter and set up their Hart and Hunter wine venture with its own winery and cellar door.
Baby Audrey is a sister for five-year-old Grace, who is pictured running through a row of vines on the Hart and Hunter website.
In 2010 Damien and Jodie made a spectacular maiden entry into the Hunter Valley Wine Show and have since established an enviable reputation for their white wines.
In competition against some of the region's top semillon producers at the 2010 Hunter show, the Hart and Hunter 2010 Single Vineyard Semillon took the Marshall-Flannery Trophy for the best current vintage semillon and the H. J. Lindeman Trophy for the best current vintage dry white of the show.
And they've proved to be no slouches with reds too. At last week's Hunter Valley Boutique Winemakers' Show judging at Maitland, the Hart and Hunter 2011 Shiraz claimed the trophies for the best red wine of show, the best Regulation 2 2011 and older shiraz red and the Karl Stockhausen Trophy.
Damien told me last week the Stockhausen trophy win was a special delight because of the warm friendship he had enjoyed with the 84-year-old Hunter Valley living legend of wine.
The trophy was established last year to honour Karl's contribution as a Boutique Winemakers' Show judge, and is awarded to the entry considered to have special merit.
There are only small stocks of the triple-trophy Hart and Hunter 2011 Shiraz, which I reviewed on December 21 last year, and it will only be available to Hart and Hunter wine club members.
Damien and Jodie have previously produced their wines by buying in grapes from premium Hunter growers and, with the generous approval of their boss Greg Silkman, have processed the fruit at their workplace at the high-tech First Creek winery in McDonalds Road, Pokolbin.
Now they have leased the Gabriel's Paddocks winery and cellar door in Deaseys Road, Pokolbin, from the owners - business heavyweight Chris Anderson and his wife Gabriel.
The 43.7-hectare spread was part of the failed McPherson co-operative group before Neil and Caroline Sutherland bought it in 1979.
Chris Anderson, former managing director of John Fairfax Ltd from 1987 to 1990 and former chief executive of Optus, purchased the property from the Sutherlands in 1999.
The Hart and Hunter venture had its beginnings at a 2006 wedding reception in the mountains of Sicily.
The wedding was that of London-based couple Dan and Elle Hart, friends of Damien and Jodie.
Dan, a wine merchant, and Damien met when Damien was running the bar in the Cayenne Restaurant in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
In Belfast the friends often talked about launching their own wine label and at the Hart wedding they resolved to launch the Phat Wine Co Pty Ltd and the Hart and Hunter brand.
Implementation of the plan became possible after Damien and Jodie both joined the winemaking team at the First Creek winery, in McDonalds Road, Pokolbin.
Born in Coffs Harbour, Damien developed an interest in wine during a youthful backpack foray overseas. His friendship in Belfast with Dan Hart heightened his interest and, when he came back to Australia, he launched into a wine career that took him to First Creek, then Wandin Valley then back to First Creek. Jodie, a Taree girl, worked as a winemaker at Brokenwood and McGuigan wineries before going to First Creek.
Damien and Jodie and Dan and Elle Hart maintain their partnership in Hart and Hunter and Damien says they remain committed to producing quality wines in limited quantities.
A 2007 semillon from the charming little Hermitage Road, Pokolbin, vineyard and winery established in 1993 by Bob and Mary Lusby was the best white wine of the 2014 Hunter Valley Boutique Winemakers' Show.
The Tintilla Estate 2007 Angus Semillon also won the trophy for the best Regulation 2 2012 and older semillon white. Tintilla wines are made by James Lusby, son of Bob and Mary Lusby.
The wine sells for $40 at the 725 Hermitage Road, Pokolbin, cellar door, on tintilla.com.au or by telephoning (02) 6574 7093.
The Boutique Winemakers' Show was judged at Maitland Showground by a panel headed by leading winemaker and judge Keith Tulloch.
Entries are divided into two divisions - Regulation 1 and Regulation 2 and awards are presented for these and in a combined section.
Regulation 1 is for exhibitors who grow and process their own wines in house, in a winery with a production capacity of less than 350 tonnes.
Regulation 2 is for exhibitors who grow their own grapes but who have wine made under contract, in a winery with a production capacity that exceeds 350 tonnes.
Here are the trophy winning wines and their availability:
Tinklers Vineyard 2013 U and I Shiraz (best specific vintage shiraz red) - $45 on tinklers.com.au and at the Pokolbin Mountains Road, Pokolbin, cellar door.
Andrew Thomas 2011 Kiss Shiraz (best 2011 and older shiraz red) - $50 in limited quantities at the Small Winemakers' Centre, in McDonalds Road, Pokolbin, at the Hunter Resort in Hermitage Road, Pokolbin, and on smallwinemakers.com.au.
