JAMES Busby has been widely depicted as the sole instigator of winegrowing in Australia and the pioneer viticulturist of the Hunter Valley.
Julie McIntyre and John Germov declare that a myth in their painstakingly researched new book Hunter Wine: A History.
Dr McIntyre is research fellow in history at the University of Newcastle and a leading historian of wine in society and culture. Professor Germov, a sociologist, is UoN pro-vice-chancellor of the faculty of Education and Arts and heads the university’s Wine Studies Research Network.
Yes, say the authors, the UK-trained agriculturist Busby merits recognition for his Bordeaux wine studies, the vine cuttings he brought to Australia and his writings on viticulture. But, by virtue of their early-1820s wine grape plantings in the Sydney area, William Macarthur, son of John and Elizabeth Macarthur, and Gregory Blaxland are more legitimate instigators of winegrowing.
Busby certainly in 1830 provided cuttings from which vines were propagated in Sydney Botanic Gardens and cuttings which allowed his then-future brother-in-law William Kelman to establish the once-great Kirkton vineyard at Belford.
There are, however, other claimants ahead of Busby for the title of pioneer Hunter viticulturist, say McIntyre and Germov.
Wealthy Welsh-born James Phillips Webb, who migrated to Australia in 1822 and settled on the Tocal property atPaterson, is a prize nominee. In 1828 Webber sent a request on behalf of the “Agricultural Club at Hunter’s River” for “as many as can be spared” wine grape vine cuttings from the Sydney Botanic Gardens.
The cuttings were duly delivered and used by Webber in 1828 to plant a vineyard at Tocal and to be distributed to other landowners.
Another trail-blazer was the Australian Agricultural Company in a vineyard at Tahlee, near Karuah on the northern side of Port Stephens.
Hunter Wine says the vines came from cuttings called Black Hamburg and Black Cluster collected in 1829 at Cape Town by NSW-bound AA Co chiefs Edward Parry and William Burnett. And the vines in 1832 produced the earliest-known Hunter wine, rated “excellent” by Parry, who was bold enough to send 30 bottles to head office in London.
Port Stephens was also home to another pioneer vineyard. James King’s Irrawang land grant, on the Williams River north of Raymond Terrace, had its vines planted by convicts in 1832 and 1833.
Irrawang, said to be the Aboriginal word for “water view”, also had a pottery and James King emerged as a maker and exporter of good wine and an influential industry leader, in 1847 becoming inaugural Hunter River Vineyard Association chairman.
Sadly Irrawang faded away in the aftermath of King’s death in 1857.
Julie McIntyre and John Germov record that George Wyndham in 1830 planted wine grape cuttings supplied by James Busby on his Dalwood property on the Hunter River at Branxton. Unfortunately the cuttings all died but he successfully established a vineyard the following year.
In 1834 James Webber sent vine cuttings called oportro and gouais from Tocal to Wyndham at Dalwood in what was typical of the expansion of Hunter vineyards by way of a network of social peers.
Wyndham’s vineyard in 1835 produced its first wine, which was somewhat disappointing, but the following year was a far better vintage and Wyndham and his son John went on to make Dalwood one of the best-known wine producers of the day.
Today it stands as Australia’s oldest continuously operating vineyard estate.
Julie McIntyre and John Germov have unwound a tangled skein of wine history and given us in words and pictures a wonderful reference to Hunter wine up to the present day. The book sells for $50 in bookshops and Newcastle Museum.
MUNRO WINE HERITAGE
THIS fine Meerea Park 2018 Hell Hole Semillon is from the Eather brothers, the great, great grandsons of Singleton 1846 wine pioneer Alexander Munro. It is straw-hued and jasmine-scented. The front palate has crisp lime flavour, the middle palate lemon curd, apple and flint and a slatey acid finish. It’s at cellar door andmeereapark.com.au.
DRINK WITH: quiche.
AGEING: 10 years.
RATING: 4.5 stars (out of 6)
160-YEAR TYRRELL ICON
WITH other Vat series wines, this Tyrrell’s 2015 Vat 47 Chardonnay is an icon of Tyrrell’s 160 years at Pokolbin. It is green-tinted straw and has orange blossom scents. The front palate shows elegant nectarine flavour, the middle palate fig, melon, mineral and cashew oak and the finish steely acid. It’s attyrrells.com.au and the winery.
DRINK WITH: scallops.
AGEING: 12 years.
RATING: 5 stars
POKOLBIN DOYEN’S RED
NAMED for a doyen of Pokolbin winemaking, the Audrey Wilkinson 2017 Winemaker’s Selection Shiraz is deep garnet and has 14% alcohol and gamey scents. The front palate has intense plum flavour, the middle palate cherry, spearmint, dark chocolate and savoury oak and the finish dusty tannins. It’s ataudreywilkinson.com.au and cellar door. PRICE: $40. DRINK WITH: roast beef. AGEING: 12 years.
RATING: 4.5 stars