A small parcel of land in Pokolbin, the winemaking capital of the Hunter Valley, produces some of the best shiraz in the world. But it could have been a very different story.
When the village of Pokolbin was mapped in the early 1800s, the plot – now owned by Brokenwood Wines – was earmarked to be a cemetery for the new parish. “It was never consecrated,” explains Stuart Hordern, Brokenwood’s senior winemaker. “The metropolis of Pokolbin that was planned failed to get off the ground.”
All the better for wine lovers. The shiraz vines that were eventually planted in the plot’s heavy clay soil in 1968 now produce an award-winning drop for Brokenwood dubbed Graveyard Shiraz.
“The Graveyard Vineyard grapes make a classic, medium-weight Hunter Valley shiraz with incredible finesse, complexity and length,” says Stuart. “It’s a combination of soil, site, microclimate – all of these things come together to produce a wine that is not replicable anywhere else.”
The Graveyard Shiraz is Brokenwood’s flagship wine and it’s a shining example of the winemaking philosophy at Brokenwood: to make wines that speak clearly of place.
Brokenwood began as a small hobby winery in 1970, established by three solicitors – one of whom has become a leading figure in Australian wine as a writer, critic and judge, James Halliday. By 1978, Brokenwood had a loyal following, allowing them to purchase the Graveyard Vineyard next door to their original 4-hectare site.
“From humble beginnings, we’ve grown into one of the iconic producers, not just of the Hunter Valley, but of Australian wine,” says Stuart.
In the ’80s, Brokenwood began sourcing fruit from wine regions beyond the Hunter, including Orange in central NSW and McLaren Vale in South Australia.
Expanding to other regions “brings great variety to the wines we make,” says Stuart. “But we’re also able to choose sites and varieties [best] suited to those regions, and that’s really exciting.”
The label’s Regional Selection Shiraz, for instance, is from a single vineyard in Gundagai in southern NSW. “The cooling breezes that come down off the Snowy Mountains create these wonderful, bright dark fruits. It’s a delicious, easy drinking shiraz,” Stuart says.
As a winemaker, Stuart aims to showcase the grapes. “We do that by being respectful of the fruit, not trying to be too interventionist in terms of winemaking.”
The Brokenwood Semillon, starring fruit from the winery’s home base, needs little help from Stuart to shine. “It doesn’t go through malolactic fermentation, so it’s all about purity and length on the palate,” he explains. “It’s a wonderful young, crisp white wine on release, but it builds complexity and depth of flavour with cellaring.”
The Regional Selection Hunter Valley Chardonnay highlights the Hunter’s “outstanding” chardonnay sites. “It comes off vines planted in the mid-to-late ’90s on sandy alluvial soil, which produces a chardonnay with grapefruit and peach characters and balanced oak,” says Stuart.
Turn into McDonalds Road, the heart of the Hunter Valley wine region, and you’ll quickly spot the sleek timber facade of the Brokenwood winery. The label opened the doors to its new cellar door, complete with a fine dining restaurant, relaxed cafe and terrace bar, in 2018.
The tasting experiences have levelled up, too – book in for a tasting matched with canapes or indulge in a ‘soil to cellar’ experience with a tour of the Graveyard Vineyard and a degustation lunch.
Want to keep it simple? Head to the Cru Bar + Pantry for a woodfired pizza paired with rare, museum wines by the glass from Brokenwood’s self-service dispenser.