The wine was white, but Bruce Tyrrell was seeing red.
His family's first foray into chardonnay - the 1971 Tyrrell's Vat 47 - had just received a measly six points out of 20 at the Brisbane Wine Show, its first judging in competition.
To put that into perspective, six out of 20 sits somewhere between battery acid and vinegar.
"The spit bucket gets eight," Tyrrell said on reflection this week with a laugh.
"Geez I was ropeable."
It's history now that a much younger and headstrong Bruce Tyrrell - it was the early 70s after all - was heading straight for the judges in a thunderous mood.
"Two of them saw me coming and ducked away, but the chairman of judges knew what was coming and stood his ground," Tyrrell said.
"He said 'the wine is either volatile and oxidised or it's the greatest white wine I have ever seen in Australia'. He said he couldn't make up his mind and, until he did, he would continue to mark it down."
Strangely enough, that very same Vat 47 went on to win Best White of Show in Adelaide later that year.
However you look at it, right from the start, the Vat 47 had people talking.
The reason this story is worth repeating is that Tyrrell's new release of their flagship Vat 47 chardonnay - the 2021 vintage - marks a milestone 50th year of production. Not bad after its less than convincing start.
And look at the numbers: 30 trophies and 241 gold medals says it all. With excellent growing conditions, everything points to 2021 adding to that incredible pedigree.
They've come a long way from that very wet vintage of 1971 - "to this day easily the wettest vintage I've seen". And Tyrrell would know as he's the only person who has been on hand for all 49 vintages (the smoke and bushfires meant there was no 2020 Vat 47).
It would be hard to overstate the importance of Vat 47 on what was then a still developing Australian wine landscape.
Whether it was the first Australian chardonnay or not is a moot point. There is a strong case that Craigmoor winery at Mudgee holds that record. But Vat 47 is certainly the first commercially successful chardonnay in Australia. Until then, even the use of oak in white wine was pretty much unheard of in Australia.
"I remember Bruce Tyson who was chief winemaker at McWilliams saying to my dad 'well Murray, you have messed that up, no one in Australia will ever drink white wine with oak in it'," Tyrrell said.
"He was a great bloke and a top winemaker. But back then chardonnay was totally new."
When Murray Tyrrell decided he wanted to add chardonnay to the Tyrrell's portfolio, he first had to overcome the not insignificant problem of laying his hand on some vines.
"As a boy my father would go to school on Hermitage Road and on the way home from there he'd sneak into HVD vineyard for a feed of grapes, as kids do," Tyrrell said.
"He always said HVD had the sweetest grapes of all.
"So when he was looking for chardonnay, we knew Penfolds were experimenting with some planted in HVD and asked if we could have some, but they said no."
It's history now that Murray took matters into his own hands - let's call it exuberant entrepreneurship - and paid HVD a clandestine visit with an empty ute and his cutting knife. He returned with "about half a ute load".
Problem solved, and Tyrrell's chardonnay hasn't looked back.
Mind you, that was only half the problem. Even with fruit, the fact was they were total chardonnay novices. Everyone in Australia was.
"In those early years we'd wait for English show judge John Avery to arrive each year for wine shows - he was very knowledgeable and had a brilliant palate, especially with burgundy - and we'd get his advice," Tyrrell said.
These days, with Andrew Spinaze chalking up 40 vintages as white winemaker, there's not a lot about chardonnay they don't know. Semillon and shiraz too, for that matter.
The Vat 47 has never been better. And there's never been more top quality chardonnay coming out of the Hunter than there is today.
So, how does it stack up in Tyrrell's eyes, compared with regions such as Margaret River, Yarra Valley, and Adelaide Hills?
"I always say we make the best Hunter Valley chardonnay in Australia. We don't try to make Margaret River chardonnay, or Geelong chardonnay or whatever. Why should we when Hunter chardonnay is so good and ages so well?"
The 2021 Vat 47 is expected to be released to the public in two years (the 2019 vintage is currently selling) at around $100.
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