Conor Brasier and Hunter Valley Wine
Today we go down under to Tamburlaine Organic Wines, Australia's largest independent organic producer with over 300 hectares of organic wines in the Orange and Hunter Valley wine sub-regions of New South Wales. Independent meaning that they don’t sell to big-box retailers. Quite impressive for a 120,000 annual case production.

Cheese plate and Hunter Valley Wine

Tamburlaine’s Entry into Hunter Valley Wine

Tamburlaine started over 50 years ago when a small group of friends, led by Mark Davidson, purchased the winery and started making Hunter Valley wine. At Tamburlaine, they believe in low-intervention winemaking and strive to leave their spot on the Earth in better shape than how they found it. While at the Wine Media Conference in October 2019, I toured Tamburlaine with my old wine pal Liz of What’s In That Bottle, and my new wine pal, Conrad of The Wine Wankers. Tamburlaine assistant winemaker Conor Brasier guided us through the property and through a flight of wines for a lovely afternoon!

Hunter Valley Wine in Action

Conor is a breath of fresh air. I always appreciate a young winemaker and their ability to embrace change and innovation. He knows the place inside and out….it felt like he gave us a tour of his living room!

Hunter Valley Wine coming out of barrel

Tasting Hunter Valley Wine at Tamburlaine

 

Preservative Free Au Naturel Premium Cuvée

An all-natural, sulfur-free blanc de blanc made in the Charmant method (the same method used with Prosecco). All fruit from Orange. A nice, easy sparkling clocking in at a low 11.5% ABV.

Wine Lovers Verdelho-Semillon (current vintage 2020 $24)

Conor described this as a “session wine”. Not too serious, yet crisp and refreshing. “Crushable” as the kids say!

Reserve Orange Riesling (current vintage 2019 $33)

Tamburlaine makes 4 Rieslings, all from the same biodynamic vineyard in Orange. Green apple, citrus (grapefruit), and floral notes of white jasmine.

Mark Davidson Riesling (current vintage 2020 $18)

This wine is off-dry showing notes of citrus (lime), plus a floral note of orange blossom. Bracing acid.

Wine Lovers Sweet Phoebe ($24)

A NV late harvest Riesling. Great with Asian/Indian food!

Reserve Noble Riesling (current vintage 2017 $39)

A late harvest Riesling, with a portion of botrytised grapes. I get citrus (lime), plus a honeyed note, and lots of tropical fruits. Though sweet, this wine has great acid to counterbalance.

Single Vineyard Pinot Noir (current vintage 2018 $30)

Fruit comes from their Orange vineyard. 70% of Australia’s Pinot Noir clonal material comes from this vineyard. The wine is quite pretty; beautiful, in fact. Uniquely Aussie.

Barrel Tasting: 2019 Reserve Malbec

This is Conor’s favorite wine at the moment. I got an herbaceous note I don’t generally get from an Argentinian Malbec. Not over-oaked, like some Malbecs from Argentina. The vines in Orange are at about the same altitude as many Malbec vines in Uco Valley, Argentina, approx. 2,700 feet.

Hunter Valley Wine views

Since our visit, Tamburlaine announced that they bought former Cumulus Winery to expand its production capacity. Consequently, this helps cement them as an even bigger player in Australian organic winemaking. They plan to open a cellar door in Orange. However, I do not know the status of that since COVID hit. Tamburlaine is a solar-powered, energy-saving sustainable property, recycling its wastewater and turning solid wastes into vine mulch and compost.

This all sounds like good stuff to me! Certainly, I can attest, the wines were lovely. I highly recommend a visit to Tamburlaine if you ever find yourself in need of some Hunter Valley wine while visiting Australia! In the same vein of Hunter Valley Wine, a visit to Tyrrell’s, is definitely in order. In short, Tyrrell’s is considered the first family of Hunter Valley Wine and makes the best Semillon in the region!

