Proctor : April 2018
57 PROCTOR | April 2018 A long time ago in a new colony not so far away, enterprising pioneers started crafting the land known as New South Wales into John Bull’s vineyard. Given the regularity of blockades with France in times of war, the British Colonial Office dreamed of the Australasian colonies providing a steady stream of wine to quench the thirst of a parched mother country. Viticulture in NSW grew on mixed use farming properties, along with sheep, wheat and fruits. The vine penetrated the Hunter Valley and the Sydney environs, but not much further due to water shortages. Mostly, the climate of the new wide brown land was too challenging, though in time the new colonies in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania proved kinder. The Hilltops region of NSW could have been a star of the new colony if a more concentrated effort had been made to overcome the dual tyrannies of distance and rainfall. Today, these restrictions are more manageable, and Hilltops has gained fame as one of the ‘new’ wine regions in NSW along the western edge of the Great Dividing Range (Gundagai, Young, Orange and Mudgee). The region itself is at a high altitude (starting at 450m ASL), sitting around the towns of Young, Borowa and Harden. This is stonefruit country (not unlike our Granite Belt, which is also on the western edge of the Great Dividing Range) and famous for cherries and fruits. Originally settled in the 1830s, the region took off in the 1860s when New South Wales’ richest goldfields were discovered there. Winemaking seems to have come at about that time, when Croatian pioneer Nichole Jasprizza established a vineyard and sold cherries and wine to the goldminers. By 1880 he had recruited three of his nephews from the old country to help, and in the early days of the 1900s had reportedly won medals at the Sydney wine show and expanded to 240 hectares of vines. Like many colonial vineyard areas (Roma, for example), the business dried up in the hard years of depression and port-fancying. Rebirth came to the Hilltops in 1969, when farmer Peter Robinson planted vines at his property, Barwang, near Young. This reputedly preceded the birth of the nearby powerhouse Canberra district by two years. The Barwang label has continued to this day, after being bought by the McWilliams family in 1989, but not without its hairy moments. Wine writer Chris Shanahan tells of a contest of ideas within McWilliams about whether Barwang fruit should have been for blending or a regional wine.1 He describes powerful forces inviting wine journalists to Barwang to tour the vineyard, taste their vines and support blending or the creation of a Hilltops identity. Fortunately for us, everyone sided for the creation of a new wine region and Barwang has spearheaded the growth of the region. Other great vineyards like Moppity and Grove Estate have championed the cause, and McWilliams (heavily invested in the region) has created a number of appellation and reserve wines to showcase the area. But if you were looking for an endorsement of the potential of the Hilltops region, it is telling that Canberra district leviathan, Clonakilla, has created a Hilltops Shiraz to provide an entry wine for its mighty Shiraz Viognier. The Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz has been gaining some fame itself, no less I hear, for its involvement in a party at Parliament House in Canberra one night which resulted in a broken marble table... The first was the Barwang Hilltops 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was purple red in colour. The nose was spicy with white pepper and a little capsicum. The palate had oak to the fore with a dense currant and briar flavour, with some menthol and capsicum flavour hiding in the background looking on from a safe distance. The second was the McW Reserve 660 Hilltops Shiraz 2015, which had deep purple hues and a touch of smoke on the water. The nose was savoury with notes of leather and fresh earth turned in the region’s canola fields. The palate had a core of red currants, leather and ripe savoury spice with rising oak on the mid palate weight. Perhaps some more time will bring it all together. The last was the mighty Clonakilla 2016 Hilltops Shiraz, which was plum red with dark brooding clouds of extracted colour. The nose was very approachable cherry and spice. The palate was rising action on the attack with black pepper, mushroom, leather and ripe red fruits with a tannin backbone to see it through at least the next five years. Verdict: The favourite was the Clonakilla, which had power and a dose of class. The tasting Matt Dunn is Queensland Law Society government relations advisor. Wine A fine view of the Hilltops with Matthew Dunn Three Hilltops wines were tasted for the betterment of society. Note 1 chrisshanahan.com/articles/2010/hilltops-flies-solo.