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Classics to Contemporary | Melding together the Old and the New


The team at Briar Ridge Vineyard. Photo by Elfes Images

Located in one of the most picturesque areas of the Hunter Valley, Mount View, boutique winery Briar Ridge calls itself ‘classically radical’ and is quickly gaining a reputation for innovative winemaking.

 

Winner of the 2022 Young Achiever of the Year at the Hunter Legend Awards, Alex Beckett, is steering a bright future for the winery. This innovation is firmly supported by a foundation in tradition and well-established vines that enjoy a long history. It is these vines, planted 50 years ago in 1972, that the winery is celebrating this year.


The history of the winery began in 1972 when Murray Robson planted the first vines - pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, some Portuguese port varieties described as merlot, a small amount of chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, in what was then called Squire Vineyard, and by 1975 the wines produced from these vines were already winning gold medals. In 1987 John Davis purchased the property because, as a geologist, he recognised the unique climate, topography and soil that the area offered winemaking.


As the original owner wrote, “Mount View is a tiny valley over 600 feet above the surrounding plains. This height has created a microclimate that avoids temperature extremes and allows the grapes to ripen slowly and evenly over a longer period, thus assisting the aromatics and flavour depth of all wines.”


In 1988 the Davis family reoriented the rows and replanted the vineyard. In 1991 Hunter Valley legendary winemaker Karl Stockhausen joined Briar Ridge, releasing his first vintage in the same year, which won the best wine in show at the Hunter Valley Wine Show for his shiraz.


Fast forward to 2022, and at the recent 2023 Halliday Wine Companion Awards, Briar Ridge was presented with not only the trophy for ‘White (& Blends) Wine of the Year with the 2021 Limited Release Albariño but also a red star winery rating. A red star rating is awarded to an outstanding winery regularly producing wines of exemplary quality and typicity. They must have at least two wines rated at 95 points or above and have held a 5-star rating for the previous three years. Briar Ridge has the 2021 Single Vineyard ‘Dairy Hill’ Semillon with 97 points, the 2021 Limited Release Albariño, the 2017 Stockhausen Shiraz and the 2017 Single Vineyard ‘Briar Hill’ Chardonnay all with 95 points.


In addition, the 2021 ‘Briar Hill’ Chardonnay also won the ‘Hunter Valley Best of Region’ trophy in the James Halliday Chardonnay and Cabernet Challenge, which is a competition and celebration of Australia’s incredible regional attributes. Tasting notes say that the wine exhibits “pure green apple and lime fruit aromas alongside concentrated lemon curd flavours building into a long persistent creamy textured finish.” The winery has also been awarded a gold medal at the recent Hunter Valley Wine Show for the 2013 Stockhausen Signature Semillon.


Currently studying in the Institute of Masters of Wine Study Program (one of only 13 students in the country), winemaker Alex Beckett is passionate about his innovative work at Briar Ridge and excited about the recognition he has been receiving.


“It was an absolute honour to have our Hunter Valley Albariño be recognised as the best other white in Australia by James Halliday and the Wine Companion Tasting Team recently,” said Alex. “The last few years have seen our team put tireless work into evolving the viticulture and winemaking behind our wines, so to have that quality recognised is a wonderful feeling. Albariño is fast becoming to us, one of the key varietals for our region and we look forward to seeing the variety’s future success around Australia.”


“It’s the melding together of the old and the new that makes Briar Ridge so interesting – it’s certainly why I enjoy doing what I do. I have the creative freedom to play and experiment and build upon that tradition, respecting what has been done but also improving it as we move on.”

Indeed, Alex is continually refining his craft. He is currently working at Weingut Gunderloch to assist them with their German vintage. Based in Nackenheim in the Rheinhessen wine region of Germany, Weingut Gunderloch is a sixth-generation family estate known for its Riesling wines. Alex loves Riesling.


Alex Beckett. Photo by Elfes Images


Halliday Tasting Team member, wine writer and judge Ned Goodwin MW is quoted as saying, “Briar Ridge’s example [of Fiano] bares the textural signature of winemaker Alex Beckett, a fan of contemporary German riesling and Loire Valley Chenin Blanc. His Fiano is all glazed quince, nashi pear and peach pith, with a pungent herbal undercarriage of wild fennel and pepper… Even more exciting is Beckett’s deft touch with albariño.… Beckett’s expression is possibly the single most exciting white wine I have tasted for the Wine Companion to date. At least this past year.”