Ground zero for Hunter Valley Wine

“Our wine business has been in the family for over 160 years, which is an amazing thing. We are lucky enough to make wine from vines planted by our great great grandfather in a time when they had no electricity or any of the luxuries we have today. It is an honor to work with these wonderful assets” -Chris Tyrrell

Chris Tyrrell

Established in 1858, Tyrrell’s could be called the First Family of the Hunter Valley. While at the Wine Media Conference in Australia this past October, I got to partake in a lovely excursion to Tyrrell’s where we visited the property and tasted through some pretty special wines. Our tour guide was Chris Tyrrell, 5th generation family member and now the COO.

 

The Tyrrell’s Coat of Arms

In 1963 Tyrrell’s released their iconic Vat 1 Hunter Semillon. This wine is now the most awarded white wine out of Australia. According to Chris, it is known for elegance, power, and strength. Vat 1 came out of the Winemaker’s Selection range when Murray Tyrrell wanted to isolate the best wines of each vintage. He named them after the cask in which they were matured. They are now only bottled in years when they believe the quality is high enough to warrant a separate bottling.

Below are the Vat 1 Semillon wines we had the privilege of tasting while on our excursion to Tyrrell’s. According to Chris, with Semillon, there’s nowhere to hide. Simple and minimal winemaking, which allows the fruit to shine.

*FYI, no oak has been used in these wines at all since the 1980s.

Vat 1 Semillon 2019

A young Hunter Sem showing nicely. On the nose, green fruit, stone fruit, plus a hint of tropical fruit (cantaloupe?) moving into vanilla and delicate white flowers. My tasting notes actually say: delicate white flowers blowing in the wind. But I could have been hallucinating and on a high as I had just seen a kangaroo in the vineyards 🙂

Vat 1 Semillon 2009

This wine is showing the beginnings of age on the nose: petrol and a struck match. These notes are what makes me LOVE aged Hunter Semillon. A beautiful wine with a fruit basket palate and a slight perfumed note.

Vat 1 Semillon 1998

When you taste this wine, you pause. I almost felt like I needed someone to take my hand and walk me through this wine. It is that different and special. Bracing acid that you would expect from a Semillon. Overall, this wine has a full, rounder mouthfeel that other Semillon’s I’ve had.

Working my way through that 1998 Vat 1

“I look forward to continuing to push the barriers of quality in viticulture and winemaking whilst
never forgetting the deeds of the people that got us here.” -Chris Tyrrell

 

Next month I am traveling to Australia for the second time. My first trip in 2012 was purely for pleasure. I went with two girlfriends and we explored Sydney, the Hunter Valley, Brisbane, Cape Tribulation, and Uluru (Ayers Rock). It truly was the trip of a lifetime. In October I will be there for the Wine Media Conference, formerly the Wine Bloggers Conference, which takes place in the Hunter Valley. This will be a simple trip for me with a few days in Sydney, a few days in the Hunter, and then back home! Q4 is a busy travel season for me, so I opted not to make it an extended vacation.

Back to the Hunter! The Hunter Valley is about 2 hours north of Sydney on the East Coast of Australia in the state of New South Wales. Within the state of NSW, there are 14 distinct wine regions, which I will explore below. The Hunter Valley is really the only one known on a world-scale. The others are more locally focused.

The most important wine in NSW is arguably Hunter Valley Semillon, which used to be called Hunter River Riseling. Aged Hunter Valley Semillon is divine and I cannot wait to dig into some of that on my trip!

Below is a summary of the 14 wine regions of New South Wales.

Hunter Valley

Hunter Valley is the oldest and most visited wine country in Australia. Vines were first planted in the area in the early 1820s from cuttings bought by James Busby, considered the father/grandfather of Australian wine. Other wine pioneers here included: George Wyndham (first planting, 1828), Henry Lindeman (first vineyard site, 1843), Joseph Drayton (planted his first vines, late 1850s), Edward Tyrell (first planting, 1861), and John Younie Tulloch (first vineyard, 1895). In modern times, winemakers started flocking here in the 1960’s and 1970’s. There are more than 150 cellar doors in the Hunter Valley Wine region, more than any other region.

