A NEW dimension in Hunter Valley wine tourism opens up to the public on Saturday in Brokenwood Wines’ stunning $8 million cellar door-restaurant complex at Pokolbin.
The 1400 square-metre building, designed to host more than 250,000 visitors a year, incorporates unique circular “pod” wine tasting bars, private tasting rooms, a visitors’ lounge, two dining areas, a wine museum, function areas, spacious outdoor terraces and 126 car parks
It marks a historic milestone for the Brokenwood venture that was established in 1970 as a hobby project by Sydney lawyers Tony Albert, James Halliday and John Beeston.
It produced a mere 105 dozen cases of wine from the maiden 1973 vintage grapes that were transported in the boot of Len Evans’s Bentley sedan for processing at Rothbury Estate winery.
Now it is one of Australia’s premier fine wine producers with an output of 100,000 dozen cases a year made at Pokolbin from Hunter, Beechworth, McLaren Vale, Orange, Cowra, Canberra and Central Ranges grapes.
First conceived four years ago and under construction for the past year, the new building was designed by Sydney-based Villa + Villa company and will be officially opened before a crowd of 200 invitees on Friday, December 7, by co-founder James Halliday.
Managing director-chief winemaker Iain Riggs, who joined Brokenwood in 1982, says the new complex was a monumental step for the brand and provided visitors with a “world-class experience”.
He proudly reveals that the project has been paid for without borrowing using revenue flowing from the efforts of a dedicated workforce.
Given a preview tour with Iain last week, I found a building bursting with brilliant design and innovation. Beautiful timber graces the exterior and exterior, the museum area looks out through floor-to-ceiling glass onto the vast cask storage cellar, winery tanks can be seen from the tasting rooms and there are wide views of the Pokolbin landscape from the KB’s Lookout mezzanine.
Named in honour of the late Keith Barry, Brokenwood’s 23-year veteran vineyard manager, the area is reached by a staircase with risers inscribed with the key dates of company’s history.
The two dining venues are being run by Andrew and Janet Wright – much-admired for their cuisine at The Cellar Restaurant at Hunter Valley Gardens.
At Brokenwood they have a casual eatery, the Cru Bar + Pantry, located in the lounge area, and the 90-seat fine-dining area, The Wood Restaurant.
The Wood will open for lunch daily and dinner on Friday and Saturday nights and the menu will feature “contemporary Australian dishes with a strong focus on seafood”. That includes fresh oysters, caviar, salt cod fritters with tarragon mayo and market fish with Stormy Bay clams, n’duja, caper and anchovy butter cooked en papillote.
Cru Bar + Pantry will be open daily for breakfast, lunch and snacks, serving homemade pies, toasties, wood-fired pizzas and cheese and charcuterie.
Wine tasters will be able to sample rare vintage wines by the glass from an Enomatic self-service dispenser that uses argon gas to keep wines fresh.
The self-contained circular pods replace the long bar set-up on most cellar doors. Each presided over by a wine-wise staffer, the pods are equipped with their own glasses and wines for tastings – which will cost $25 per person for single-vineyard wine and $10 for varietal range wines.
The new complex replaces a cellar door built in 1975 by Tony Albert, James Halliday and John Beeston. In early years the building was not only used for wine sales but as sleeping quarters for the three city slickers and their friends who swapped their pin-stripes for overalls to tend the young vines they had planted in the unyielding clay of what had been a scrub-covered McDonalds Road, Pokolbin, block.
Over the years new shareholder joined the three founders, James Halliday left to establish his own Coldstream Hills brand in Victoria’s Yarra Valley and today there are 27 shareholders, who include the families of the late Tony Albert and the late John Beeston.
Until Iain Riggs arrived in 1983, wines were made by a three-man committee comprising Halliday, Beeston and marine biologist-turned wine writer and consultant Nick Bulleid.