Australia’s Hunter Valley has been producing wine since the early 19th century, but a wave of adventurous young vintners is now breathing new life into the venerable region
The Valley has long been defined by its sémillon, but the region’s vignerons are now turning their attention to more outré grapes. Roughly a two-hour drive north of Sydney is the town of Pokolbin, where you can enjoy tastings from these three intriguing wineries.
Dirt Candy Wine
Daniel Payne says that his 50-liter barrel of liqueur muscat (a fortified Aussie wine) had been “following” his family around throughout his childhood, but even after his late father gave it to him, it took him three years to get around to tasting it. Payne, 38, was blown away by the 60-year-old drink inside, and he began sourcing younger muscat for a “blending exercise” that ended in a rich, wintry creation called The Inheritance. (He now adds muscats of varying ages to the barrel to maintain the supply.)
This is just one of several experimental wines Payne and his wife, Jenni, have released since they launched Dirt Candy Wine in 2017. Until a tasting room opens later this year, Payne hosts local, by-appointment events, where you can try creations such as The White Knight chardonnay pétillant naturel, a cloudy, fizzy, mustard-colored party-in-a-bottle.
This nearly 100-year-old Hunter Valley brand launched its B-Side Range to encourage its vintners to search for contemporary surprises. Now renamed and added to Mount Pleasant’s Vineyard Collection, the concoctions include Adrian Sparks’s 2018 ruby red Creek Block Tempranillo Touriga, which blends a signature Spanish varietal with a Portuguese one. “We were looking for varieties outside the common ones,” explains Sparks, 42. “The touriga adds layers of spice and red berries to the darker spectrum of the tempranillo.”
Usher Tinkler Wines
In 2017, Usher Tinkler challenged himself to make a wine that was “like an abstract piece of art.” The result is The Enneagram, a blend of nine varietals (for the nine personality types in its namesake model of the human psyche). “Saying, ‘This is a piece of art,’ makes people think,” the 40-year old vintner explains. “We try not to tell anyone anything about it, because if you say, ‘This is chardonnay,’ they’ll have an idea of what it should be.” What it is—sorry, Usher—is a refreshing rosé-style wine with an eye-catching death’s head label. “When you throw out winemaking rules,” Tinkler says, “you can do anything!”