The Briar Ridge wines range from Hunter classics in the premium Single Vineyard, and Stockhausen ranges to the contemporary innovations of the Limited Release and Varietal ranges with literally something that will appeal to every palate on the cellar door menu. Fruit is farmed on-site and also sourced from estate-grown vineyards in Orange, the Hilltops and Wrattonbully in South Australia.


The Single Vineyard wines are a true expression of the Mount View terroir, produced in limited quantities and only made when the vintage year has delivered optimum growing conditions. Limited Release wines represent the best in varietal and regional characters each year and are where you will find unique blends and traditional and emerging wine varieties. The Stockhausen range is crafted in memory of legendary Hunter winemaker Karl Stockhausen and showcases classic Hunter Valley wine styles. The Varietal range features fresh regional flavours and includes the Fumé Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, The Dam Verdelho, Cold-Soaked Cabernet and Old Vines Shiraz.


Not content with developing new varieties of wine, the team at Briar Ridge are preparing to launch an ‘unexpectedly colourful’ range of gin, vodka and vermouth, distilled using locally sourced products and Briar Ridge grape spirit.

Briar Ridge General Manager Michael Bentley says the idea came about after bushfire smoke affected some of the fruit back in 2020. “Developing these new products is a direct result of wanting to utilise batches of smoke-tainted wines from the 2020 bushfires. It will initially be a small production that we hope to have in place prior to the Christmas season, along with a port-style Ruby Fortified, ideal for Christmas drinking with the flavours of red fruits and a lovely soft finish.”


The 50th Jubilee will be celebrated with a number of members-only events that include a gala lunch held in the cellar door with the 2-hatted Muse Restaurant catering, a charity auction, a smorgasbord of entertainment and, of course, wines with Alex. There will be wine tasting masterclasses with Alex and the launch of a brand-new wine club called Club Radica.

Briar Ridge is home to the longest continually running wine club in the Hunter Valley. It is not unusual for some memberships to be over 20 years old. As part of the 50th celebrations, the winery is launching Club Radica, inspired by ‘secret societies’; it’s a Single Vineyard wine club by invitation only.


“This is more than a wine club; this is all about access,” said Michael. “Access to our most unique and exclusive products, access to other people who share their passion for our wines and access to our winemaker, Alex. Being invitation only, there is an air of exclusivity, but this group is as carefully curated as a personal cellar, and it’s all about getting back into corks and conversations.”

The cellar door experience has been evolving and now includes Osteria, a restaurant specialising in home-style Italian cooking and is the ideal choice for a relaxed lunch on the deck. Osteria also offers an interactive Gusto Wine Flight. Available in Bianco (white), Rosso (red) or Mesco (mixed) wines to pair with a home-style meal or charcuterie board, they are only $30 per person and the perfect way to experience Briar Ridge wines.


On Sunday afternoons, solo musicians provide chilled-out tunes for a peaceful, fun vibe, and there’s plenty of room for the kids to run around in the idyllic landscape. You can even book a private picnic in your own corner of the grounds or bring your furry friend, with Pooch Platters available to keep your pet dog happy.


Owner of Briar Ridge, Jaclyn Davis is excited at the trajectory of the winery. “We are so lucky to have Alex as our winemaker,” said Jaclyn. “We are proud to be at the forefront of innovative wine techniques firmly supported by traditions that go back 50 years this year. We are a destination cellar door, a place to reward those who are curious about Mount View, a place where you can come and spend a few hours at a time exploring wines, eating delicious food with family, friends or your partner and enjoying the surrounding landscape. We’ve made it our mission to redefine the Hunter Valley wine experience, and I’m confident we’re on our way!”


Briar Ridge Cellar Door is located at 593 Mount View Road, Mount View and is open seven days with tastings daily from 10am to 4pm. Osteria Kitchen is open Thursday to Monday from 11am to 4pm.


2021 Stockhausen Range. Photo by Riley Burns

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