I love to go behind the scenes and visit producers
This is where you feel the passion, the history and the struggle. You are briefly swept up into someone’s dream, feeling their passion and enthusiasm.
It’s when I am reminded of most our connection to the earth and what it gives us, and that as a consumer and city dweller I have no part in this incredible cycle. The sun the soil and the absolute high it can give you when you grow and produce something beautiful, tangible and awarded it must be addictive. Thankfully today I have a part in that dream because I am at the stunning Keith Tulloch Winery cellar door to taste and listen to the ideas behind what drives a wine making family onwards. There is serious blood sweat and tears and a little science behind the final product, and in the case of Keith Tulloch Winery there is also a a long and involved family history.
Keith grew up in a wine making family that can trace back four generations, the Tulloch name is part of Hunter Valley history. Keith attended Roseworthy winemakers college in South Australia, like his father Harry and then worked vintages at Hungerford Hill, Rothbury and Lindeman’s before making his way to Europe. After working in the Rhone in France he returned to the Hunter to develop his own winery. Keith and Amanda, ( his wife and business partner), produced their first vintage of 350 dozen following the traditional style they had learnt in Europe feeling that this would best capture the essence of the Hunter.
Keith Tulloch Winery sits well amongst the beautiful landscape of the valley and the view is dominated by the Brokenback Ranges. The new Cellar door, production area and restaurant designed by Amanda, were finished in 2011, and they have a relaxed almost yesteryear appeal with splashes of wood, glass and stone.
First thing that you need to do at a winery of course, is to visit the vineyard. The complex is built on the “Field of Mars” vineyard that the family bought in 2007. This very special vineyard houses 45 year old vines. Keith jokes that they bought their very own retirement village because these vines need great attention and gentle care. Vines can go on producing fruit for a hundred or more years. Like people they grow brittle and do not regenerate as easily as young vines do, so they need constant care, fertilization and attention. The yield is also much less, but the wine from these vines is intense, liquid gold. The vineyard needed to be rejuvenated, a task that 80 year old Harry Tulloch has taken on with enthusiasm. At 80 he is still out working, watching and tending to the everyday needs of the vines in the retirement village. Old vines are rare in our country where volume and quick production are more economical.
This “small batch” winery still only produce around 14,000 cases a year and you won’t find them in a bottleshop. Most of their wine is sold here at the winery, or straight to restaurants or exported to Germany, the UK, Switzerland and Canada. They produce Semillon, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Shiraz Rose, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Botrytis Semillon.
Harvest is usually in the heat of January and the fruit is pressed the day it is picked or degradation of the fruit will affect the wine. This makes for long days and the harvest is a very communal, hand driven activity. Once picked it is brought into the cool cellar where machinery separates the husks and impurities and crushes the fruit. For red wine fermentation takes place in stainless steel, the yeast is added and the juice remains “on skin” for up to 5 weeks before it is strained and barreled. The cellar is another mixture of winemaking’s traditional and modern trappings. At one end are shiny stainless steel vats and machinery and at the other wooden barrels stacked to the roof, and always made with fragrant woods that will impart flavour into the wines. Barrels can be bought from many sources with each type of barrel from different suppliers having its own distinct flavour. Even the size of the barrel will impart different flavours; the more barrel contact the wine has the more of that flavour will characterize the wine. Many years trial and error dictate the oak balance used on each wine. Barrels need to be replaced periodically, as the flavour eventually dissipates with use. It’s a science there is no doubt.
So what if you are just eager to Taste wine?
Well, this is the right place. There are a lot of ways you can taste the wine here. You can go upstairs and sit in comfort in the air-conditioned tasting room. It’s very civilized and welcoming. The views over the property and off to the ranges from the tasting room are beautiful. You can sit on the verandah or indoors at tables and for $5 per person you can taste around 8 or 9 wines with one of the tasting team to run you through them. If you buy wines you will get your $5 back. You can snack here in the comfy lounge too. One of the things that most impressed me about Keith was his overall attitude to food and wine. Wine needs food and food needs wine. It’s like a good accessory and he is fond of saying wine is “the jewellery of food..” and I loved it. I never ever felt that I should know more or that I needed to have the correct words. Wine is part of life, part of eating and part of the day. Relax, you don’t need to be an expert. You just need to like a good story.
