Pleasant dreams

With the first 100 years under its belt, Mount Pleasant is gearing up for an exciting new era.

My earliest memory of visits to the Hunter go back to the late 1960s. I am a child of five or six lying on the floor at the Tyrrell’s family home on Broke Road, making Cray-Pas copies of McWilliam’s Jolly Friar while my dad and Murray Talked Business. Shoot forward thirty years and I am a marketing manager at McWilliam’s Wines, working hard to purge the universe of that same Jolly Friar, with particular responsibility for development of the Mount Pleasant brand. So it goes without saying that I have a close personal attachment to all things Mount Pleasant, as do so many people in the Valley, across Australia, and indeed throughout the wine-loving world.

It was with a high degree of anxiety that we learnt in early 2020 of the voluntary administration of McWilliam’s Wines, raising concerns about the future of our beloved Mount Pleasant. There were several prospective buyers interested in the Hunter brand and its vineyards, but the offer was a package deal, bundling up the Hunter and Riverina operations as a whole, so many of these fell by the wayside. It was an understandable approach, but somewhat disappointing as, in my view, the two sides of the business had always been awkward bedfellows. Mount Pleasant desperately needed a dedicated new champion who would give it back its voice, honouring the unique heritage of this iconic company. And so, after 18 months of complex negotiations and intricate corporate manoeuvrings, we felt cautious relief upon learning that McWilliam’s had been sold to Calabria Family Wines while Mount Pleasant had ended up in the hands of property magnate Anthony Medich. Hopes were high that a new era of prosperity and rejuvenation was about to begin.

Mount Pleasant turns 100 this year. Local legend Maurice O’Shea bought the vineyard in 1921, establishing Mount Pleasant as we know it in the foothills of the Brokenback Range. Given all that’s been going on this year, birthday celebrations have been low key. Which is a shame because Mount Pleasant is special. For me, it is the spiritual home of aged Hunter semillon through the award-winning Elizabeth and Lovedale wine.

It is the custodian of some of the oldest and most cherished semillon and shiraz vineyards in the area – Lovedale on the sandy plains near the airport, planted in 1946; Rosehill on the famous volcanic rise at the entry to Pokolbin, planted in 1946 and 1965; and on the slopes of the Brokenback range around the winery; Old Paddock with its 1921 plantings and Old Hill, with vines planted by Charles King in the 1880s. There is also a tiny plot of pinot noir vines, some of the oldest in the country from which many early Pinot vineyards across the country were propagated. These vines were responsible for O’Shea’s hugely famous shiraz/pinot blends of the 1940s, which have seen such a resurgence amongst young winemakers in recent times.

Coincidentally, the Medich Family will themselves celebrate 100 years in Australia in a few years’ time, with forefather Maté Medich immigrating to Queensland from the Dalmatian Coast in 1924. Their story is a classic migrant tale of hard work and canny entrepreneurship. Across the generations, the family has built an empire of businesses and assets, stretching from sugar cane farms to cinemas, pubs, shopping malls and beyond. Following the family’s move down south, Maté’s grandsons Ron and Roy became serious players in commercial and residential property development in Western Sydney. By the time they split up the business in the late 1990s and went their separate ways, Roy’s son Anthony had joined his father in the Medich Family Office. Under this umbrella they formed the Belford Land Corporation in the Hunter and bought some serious land for housing developments Radford Park and Murray’s Rise, named after Anthony’s other grandfather, Hunter rally car driver Jack Murray.

Committed to the Valley

Anthony has a strong connection with the Valley, and great belief in its potential. He is behind a planned revitalisation of Branxton’s commercial centre, and his enterprises Hunter Agricultural Co and Hunter Farm Collective are leading producers of local meat, eggs and honey. Echoing the agricultural beginnings of his great grandfather, it’s not surprising that Anthony spotted an opportunity with Mount Pleasant.

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

Story by Sally Evans, photography by Chris Elfes, courtesy of Mount Pleasant