THERE is division in the Australian wine industry over the merit of single-vineyard winemaking and it certainly isn’t applicable to mass-market, big company brands.
The single-vineyard concept suits the Hunter Valley and allows producers to capitalise on the region’s possession of some of the world’s oldest vineyards.
That happy circumstance is because the Hunter escaped the great 19th century plague of phylloxera, the tiny louse that wiped out many of the great vineyards of Europe, Sydney and much of Victoria.
Bruce Tyrrell, the head of the 160-year-old Tyrrell’s family wine company, has identified 11 Hunter vineyard blocks 100 years and older and planted on their own roots.
Four comprise two 1899 blocks owned by the Drayton family wine company, an 1880-established block at McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant and a 1893-planted block at the former Tulloch property in De Beyers Road, Pokolbin, now renamed Cockfighter’s Ghost and owned by Agnew Wine Group.
Tyrrell’s has seven of the blocks, the oldest is the tiny 1.11-hectare Old Patch vineyard in Marrowbone Road, Pokolbin. Recently, Tyrrell’s brought a platoon of wine writers to mark the vineyard’s 150th Anniversary.
The writers were given a tasting of all seven Old Patch shiraz reds produced - the 2007, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2017 and unbottled 2018 vintages – and treated to a lunch created by chef Troy Rhoades-Brown that was matched to a selection of Tyrrell’s Sacred Sites range wines.
Bruce Tyrrell says Old Patch vines were planted in 1867 using first-generation cuttings from Australian winegrowing pioneer James Busby. The original cuttings were brought to Australia in 1831 and used to propagate vines in the historic Kirkton vineyard at Belford and George Wyndham’s Dalwood Estate at Branxton.
Old Patch is part of the 13.52-hectare Old Hillside property which, with its 6.11 hectares of shiraz vines, was bought by Tyrrell’s last December from veteran Hunter vigneron Neil Stevens and his wife Bernadette.
In addition to Old Patch, Tyrrell’s has six other 100-years-plus vineyards from which its Sacred Site wine are made. The six are:
Four Acres and Eight Acres blocks, near the Broke Road winery. Four Acres was planted in 1879 by the founder of the Tyrrell wine dynasty Edward Tyrrell and the Eight Acres was planted in 1892.
Two Johnno’s blocks, each planted in 1908 and named after fifth-generation family member, Bruce and Pauline Tyrrell’s son John. Situated below the winery, they were called Long Flat up until 2002, when Tyrrell’s sold the brand.
HVD and HVD Signpost blocks, near the corner of Broke and Hermitage roads, planted in 1908 under the management of French-born vigneron Alex Combet.
Tyrrell’s single-vineyard production is relatively new. Up to 1979 company wines were largely blends from its various vineyards, but that year it made a single-vineyard Anniversary Hermitage from Four Acres shiraz. In 1983 a single-vineyard HVD semillon was made and in 2004 the Sacred Sites range was launched with a wine from Four Acres.
Bruce Tyrrell says that 2004 initiative flowed from a realisation that Tyrrell’s had “amazing” vineyard assets.
Tyrrell says the company’s winemaking team decided “if the vines were still healthy and producing great wine after 100 years, then they demanded that they be made and bottled on their own”.
Multi-site, often multi-varietal, blending still accounts for the bigger-volume releases and the prestigious Winemaker’s Selection Vat 1 semillon, Vat 47 chardonnay, Vat 8 shiraz cabernet sauvignon, Vat 9 shiraz and Vat 63 chardonnay-semillon wines.
Each vintage of Old Patch shiraz is pre-sold: 50 per cent to Private Bin members of Tyrrell’s wine club, 40 per cent to restaurants and 10 per cent to UK fine wine cellars.
Private Bin club members who pre-order the 2017 wine pay $80 a bottle. Sales through other avenues can exceed $100 a bottle.
Beyond the hard-to-get, 250- to 300-dozen annual output Sacred Sites wines, Tyrrell’s has the more accessible $35 to $40 Single-Vineyard label from its Belford, Stevens and HVD vineyards.
ON THE MENU
The wine-matched menu by Troy Rhoades-Brown’s Muse Restaurant:
2013 HVD Semillon with canapes of fermented wombok sushi with wild rice, whipped blue cheese, pear and hazelnut wafer, chicken liver pate, sumac, macaron and raisin
2009 and 2017 Johnno’s Semillon with a first course of raw fish, green tomato, cucumber, citrus kosho, avruga, shiso and wild onion capers
2013 and 2017 HVD Old Vines Chardonnay with a second course of Little Hill Farm chicken, celeriac, hung yoghurt and truffled pecorino
2009 and 2014 Four Acres Shiraz with a third course of smoked duck breast, king brown mushroom and bunya nut miso
2009 and 2014 Johnno’s Shiraz with a fourth course of pyengana, barbecued onion, pecans and sweet onion.