Who’s new in the Cru?
Many of our Hunter winemakers are national treasures, but the Valley continues to attract new players who are adding something special to the local cellar door menu.
If you haven’t visited any wineries in the Hunter Valley for a while, it’s time for a refresh. You are no doubt familiar with the historic family producers such as Tyrrell’s, McWilliam’s, Tulloch’s and Drayton’s. You’ve been enjoying wines from Brokenwood, Scarborough, Audrey Wilkinson, and Pepper Tree for years. Even De Iuliis and Thomas Wines are now part of your repertoire. But you may not be aware of the swag of new cellar doors that have sprung up over the past few years, many established by young families keen to add a touch of youthful excitement to the local wine landscape. Along with a bunch of next-generational shifts and recent changes of ownership, the Valley is continuing to evolve and delight.
The real deal
Palmers Lane is a peaceful tree-lined avenue in central Pokolbin, a far cry from the bustle of Broke Road. It is here that Ash and Lauren Horner have set up shop. They have been making terrific wine for a few years now, and last year took the plunge and opened Horner Wines cellar door in their winery shed. Here you will get the real stuff.
You’ll talk to the maker, smell the ferments and the Hungarian oak, feel the dedication and commitment.
Ash grew up in the Upper Hunter where his family were wine producers, studied winemaking himself and worked for a while at Tamburlaine before he and Lauren jumped into their own venture, making wine using fully certified organic practices. The new cellar door is rustic yet cool and the wines are top-notch, showcasing small batches of interesting local blends as well as special parcels of organic fruit sourced from across NSW, such as Picpoul from the Central Ranges near Cowra and Viognier from the Upper Hunter. A very smart Reserve Shiraz will be released soon. In a time when we all long to strip back to the simple, authentic and heartfelt things in life, these guys are the real deal.
Scott and Missy Comyns have chosen a high-traffic location for their Comyns & Co cellar door, opened in w 2019. After many years as an award-winning corporate winemaker, Scott went out on his own to launch a range of truly local wines, both Hunter classics and alternative varieties, presented with cool, contemporary flair.
Their tasting room is found in the Peppers Creek complex, where Missy has created a very bright and appealing space with a modern Scandi-feel. Their labelling is striking and edgy, designed by Scott’s artist brother Angus. Their wines are impressive and eclectic. A name to watch.
Lisa McGuigan’s style is flashy, flamboyant and fun. She is also a branding guru, so it is no surprise that her new cellar door VAMP by Lisa McGuigan is creatively themed and pretty outrageous.
The spacious new building on Broke Road in Pokolbin Central is dominated by a huge hand-painted mural designed by Lisa, with chain metal, helmets and metal studs completing the motif. Apart from the carefully curated multi-region range, the next most impressive thing about this experience is the customer service. Lisa’s past life in hotel hospitality means that at VAMP, the guest comes first.
James Becker is another second-generation “new comer” to the Valley, with his family owning Oakvale Wines on Broke Road. After James ditched his big-city finance job, he teamed with wife Meagan in 2019 to open their cellar door M & J Becker within the Tempus Two complex, showcasing the excellent wines that they make with minimal intervention from the Beckers’ impressive Ablington vineyard and beyond.
They normally spend some of their year making wine in California, where they lived for a period. This led to the Collaboration series of annual ‘one off’ wines made with friends by hand and limited to 50 cases. Meagan and James are creative and adventurous, and their wines are too. They have also released an Australian grown and made tequila-style spirit called Pinché, made with James’ brother-in-law Mark from 100% blue Agave Tequiliana plants grown
Harkham Wines is run by son Richie who presides over a groovily grungy cellar door on De Beyers Road.
It may not look the fanciest from the road, but Richie is doing all sorts of interesting things with natural wine and his idiosyncratic cellar door has a vibe like no other. Paris Texas meets Surry Hills.
Angus Vinden is the man of the moment on Gillards Lane, taking over from his dad Guy at Vinden Estate.
A viticulturist cum winemaker, Angus is a man of many talents – music, photography, graphic design – skilfully juggling his family’s range of Hunter classics alongside his own quirky, highly individual Headcase portfolio.
Dave Fromberg’s dad purchased their family property in Broke in the late 80s to breed and train thoroughbreds. Ex-jockey turned viticulturist Dave has recently teamed with local winemaker Nick Patterson to create the Running Horse range, which is now sold from an awe-inspiring installation of shipping containers and glass.
With gorgeous views, this intriguing, small yet totally unique space is worth a visit for Dave’s highly personal service and his delicious aged wines.
Krinklewood Wines in Broke are all about organic and biodynamic winemaking. This beautiful property changed hands recently and new owner Oscar Martin has big plans for creating a high-end eco-tourism resort to complement their award-winning wine range. Their divine ivy-covered cellar door is open seven days.
Up the road in Broke is Winmark Wines. It also changed hands a few years back and the new owner Karin Adcock has done a wonderful job with the new incarnation of the original Poole’s Rock Vineyard.
It is an extremely attractive, beautifully maintained property with cellar-door views across the local valley, a stunning rose garden, impressive sculptures and an enticing range of plush accommodation options.
Dirt Candy Wines have been causing a stir amongst the younger set, winning a Young Guns of Wine Danger Zone award for the Most Adventurous Wine in 2019.
Hunter born Daniel Payne and wife Jenni plan to open a pop-up cellar door at Wine Country Retreat on Wine Country Drive later in the year.
Story by Sally Evans, photography courtesy of cellar doors