Guardians of the Grapes at Ivanhoe Wines
As the fifth generation of one of Australia’s oldest winemaking families, Stephen Drayton virtually has wine running through his veins. But it is the fertile volcanic soil running through the steep slopes of his 80-acre Pokolbin property that has really helped Stephen make a name for himself in the Hunter wine industry.
Stephen and his wife Tracy are the passionate team behind the family-owned and operated Ivanhoe Wines, a boutique estate located on the corner of Oakey Creek and Marrowbone roads in the heart of the Hunter Valley wine region.
The vineyard is known for producing “big gutsy reds”, a reputation that Tracy said has its foundations in the nutrient-dense volcanic soils on the slopes of Mt Bright where the vineyard’s red grape varieties are grown.
Further down the slope, the soil is made up of a sandy loam, which is ideal for producing excellent whites.
“Ivanhoe Estate has been an established vineyard since the 1850s and was replanted in the late 1950s,” Tracy said.
“Previously part of the Drayton’s (Family Wines) red vineyard, the fruit from Ivanhoe is renowned for its quality.
“The Ivanhoe property is located on a steep slope of an old volcano (Mount Bright). The rich red volcanic soil, which is only found in a few places throughout the Hunter Valley, is ideal for growing our red varieties, whilst the flatter blocks of vineyard on the sandy alluvial soils are better suited to our white varieties.
“Ivanhoe is more famous for our reds and the sign ‘Big Gutsy Reds’ on the corners of the property do entice many travellers to visit us.
“We have a wide range of red wines, from soft and fruity with a hint of cherry, to a medium-bodied Hunter Shiraz, to our big rich and full reds, the Shiraz Pressings and Premium Reserve Dark Horse. “Depending on the time of day, we have a red to suit all occasions.”
Of course, there’s much more to producing quality wine than just where the vines are planted, with the couple’s long association with the industry another crucial element of their success.
Stephen is a fifth-generation vigneron, whose family have been established in the Hunter Valley since the 1850’s. Tracy started working in the wine industry in 1988 and met Stephen when they were both representing a wine company at a Hunter Valley Wine Festival in 1992.
After Stephen’s parents, retired winemaker Reg and his wife Pam, were tragically killed in the infamous Sea View Air Crash on their way from Williamtown to Lord Howe Island in 1996, the couple took over the property and vineyard, started a new company from scratch and built the warehouse and later the cellar door. In the process they created a new brand and wine label which they named Ivanhoe Wines after the Estate.
While Stephen and Tracy have brought the historic Ivanhoe vineyard to life with their own style and passion, Stephen also remains true to his father’s viticultural legacy.
“Stephen has carried on the philosophy of his father Reg, who was the winemaker at Drayton’s for over 30 years,” Tracy said.
“Reg always said that the vigneron is a ‘guardian of the grape’. Most of the hard work in creating a great wine is done in the vineyard, producing quality fruit and then with the patience and knowledge of the winemaker.
“Stephen’s decision-making as the vigneron includes when and how to harvest our grapes. He delays the harvesting of the fruit to achieve optimal levels of ripeness and as a result, showcase bigger, bolder flavours in the wine.
“Ivanhoe Estate is 80 acres in total, with approximately 60 acres under vine. Many of the vines are over 60 years old, and while they are low yielding in the volume of fruit, the quality is exceptional and is one of the secrets of Ivanhoe’s success.
“We currently grow Semillon, Verdelho, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Chambourcin, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.
“The decision for which grapes were planted where was highly considered to ensure the best possible flavour, colour and quality of the fruit. We do grow grapes that are well suited to the soils and climate, and Semillon and Shiraz are prime examples of these.”
“We strive to produce wines that are a great example of the variety. Our favourite is the Shiraz Pressings – we believe it is a fine example of a well-made Hunter Valley red.”
Those keen to taste Ivanhoe’s renowned reds – and whites – for themselves won’t be able to track one down in their nearest bottle shop, with the wines only available onsite or online.
While you can get the wines delivered directly to your door via Australia Post, there’s nothing quite like a visit to one of the most picturesque and photographed properties in the Hunter Valley. “Another of the benefits of a property being nestled on the side of the hill at the base of the Brokenback Mountain Range is the view!” Tracy said.
“The wide verandahs offer spectacular views of the vineyard and mountain range. Every season has a different view to offer, from budburst with the hope of the new season and glow of the green of new buds, to summer, which is very green and the vines are laden with fruit. Then there are the autumnal colours as the vines enter the dormant stage of the yearly cycle, and of course, winter when we take the opportunity to hand prune each and every vine.”
Tracy said Ivanhoe featured a mixture of old and new elements, which seamlessly blend with the picturesque environment to create an unforgettable experience.
“Back in the 1850s, Ivanhoe had a winery with many open-air concrete vats, which are still standing. Meanwhile, our cellar door was modelled on the Ivanhoe Homestead, which burnt down in the bushfires during 1968,” she said.
Photo by Dominic Loneragan
“Today, Ivanhoe also has a magnificent ‘Hand’ sculpture made of stainless steel chain created by artist Mike Van Dam at the front of the cellar door. The hands represent Stephen and Tracy’s partnership, as well as camaraderie, while the silver steel and chain also enhance our branding with the theme of Knights and the Round Table.
“We also have a custom-made grapevine sculpture by Rene Rasmussen from Cosy Iron Design. It is a beautiful spot for romance, and we have had a proposal or two here over the years.”
For those who do make the trip out to Pokolbin, they will be rewarded with a wine tasting to remember.
For both Stephen and Tracy, customer service is a key focus, which is why you will always see one or the other at the cellar door talking to visitors as they sample from the range of Ivanhoe wines.
“At Ivanhoe, we aim to provide an enjoyable wine experience rather than a tasting,” Tracy said.
“All of our tastings are seated with a maximum of four guests, which adds to the personal service, and our team are passionate and knowledgeable about wine.
“We also offer a Wine Masterclass for those wanting a little more structure and education in a fun way, and this is served with a gourmet cheese platter with many locally-sourced ingredients.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated a few changes to the experience at the moment, Tracy said they are committed to ensuring the health and wellbeing of both visitors and staff.
Having reopened after a nine-week closure, tastings are available from 10am to 5pm seven days a week, with bookings essential.
“Ivanhoe was closed for nine weeks during the COVID-19 lockdown. Since reopening on June 1st our tastings have been a little different as we comply with the new restrictions that are in place,” Tracy said.
“The number of guests we can accommodate in the building is substantially restricted to comply with social distancing. This is a significant decrease in our usual seating capacity.
Photo by Dominic Loneragan
Owners Stephen and Tracy Drayton
We are trying our best to adapt and provide our guests with a memorable Ivanhoe experience in these unprecedented and uncertain times.
“Reservations are now essential, and we advise you to book as far in advance as possible to avoid disappointment.
“We ensure that all guests register at the entry and sanitise their hands. We have a COVID Hygiene Marshall who oversees the cleaning of each table, chairs, glassware and water bottle and re-sets the table for the next guests who are booked in.”
Despite the uncertainty that COVID-19 has created for everyone, and especially those within the hospitality industry, Tracy said they were looking forward positively to what the future may hold. “We are very excited about the future for Ivanhoe,” she said.
“We look forward to continuing to grow our membership base with more members events, adding more sculptures to the grounds as well as the introduction of exciting new events pending the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions.
“We’ll keep you posted on Ivanhoe Wines’ Facebook and Instagram pages, so stay tuned for more details!”
Visit www.ivanhoewines.com.au for more information.
Top photo by Dominic Loneragan