Wine in their blood

Throughout the Valley, new generations of historic Hunter winemaking families are continuing the legacies of their pioneering forebears.

Beneath the weathered topsoil of the Pokolbin vineyards spreads a tangled network of roots that has sustained the wine community here for more than 150 years. A perfect metaphor for the web of celebrated families that have given structure and substance to this region for six generations. From time to time their gnarly tap roots send up fresh green shoots, signs of new beginnings. Three families in particular provide a consistent background note to the chaotic cacophony of the modern wine industry.


The Tyrrells’ tale is slightly more straightforward, though no less historic, than that of their neighbours the Tullochs and the Draytons. Like Drayton’s Family Wines, their business has been continuously family owned and operated since the 1850s. Edward Tyrrell arrived in Australia from England in 1854, following his uncle William Tyrrell who had been appointed as the first Anglican Bishop of the Newcastle diocese in 1848. Edward took up 320 acres of land in Pokolbin and named the property Ashmans after his grandmother’s ancestral home in Suffolk. His first dwelling was an ironbark slab hut that still stands just metres from the Tyrrell winery.


The Tulloch name has echoed around the valley since 1895 when John Younie (JY) Tulloch received a parcel of Pokolbin land as repayment of a debt owed to his Branxton General Store. It came with five acres of neglected vineyard, and was the start of a family wine dynasty that has survived more than its fair share of dramatic change. The original family seat, Glen Elgin on De Beyers Road, was at the centre of the family business J. Y. Tulloch & Sons until 2002 when the property was sold by then owners Southcorp to David Clarke of Poole’s Rock. This property had been the site of the Hunter’s very first cellar door sales, introduced by Hector Tulloch when he started producing wine under the family’s own label in the 1950s. As the eldest son of JY’s nine offspring, Hector took charge when his father died in 1940. By this stage Tulloch’s had grown to become the largest vineyard holder in the area, with all vines overseen by Hector’s brother Jim.


If the Tulloch tangle has your head spinning, get ready for the Draytons. Settling in the valley in 1853, Englishman Joseph Drayton acquired 80 acres in Pokolbin and built the Bellevue homestead on Oakey Creek Road, moving from grain to grape-growing in the late 1850s. Joseph’s son William eventually took over Bellevue, merging it with his own property next door. William had eight sons, and on retirement split the estate three ways. Four sons were to share Bellevue, two went to the Homestead property (Happy Valley) and two to Crows Nest (now Mount Pleasant). William’s only daughter was given a piano! Our story follows the Bellevue Draytons, as Happy Valley was sold after Barrie Drayton’s death in 1979, with Crows Nest having been taken over by O’Shea and the McWilliam family some years earlier. By the 1960s the sons of the four “Bellevue” brothers were running W Drayton & Sons, each representing their family’s quarter of the company. Fourthgeneration cousins Max, Bill, Reg, and brothers Jock & Ron, worked side by side for decades, with Reg as winemaker for the majority of this period.

Read more in the Summer issue of Hunter&Coastal Lifestyle Magazine.

Story by Sally Evans