With Penfolds, Lindeman's, Rosemount and Wyndham Estate long gone, Australian Vintage Ltd (AVL) is the only big company making wine in the Hunter and it's brought singular success.
The 1000-tonne annual grape crush of the McDonalds Road, Pokolbin, AVL winery is tiny compared with the group's 2019 total crush of 83,000 tonnes. That seldom-appreciated input, however, is greatly important - a fact highlighted last month in the Winestate magazine awards in Adelaide. There, for having 2019's most top-ranked wines among the 10,000 from Australia and New Zealand reviewed by Winestate, AVL was judged Australian company of the year and its Hunter senior winemaker Peter Hall, 64, won James Busby winemaker of the year.
The wins coincided with AVL CEO-chief winemaker Neil McGuigan's retirement, who was named winemaker of the year at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London - and white winemaker of the year in the UK Decanter magazine International Wine Challenge (IWC) - for the fourth time.
Since the 1990s Hunter wines made by Hall have won many competitions and earned him the 2013 Hunter winemaker of the year award. Last June the $50 McGuigan 2013 Bin 9000 Semillon won the semillon Best in Show award in the 2019 IWC, the world's largest wine competition, and it also starred in this year's Sydney Wine Show winning trophies for best mature white, best NSW wine and best semillon.
Hall, lauded by Neil McGuigan as "one of the most passionate, skilled and innovative winemakers I've had the pleasure of working with", is a Kiwi whose first job was in 1979 at Vidal winery at Hawkes Bay. He came to Australia in 1981 and joined Rothbury Estate in the expansive Len Evans era and from 1992 was "thrown into a vortex" of heading a 400-strong workforce when he became group winemaker-production manager as Rothbury acquired Saltrams, Baileys, St Huberts and Farnham Marlborough Estate.
When Rothbury was felled in a 1996 takeover, Hall joined what was then Brian McGuigan's small start-up eponymous wine company, which grew into what is now AVL, Australia's fifth-largest producer and owner of the McGuigan, Tempus Two and Nepenthe brands. By 2004 Hall decided to opt for a more hands-on strictly winemaking role at the Pokolbin winery. There, roughly half the crush is Hunter grapes bought by Hall on the old-school strength of a handshake from such great sources as Scarboroughs' Hunter Ridge, the 78-year-old Bainton Broke vineyard and Vanessa Vale in Hermitage Road. The rest of the crush allows him to ply his skills on fruit from Tumbarumba, Hilltops and Gundagai.
"I can't believe how successful the wines have been and I still learn something new each year," he said.