GLOOMY portents abound, but the sixth annual Living Legends and Wine Awards at Pokolbin was an emphatic affirmation of the unity, vitality and sense of history of the Hunter Valley wine community.
Sure the 2012 vintage was largely a red wine washout, and coalmining and coal seam gas, the high Aussie dollar and low consumer confidence present major challenges.
But last Thursday night Hunter wine folk rolled up in their black-tie dinner finery and cheered as Nick Paterson was crowned 2012 Winemaker of the Year, former milko Carl Davies was proclaimed Viticulturist of the Year and Chris Tyrrell took out the Rising Star of the Year award.
Chris and his brother John are fifth-generation Tyrrells in the 158-year-old family wine firm.
Carl Davies’s Viticulturist of the Year Award recognised his work as vineyard manager at Valerie and Brian Agnew’s beautiful and historic Audrey Wilkinson vineyard, off De Beyers Road, Pokolbin.
The vineyard was originally planted in 1866 by Frederick Wilkinson, father of the legendary Audrey Wilkinson, and is widely regarded as the site of the first wine grape vineyard in the Pokolbin area.
In accepting the award, Carl told how he had spent 10 years as a milkman before beginning his 30 years working in Hunter vineyards – the past 20 being devoted to rejuvenating and maintaining the Audrey Wilkinson vines.
The cheers continued as Hungerford Hill won the Cellar Door of the Year, the Tulloch Pokolbin Dry Red label won the Heritage Award and veteran winemaker Pat Auld was inducted into the august ranks of Hunter Living Legends of Wine.
Fittingly Pat, who worked at Tullochs for 31 years, was presented with his award by his old chief and now fellow-Legend Jay Tulloch.
In another appropriate touch, Jay and Julie Tulloch’s daughter Christina, the general manager of J.Y. Tulloch and Sons, was the night’s master of ceremonies.
The pride in the Hunter’s 176 years as Australia’s oldest, continuously established winegrowing region is reflected in the Heritage Award given to landmarks or items of historical importance, which are marked by sandstone cairns and plaques sponsored by Brian and Fay McGuigan.
The wonderful old Tulloch Pokolbin Dry Red label, depicting two pickers carrying a giant bunch of grapes, dates back to 1952, when the then family-owned Tulloch wine company decided to produce wine under its own brand. Previously it had sold bulk wine to such major producers as Maurice O’Shea’s Mount Pleasant, Lindeman’s, Hardys and Mildara.
The Tulloch Private Bin Pokolbin Dry Red wines cost more than, and were rated superior to, the now-legendary Penfolds Grange shiraz reds. The Tulloch 1954 Private Bin Dry Red caused a sensation by winning both the claret and burgundy classes at Sydney Wine Show.