Brokenwood Wines, located in Australia’s sunny Hunter Valley, about 2 hours north of Sydney, has a truly interesting history. It was founded by three Sydney-based solicitors who paid a then record price of $970 per acre for a 10-acre piece of land in Brokenback Ranges, a block which was originally planned to be turned into a cricket ground. The land was planted then with Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, but since then it has produced a wide array of premium quality wines, sourced from ‘all the right regions, for all the right reasons’, from the Graveyard Shiraz to the Cricket Pitch Sauvignon Blanc Semillon and Cricket Pitch Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot. To see the full map of the Brokenwood Wines regions, check out the Brokenwood Wines Regional Wine Map from their website!
In the interview that follows, Debra meets with Peter-James Charteris of Brokenwood Wines. Debra and P.J. describes to Debra the light, zesty character of their trademark Semillon and explains the misconception behind the oak-like characters which Semillon seems to develop with age. He also lets Debra in on some of his favorite aged Semillons. The two also discuss the changing status of the Hunter Valley region – its decreased exposure in the past few years along with the hopes surrounding the recent resurgence of interest in developing the region further. Finally, P.J. reveals to Debra why Hunter Valley Shiraz is better than other wines for the health.
Hi, I’m Debra Meiburg and I’m with P. J. Charteris of Brokenwood in Australia. So first of all, where is the winery located?
In the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, about 2 hours north of Sydney, sunny Hunter Valley.
And do you make a bit of Syrah?
A little bit of Shiraz, we call it out here, and some Semillon as well.
And tell me about the Semillon.
Very unique style to the Hunter Valley, very fine, light, zesty style that’s particularly age-worthy. So, as a young wine with lots of citrus character and they develop this lovely toasty-ness as they get older. And good for 20 years!
And tell me, why is it that Semillon, after a bit of age, has almost an oakiness to it when, in fact, it hasn’t seen a lick of oak? Why does that happen?
I think that toasty-ness and lovely concentrated citrus character looks a little bit like an oaky character, so people sometimes go, “Oh, is there a touch of oak there?” But it’s just the toasty-ness and citrus concentration that you get in Semillon.
Semillon is one of the few white wine varieties that can really age beautifully. What are some of the oldest Semillons you’ve had?
I think, probably one of my favorite ones being of my birth-year, ’68 Lindeman’s.
Ooh. We’re taping. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Yeah, it wasn’t a very good year in many other places but in the Hunter Valley there were some fantastic wines made in ’68 and Lindeman’s made a couple of wines that year. But, certainly, the 1970′s – Lindeman’s as well, Tyrrell’s and Rothbury also made some great aging wines which are now 42 years old, 40 years old. So I guess those I hold as the benchmark of great ageability in Semillon.
Now, Hunter used to have all the limelight in Australia and, say, in the last 20 years has lost a bit of its exposure. So where do you think is the future for Hunter Valley?
A couple of interesting things have happened. Firstly, and probably most importantly, all the large companies left the valley. The cost of grape growing and making wine is quite high and a lot of the large companies have said, “Well that just doesn’t fit with out shareholder-based operation.” So we’re now left with a lot of family companies and smaller wineries, which means that there’s not that amount of wine to go around. So, most of those producers would sell their wine domestically and there has been a great resurgence, great interest in developing in the Hunter again within Australia. Hopefully that flows out to the rest of the world.
One of the benefits of drinking a Hunter Valley Shiraz is that typically they have had lower alcohol. Is that still the case?
Yeah, I think so, that’s pretty common. Our average for our Graveyard Shiraz over the last few years, has been roundabout 13% alcohol. I think the combination of the weather, the soils, the climate gives us a much more elegant style. And much more healthy for you as well.
[Laughs] Well, I look forward to drinking more Brokenwood, for my health. Thank you.
Thanks very much.
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