Andrew Thomas 2014 Braemore Semillon (best current vintage semillon white) - $30 at the Small Winemakers' Centre, in McDonalds Road, Pokolbin, at the Hunter Resort in Hermitage Road, Pokolbin, and on smallwinemakers.com.au or thomaswine.com.au.
Mistletoe Vineyard 2013 Reserve Semillon (best 2013 vintage semillon white) - $24 at the 771 Hermitage Road, Pokolbin, cellar door or on 1800 055 080 or mistletoewines.com.
McLeish Estate 2007 Hunter Semillon (best open vintage semillon white) - $85 at the McLeish cellar door in De Beyers Road, Pokolbin, or on mcleishhunterwines.com.au.
Tallavera Grove 2013 Fenestella Shiraz (best Regulation 2 specific vintage shiraz red) $50 at the Mount View Road, Mount View, cellar door or on tallaveragrove.com.au.
Briar Ridge 2014 Dairy Hill Semillon (best Regulation 2 current vintage semillon white) - $35 on briarridge.com.au and at the winery in Mount View Road, Mount View.
Valley View Vineyard 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (best 2012 and older 2012 and older cabernet sauvignon red) - $65 on vvvineyard.com.au.
Domaine de Binet 2013 Tempranillo (best any vintage other varietal red) - $25 at the 477 Lovedale Road, Lovedale, cellar door and on ballabourneen.com.au.
Pokolbin Estate 2014 Hunter Valley Riesling (best 2014 other varietal white) and Pokolbin Estate 2013 Hunter Valley Riesling (best any vintage other varietal white) - both available at $25 at the McDonalds Road, Pokolbin, cellar door or pokolbinestate.com.au.
Bimbadgen Non-Vintage Fortified Verdelho (best fortified wine) - $28 (375ml bottle) at the cellar door in McDonalds Road, Pokolbin, on bimbadgen.com.au and in some wine stores.
Two Rivers 2013 Stones Throw Semillon (best Regulation 2 2013 vintage semillon white) - unavailable.
Silkman Wines 2013 Chardonnay (best Regulation 2 current vintage chardonnay white) - $30 on silkmanwines.com.au.
THE Lambton Fridge wine store at 86 Elder Street, Lambton, will host a tasting of Eden Road wines on Friday between 5pm and 7pm.
Eden Road's winemaker Nick Spencer is a contender for the 2014 Gourmet Traveller Winemaker of the Year. The brand burst into prominence when the Eden Road 2008 Long Road Shiraz won the 2009 Jimmy Watson Trophy for the best one-year-old red at the Melbourne Wine Show.
Gartelmann 2014 Benjamin Semillon, $25
IT is youthfully austere at present, but with bottle age this 2014 semillon has the potential to develop into a multi-faceted Hunter white.
It is straw-hued with brassy tints and has a perfumed honeysuckle nose.
Crisp lime flavour displays on the front of the palate and flint, lemon zest and apple peel characters chime in on the middle palate.
Steely acid shows at the finish.
Get it at the 701 Lovedale Rd, Lovedale, cellar door or on gartelmann.com.au.
DRINK WITH: smoked salmon and sour cream terrine
AGEING: 10 years
Lerida Estate 2012 Lake George Chardonnay, $24.50
HERE’S an elegant cool-climate chardonnay from Lerida owners Jim Lumbers and his wife Anne Cairne.
The wine is green-tinted light gold and has scents of orange blossom and hazelnuts.
Lifted citrus flavour features on the front of the palate and melon, white nectarine and lemon curd fruit characters meld with vanillin oak on the front of the palate.
Flinty acid comes through at the finish.
Get it on leridaestate.com.au or at the cellar door and café on the Federal Highway at Lake George.
DRINK WITH: pan-fried roulade of chicken
AGEING: six years
Best’s Great Western 2012 White Gravels Hill Shiraz, $35
WHAT great value this red from Victoria’s Grampians Region is!
It has 13.5per cent alcohol, is deep garnet in the glass and unwinds enticing aromas of plum and bouquet garni.
Lovely, profound blackcurrant flavour rolls onto the front of the palate and glacé cherry, black pepper, dark chocolate and herb fruit characters marry with savoury oak on the middle palate.
Persistent berry fruit and chalky tannins combine at the finish.
It is available in some stores and restaurants, at the Best’s cellar door and on bestswines.com.au and (03) 53562250.
DRINK WITH: Wagyu beef sirloin with horseradish and grilled mushrooms
AGEING: 15 years