New England

New England is the newest and most northern region in NSW with 40 vineyards. It was officially registered as a winegrowing region in 2008, but is actually a re-emerging region as vineyards were first planted in the 1850s. New England is topographically diverse, including high-altitude vineyards (over 1,000 meters), cool-climate vineyards along the spines of the Great Dividing Range, and warmer vineyards at lower elevation on the western edges of New England. Australia’s highest altitude vineyard lies here: Black Mountain at 1,320 meters above sea level. In fact, this area is the only part of Australia with terra rossa soil at altitude. Varieties grown here include: Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Shiraz.

Hastings River

Hastings River is quite north near the town of Port Macquarie. This is one of the smallest sub-regions with only 200 hectares under vine. The first vines planted here was in 1837 by Henry Fancourt White, but they did not receive their official Geographical Indication (GI) until 1999. John Cassegrain helped in the rebirth of grape growing in 1980. He is also the first to produce Chambourcin commercially in Australia. Grapes grown here include Chambourcin, Chardonnay, Verdelho, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. The climate here (sub-tropical and humid) is suitable for the Chambourcin grape, which is disease and mildew resistant.

Cowra

Cowra is more inland and directly west from Sydney, situated in the warm, fertile Lachlan Valley. Half of the region's wine producers are certified for organic and biodynamic production! Vines were not planted here in the area until 1972 and they were granted GI status in 1998. Now there are 40 vineyards in the area with 9 cellar doors.

Orange

Orange is an inland area west of Sydney is a wine region defined by altitude. It is NSW’s largest high-altitude cool climate region with 1500 hectares under vine and 80 vineyards, most family-owned. Also, 30 cellar doors.

Mudgee

Mudgee is one of the few NSW regions to retain a continuous link with the vines/vineyards planted by the colonial founders. The first vineyards were planted by three settlers from Germany: Adam Roth, Andreas Kurtz, and Frederick Buchholz. The Roth and Kurtz families still have holdings in the area. In fact, vines on the Kurtz property were identified as clones of some of the original Chardonnay vine stock brought to Australia from Europe during the early days of the colony. Most of Australia’s Chardonnay stocks are sourced from these vines and are virus-free. However, it is notable that 75% of local production is based on reds, mostly Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Shoalhaven Coast

Shoalhaven Coast is a newer region with vines first planted in the 1970s. Breathtakingly beautiful coastal vineyards define the area and oysters are a specialty here. This is actually the start of the South Coast Oyster Trail.

Southern Highlands

Southern Highlands didn’t have vine plantings until 1983. This is a cool climate, high altitude region with a specialty in Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Canberra District

Canberra District is defined by their complicated land laws, which have discouraged vine plantings in the area. Vineyards have been planted within the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) since 1988. They are mostly small-scale growers with 30+ cellar doors. Fun fact, Canberra is one of Australia’s key truffle-growing areas!

Hilltops

Hilltops produces some of the best known cool-climate reds. Not wine-related, but interesting, their two main annual events are: Running of the Sheep and the National Cherry Festival.

Gundagai

Gundagai is a very new region and doesn’t really have a wine identity just yet.

Riverina

Riverina is the big boy where Yellowtail is based. There are 20,000 hectares planted and they produce 60% of the state’s production and are the state’s largest exporter.

Perricoota

Perricoota is the smallest NSW wine region along the Murray River. There are only a handful of growers in the region. They all work together (as a co-op) and make the Collexion, a wine made using the fruit from all the growers in the area.

Tumbarumba

Tumbarumba is a cool climate region which produces sparkling wines, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir grapes.

Thank you to the sponsors/partners of the Wine Media Conference, including: Destination Sydney Surrounds North, the Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism AssociationNSW Wine Industry Association, the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW, Destination NSW, and Wine Australia.

Disclosure: I received these Two Hands Wines samples for review as part of the #WineStudio program.

What is #WineStudio?