If snacking is not your favourite way to enjoy wine there is Muse Kitchen right across the path, it’s ridiculously easy . This is younger sibling to Muse Dining over at Hungerford Hill. You can really choose how you want it to work. Maybe you want to choose a couple of wines to taste with lunch, or perhaps do part of a tasting, have lunch and continue your tasting after. It’s all very flexible here.
A club member tasting room runs off the main tasting room. The wine club is very popular and there are loads of club activities organised throughout the year as well as discounts on wine, of course. Running the length of the windows and overlooking the cellar door is a private dining room. You can hire this as a pre-booked group visiting the winery or for an occasion. The food is fresh, very seasonal and designed with wine tasting in mind. I tasted the Keith Tulloch range with a few of the dishes.
Each dish was served with a taste of the collection. The only way to fly!
Organic Ciabatta with caramelized balsamic and onions, Potted Duck Liver Pate with a berry and red wine jelly, Pea and Pecorino Croquettes, A selection of Australian Salami, Pork and Pistachio Terrine and a Spring Garden Salad with young beans, peas and parmesan.
The highlights were tasting the Semillon 2007 ($45) alongside the Semillon 2014. ($28). Semillon is a Hunter specialty and the younger Semillon had lemon and tropical guava freshness that is beautiful and Summery and is generally perfect with fresh seafood and uncomplicated foods. Semillon ages very well and the 2007 has a softened acidity but still has the fresh lemony background characters. In the picture the lighter is the 2014 and the darker yellow the 2007. It’s more buttery and biscuity and is so nice to drink with cooked seafood’s and more complex sauces, and dishes. It was beautiful with the croquettes.
It is a comfortable experience tasting wine with Keith, he has so many interesting anecdotes about winemaking and the family business, his children, both now in their 20’s and involved in the business of winemaking and communications. Today his son Alasdair and wife, Amanda are here and each has something to add to each sentence like they are reading from the same page. It’s endearing.
We finish the tasting with a comparison of Shiraz, a passion here. But first to make one of my favourites, Shiraz Rose, 100% shiraz is left on skins for 24 hours then 10% is extracted, and put aside for the Shiraz Rose, the rest goes on to produce the Shiraz itself. They produce Shiraz in the French style by co- fermenting with Viognier skins, to soften the tannins. (Viognier is another Hunter Valley specialty). The first Shiraz we try is 2013 “The Wife” happily named after Amanda for its floral lighter more feminine feel, up against 2011 “The Kester” that is like black cherries and plums and black pepper. It has an oaky powerful fresh taste and I am not sure which one I love the most. *Sigh*
Down stairs there is a pop-up chocolate shop called Cocoa Nib. It will soon be a permanent fixture and will not only sell handcrafted chocolate but pastries, desserts and coffee. It will have seating indoors and out and I am sure will prove to be another incredible drawcard to visiting the estate. Hunter Valley born Aymee Slaviero has spent time working in restaurants like Flying Fish in Sydney to hone her skills and is now happy to be back in the Hunter working. She prepared a selection of chocolates to eat while sipping on the 2012 botrytis semillon. ( $35)
Keith Tulloch Wines is like an amusement park for adults.
There is the possibility you may not want to leave and they have thought about that too. There is a two bedroom residence above the restaurant aptly named the “Manager’s Quarters“. It’s fully self-contained and there is lots to do in the vicinity. Binnorie dairy shop is just down the road and so are a number of cafes.
Why do wineries plant rose bushes?
Roses are a very delicate plant. They will start to be effected by any small change in the soil or adverse conditions. They will start to show signs of stress of fatigue before the vines do. So, they are kind of like that poor canary in the coal mine.
My Kitchens Stories traveled and ate as a guest of Keith Tulloch Wine.
Cocoa Nib: facebook