50 years of innovation

Cathy Gadd is taking us on a journey of firsts, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Hunter Valley Wine Show.

It’s bright and early on a frosty August morning and the gym floor at the Singleton Infantry Army Barracks is covered in mountains of boxes. In fact, some 640 boxes containing an astonishing 3,840 bottles of Hunter Valley wines. The Hunter Valley Wine Show Committee and Stewards are engrossed in the mammoth logistical task of setting up for what will be their 50th consecutive wine show.

Colonial beginnings

The Hunter Valley has the distinction of being the birthplace of the Australian Wine Industry, with original plantings in 1828 and the first wine produced in 1832. The Chardonnay vines planted in 1908 in Tyrrells’ HVD vineyard are believed to be the oldest producing vines of that varietal in the world. The Valley is also home to the oldest Shiraz vines in Australia.

In 1847, the Hunter River Vineyard Association was formed, the first vineyard association in Australia which held their first wine show judging that same year as part of the Hunter River Agricultural Society in Maitland. It was the country’s first regional wine show and continued intermittently until 1963.
Ten years later, in 1973, the Hunter Valley Wine Show was launched with the intent of creating a wine competition independent of the region’s broader Agricultural Show.

The original sub-committee of Graham Kaye, Robert Drinan, Chris Barnes, Morag Hastie and Ron Petrie organised the inaugural event. With some 90 wines entered, Douglas Seabrook, renowned as one of the “top palates” in the country, judged the wines in a single day. Exhibitors were invited to a tasting with Seabrook the next morning as an opportunity to learn and benchmark their wines against others – a tradition that continues today.

It takes an army…

In 1980, the show was moved to the Army School of Infantry in Singleton, marking the beginning of over 40 years of community collaboration.

Each year, the army provides invaluable assistance not just hosting the show, managing the set-up and the exhibitors’ tasting, but they also handle the massive task of washing over 5,000 glasses during show week.

Major Al Lynch was appointed as the “Officers Mess Wine Member” (more commonly known on base as “The Wino”) in 2012. “We’re proud to be part of the Hunter Valley Wine Show tradition and the School of Infantry has a desire and duty to support our local community,” he said.

“We have the facilities, manpower and the administrative capability to make it happen and it’s a much valued long-standing partnership.”

The show has long enjoyed the support of a succession of Base Commandants. None more so than former Commandant and Freeman of the Shire of Singleton, ex-Governor General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove.

In a foreword for From Tendrils to Trophies, a book by former Chair and long-time Committee member John Flannery, Sir Peter commented that “the crowning glory of show week was the Wine Show Awards dinner, where the army’s ignorant but enthusiastic palates were treated to some of the best wines in the world.”

Renowned wine writer and critic, winemaker, and senior wine judge James Halliday AM was a judge at the Show for ten years. He reflected, “wine shows have directly contributed to the quality of Australian wines now found on the international stage. The Hunter Valley Wine Show is particularly significant as part of the NSW wine industry, given the importance of the Sydney market.”

Read more about the Hunter Wine Show in our Summer edition of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.

Story by Cathy Gadd, photography courtesy Hunter Valley Wine Show/Chris Elfes