#WineStudio, the brainchild of Tina Morey, is an online Twitter-based educational program. Each month a different producer is selected, along with a lineup of wines from their portfolio. Anyone can participate in the weekly Twitter chats, yet only a select few are chosen to receive samples to accompany the conversation. Every Tuesday at 6pm (Pacific time), Tina hosts the group on Twitter at the WineStudio hashtag. Usually accompanying her is someone affiliated with the producer. Might be the winemaker, owner, salesperson, etc. Tina describes it as part instruction and part wine tasting. Discussion topics include: the producer history, the grapes, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food, etc. For each new topic Tina has seen dozens of original content pieces created, thousands of interactions via social media and millions of impressions created on our specific topic.

October was the month of Two Hands Wines, hailing from Australia.

History of Two Hands Wines

Two Hands Wines was the brainchild of Michael Twelftree and a business partner in 1999. Their goal was to share Australian Shiraz with the world, and that they did. At the time, most exported Australian Shiraz was cheap, jammy industrial stuff. Not necessarily terroir-based wines. Two Hands crafted Aussie wines that showcased regionality and varietal differences. It started out as a negociant business, while they spent the time building their winery and acquiring vineyards along the way. Michael since has a new business partner, but is still very much involved. They export over 30% of their wines, and Michael has spent A LOT of time on the road maintaining relationships and creating a personalized experience for those who bring Two Hands into their portfolio, storefront, restaurant, etc. Ben Perkins, the winemaker for Two Hands Wines and has joined us on the weekly #WineStudio chats.

Photo: Milton Wordley

Picture Series

Two Hands describes these as serious wines with irreverent labeling. The Picture Series is the gateway to the Two Hands portfolio. Bottles are approachable and fun with the goal of the juice being: purity of fruit. This is where Two Hands can let go and use different varietals and regions.

Two Hands Angel’s Share Shiraz 2014 McLauren Vale $36 SRP

Purple fruit, coffee, and mocha. This wine calls for food. It had a more subtle and fruitier nose than the others.

Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 McLauren Vale $36 SRP

You immediately know there’s a Cab in your glass here. A combination of red and black fruit, green pepper, eucalyptus, herbaceousness, and vanilla. A definite tannic grip. Worked famously with a steak salad.

Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz 2014 Barossa Valley $36 SRP

Round tannins, black fruit, smoke, chocolate, cedar, pepper/spice. Overall, this one was a bit meatier than the others.

Garden Series

The Garden Series is the super premium range of Shiraz from six of the finest Shiraz growing regions in Australia, showcasing the regionality of Australian Shiraz. All the wines here have identical vinification and maturation processes, allowing the regionality (a regions winemaking reputation) to shine through. This is a FINE way to do a side by side tasting, as with consistent winemaking you can really see, smell, and taste the differences in a single varietal from different regions.

Two Hands Lily’s Garden Shiraz 2014 McLauren Vale $69 SRP

A combination of red and black fruit, lots of spice (cloves and pepper), cedar/toasted oak, and vanilla.  Overall, this was my favorite of the Two Hands Wine we tried. It was feminine, round, supple, and sexy.

Two Hands Bella’s Garden Shiraz 2014 Barossa Valley $69 SRP

A combination of red and black fruit with a slight baked quality, pepper, earth, vanilla, and leather. This one was a bit understated. I’d describe it as androgynous...not quite feminine, but not quite masculine. Somewhere in the middle. A lovely wine. Holds it’s own and does not need food.

Flagship Series

The Flagship Series is where Two Hands Wines uses the very finest varietal selections from each vintage. And it’s quite a precise system to determine which are the “finest varietal selections”.  Ben Perkins and owner Michael Twelftree meticulously taste each and every barrel. The barrels are blind tasted and each barrel is granted a “grade” from an A+ down to a C. Only A+ barrels are used in the Flagship Series. The Ares wine is the pinnacle of their Shiraz production.  I did not receive this wine for sampling.

What's next for Two Hands Wines?

According to Michael Twelftree, they are working on some new vineyards, increasing clonal selections, and they have a new winery planned for 2018.

Have you tried any of Two Hands Wines before?  If so, leave me a comment below and tell me what you thought of them.

See HERE on Wine-Searcher.com for where you can pick up Two Hands Wines near you.

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