Passion Over Pretension

Alex Beckett

The Art Of Enjoying Wine


Briar Ridge is located in the idyllic Mount View area of the Hunter Valley and has been growing grapes there for 45 years. Mount View offers a different micro-climate and soil to the rest of the Hunter Valley, and Briar Ridge takes full advantage of this, producing award-winning wines that are unique and fully reflective of their terroir. The winery is recognised as a James Halliday's 5-star winery and has enjoyed that rating for the past eight years running.

The history of Briar Ridge goes back to the purchase of the property in 1987 by John Davis, a geologist and oil exploration consultant. His deep understanding of soils, climate and landscapes and his love of wine led him on a mission to track down the best grape-growing properties he could find. Briar Ridge was one of his first. He went on to purchase Tallavera Grove, also in Mount View, Carillion in Orange, Stonefields in Wrattonbully and Peppertree.

Jaclyn and John Davis

Today, Briar Ridge is run by Jaclyn Davis, John's daughter who grew up on her father's vineyards.

"I recall spending every school holiday at the vineyard," said Jacyln.

"In the early days, that entailed what seemed to be a very long drive along windy roads, stuck in the middle seat in the back. The first stop was always Sylvester's bakery for pies and damper. Initially, we camped, storing our bikes in a shed at the neighbouring egg farmer's property. The long drop toilet at the back of the tractor shed is an enduring memory."

Jacyln feels a sense of nostalgia for simpler times gone by and remembers how different the Hunter Valley was in those days with fewer attractions for children. She remembers the slippery dip at Lindemans with fondness as the only child-friendly cellar door – her favourite by far for that very reason. As a teenager, she preferred the city with her friends, but at the end of Year 12, Jaclyn did a vintage in the winery and lab, which gave her the first real insight into the family business.

"Up until then, it had been limited to child labour when the mobile bottling line was on-site, sticking on labels and packing boxes. Little did I know what this vintage experience would lead to in my future."

After school, Jaclyn studied for a Science degree, married, had two children and divorced. By the age of 28, she was a single mother with two young children and decided to study family law.

"I studied a Juris Doctor degree largely online, as well as a Masters in Ethics (yet to pay for itself, but philosophy and ethics remain a passion), graduating in 2010 when my children were seven and five years old.

During this period, the kids and I would spend time at the vineyard (by then, we had moved to the house at Tallavera Grove), which was a lovely escape and nice to introduce it to the next generation."

Jaclyn went on to work in family law in Manly and then in 2018 became General Manager at Briar Ridge. She continues to practice law part-time, balancing her life between the winery, law and her family.

"The juggle is not easy – I live by post-it notes. If it's not written down, it doesn't get done. Having school-aged children in Sydney, I can't always spend as much time on-site at Briar as I would like. Sometimes I feel like I'm neglecting one for the other, but the variety is good, and I've got a great team around me to help me keep it all together."

The team at Briar Ridge is one of the things that Jaclyn believes makes it a really special place, and she is both proud and appreciative of her staff.

"My favourite thing about Briar Ridge is the people, being part of a team, and being part of the creative process. It's nice to be part of a business that brings hospitality, pleasure and enjoyment to people. I particularly enjoy working with Alex Beckett, our winemaker. He is an excellent communicator, and his passion for his craft is infectious. It's a real privilege to work and watch such a talented (and young!) winemaker.

I'm often impressed by how invested our staff are in the brand, and we're blessed with cellar door staff that are knowledgeable about our wines but also love a good laugh and chat. It's not pretentious or intimidating, which is what the experience of enjoying wine should be."

This idea of passion over pretention is a core value of the vineyard. The enjoyment of the wine is the top priority, without over-analysis. It's important to the whole team for the experience of the wine to not be intimidating, to be a pleasant, exciting wine adventure to be savoured by everyone. The development of the winery's new dining venture, Osteria, fits this theme and came out of COVID lockdown.

"The last couple of years have obviously been particularly challenging, as they have been for everyone. We used the opportunity to get onto things that we had been meaning to get to. We relocated the cellar door into the old winery, which has enabled us to host many more people, particularly when density restrictions were in place. We also developed a new food offering in the form of the Osteria, which is located in the old cellar door. It allows us to offer an additional or alternative experience to the cellar door with a more substantial food offering. It features dining on our terrace, where you can sip on some of the best wine in the Hunter Valley and feast on artisan cheeses, carefully cured meats and other gourmet delights. Still, we've deliberately kept it casual and affordable."

The Briar Ridge Vintage Wine Club was one of the Hunter Valley's first, with some members having been with the winery for over 20 years.

Briar Ridge recently had some very encouraging results in well-regarded wine shows, including the NSW Governor's Trophy for Best in Show for the 2018 Dairy Hill Single Vineyard Semillon. Briar Ridge differs to Carillion and Peppertree wineries with its focus on the Hunter. They do take some fruit from the Orange and Wrattonbully vineyards, but they concentrate on the Hunter classics of Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz, and the more modern alternative varietals that do well in the Hunter such as Fiano and Albarino. Then, of course, is the range of signature wines under the Stockhausen label, named for Hunter Valley legend winemaker and Briar Ridge brand custodian Karl Stockhausen who recently passed away. He had been involved with Briar Ridge since 1990.

"We were so lucky to benefit from his expertise, humour and integrity for over 30 years. I am very thankful that Karl had the opportunity to see and approve of the new labels featuring his distinctive face that are now on our signature range of Stockhausen wines. He will be sorely missed."

Winemaker Alex Beckett took over from long time winemaker Glyn Olsen in 2018 when she decided to focus on Peppertree. He began his career in wine when he worked on the cellar door, first at Tyrrell's and then at Peppertree. In 2013 he left the Hunter Valley to study winemaking at the University of Adelaide and returned in 2016 to work with Glyn as Assistant Winemaker. He worked with Karl Stockhausen for three years and remembers him as someone who didn't enforce his will and believed that wine was for everyone.

"Karl made wines for consumers. He wasn't out to make Australia's greatest wine; he wanted to make Australia's most enjoyable wine," said Alex.

"One of the biggest lessons I learnt from Karl was that the wine is just one part of the experience. At wine club events, he was focused on the enjoyment the members took of the whole event – not just the wine."

Alex has a philosophy of continuous learning and looks to Europe and the early years of Australian winemaking for his inspiration. He sees his style as being a hybrid of modern techniques with historical references and minimal intervention. He enjoys experimenting with alternative varieties and is excited about the single-vineyard wines taking off.

"I'm focusing on producing small quantities of special wines and selling them out within the year. We work on improving the vineyard so that the wines have the opportunity to become a pure reflection of where they are from."

This year marks the Briar Ridge 50th anniversary, which will be celebrated with a gala lunch in the vineyard and other events. There are also plans to offer villa-style accommodation in the near future. Mostly though, Jaclyn and Alex simply want to keep doing what they do well, making good wine and providing engaging and genuine experiences for guests, members and wine lovers everywhere.


For more information on Briar Ridge, visit their website