It is Australia’s oldest surviving vineyard and the site of the country’s first commercial Shiraz plantings. But for more than half a century a vital piece in the historical puzzle was missing from the site credited with being the birthplace of Hunter Valley wine – its name.
Established on the banks of the Hunter River near the township of Branxton in 1828 by immigrant George Wyndham, the property was named Dalwood in honour of his father’s family estate in England.
George set about planting a vineyard on one part of the property and produced his first vintage in Branxton in 1835. For the next 130-odd years, despite a change in ownership, the property and its Dalwood label wine became renowned across Australia and internationally.
When the 260-acre site was sold in 1967 without the wine brand attached, the Dalwood label and the vineyard where it was created were forced to part ways, with all future wine from the vineyard sold under the new Wyndham Estate label in honour of its founder.
After the 1970's when production of the Dalwood label wine stopped, the iconic brand seemed destined to live on only in the annals of Australian wine making history – that is until late last year when Sydney hotelier and developer Sam Arnaout secured both the vineyard and the wine brand in separate business deals.
It was the third Hunter vineyard bought by the developer’s Iris Capital group in recent years, following its purchase of both the Sweetwater Estate in Rothbury and the Hungerford Hill complex in 2016.
Reunited once again for what is the 190th anniversary of the vineyard, 2018 marks a significant new chapter in the history of Dalwood Estate according to General Manager and Senior Winemaker BryanCurrie.
“Dalwood is an integral part of Australia’s wine and agricultural history,” he said.
“When you visit you can sense the history in the property with the house and buildings, old trees and Wyndham family cemetery. Combined with its natural beauty, Dalwood is a jewel in the crown of the Hunter Valley.“
George Wyndham purchased the property in 1828 and named it Dalwood. It is the property’s original name, and with the release of the premium Dalwood Estate wines this year from grapes grown on the Dalwood vineyard, this name carries with it the history of the property.
English pastoralist and vigneron George Wyndham and his wife Margaret settled on the Dalwood property near Branxton in January 1828. They were accompanied by several servants and a collection of sheep, pigs, horses and hounds, as well as New South Wales’ first herd of pure bred Hereford cattle.
Using a variety of vine cuttings, George began planting his vineyard,systematically trialling over 70 different varieties of grapes to establish those which best suited the soil and conditions.
Around 600 vine cuttings were given to him by British botanist James Busby, but among George’s most important plantings were a selection of Shiraz and Semillon (originally called Shepherd's Hardy White) vines, with Dalwood later becoming recognised as the Australian “home” of these varieties.
“Dalwood had these varieties planted before the famous James Busby vine collection even arrived in NSW,” Bryan said.
“Dalwood is widely credited as having the first commercial vineyard of Shiraz planted in Australia and is the ‘home’ of Shiraz.“
George Wyndham sourced cuttings far and wide from the original colonial vineyards around Sydney Harbour and the Parramatta River for the original Dalwood vineyards.”
After a successful first vintage in 1835, George expanded his
plantings to a further 38 acres of vines at Dalwood, while in later years his son John expanded the vineyard to 78 acres, with Dalwood becoming the second largest vineyard in NSW by 1886.
Dalwood wines were being exported to England and India by the mid-1800s and in the 1860’s, ’70s and ’80s they were bringing home some of the top awards from wine shows in the Hunter, Sydney, Adelaide, London, Paris, Bordeaux, Amsterdam and Calcutta.
The Wyndham family led the way in promoting Australia’s fledgeling wine industry overseas during this time and were crucial in helping put Australian wines on the world map.
In 1904 the Dalwood property and its wine brand were purchased by another pioneering Australian family-owned company, Penfolds, who continued to build on the reputation of the wine being produced at the Hunter vineyard.
The site changed hands again in 1967 when Penfolds sold the vineyard, but not the wine label, to Perc McGuigan, who on-sold it to a three-man partnership that included his son Brian.
Under their guidance, the site was renamed Wyndham Estate in honour of its founder, but over the years it became just one aspect of the operations controlled by a company that grew into one of the true giants of the Australian wine industry.
The Wyndham Estate company was taken over by the French Pernod Ricard group in 1990, with the Dalwood site continuing to operate as a successful cellar door, restaurant, wedding and concert venue until 2014 when the company decided to close the estate.
The property’s future remained in limbo for a number of years before Iris Capital thankfully stepped in, throwing a lifeline to one of the most significant sites in Australia’s rich viticultural history.
After purchasing the property and also securing the rights to the Dalwood name and wine brand from Treasury Wines Estates (who now own Penfolds), Iris Capital set about restoring the 260-acre property to its former glory.
Bryan said it took an extensive renewal program to clean up the estate, which had been virtually untouched since its closure in 2014. But with the cellar door back in business and a new café (named after botanist James Busby) now in operation, Dalwood Estate is once again a buzzing hive of activity.
Regular artisan markets are also being held at the estate, while a unique partnership with Sydney curator Adrian Black has seen the Hunter Galleries project launched at Dalwood featuring more than 100 works from both emerging and established artists.
The exhibition displays a mixture of modern and traditional art, with visitors able to experience the pieces inside a traditional gallery space as well as outdoors, with life-size sculptures scattered around the property grounds.
“Dalwood Estate has been extensively renovated and cleaned and is now in great condition,” Bryan said.
“Dalwood has a cellar door and restaurant ‘Mr. Busby's’ open on weekends and is hosting monthly markets, weddings,conferences, concerts and events.“Our plans are for Dalwood to be the premier Hunter Valley location for both private and public events. Dalwood has the perfect secluded location on the banks of the Hunter River, amongst the vines."
There’s also plenty of things happening in the winery itself, with the first Dalwood Estate label wines already released using fruit harvested from the vineyard.
These days the vineyard covers 23 hectares,with flourishing Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz vines, and Tempranillo and Touriga being planted.
So far this year Dalwood Estate has released a 2018 Semillon, 2017 Shiraz and 2017 Chardonnay, with Sparkling, Rose, and Tempranillo varieties still to come. Bryan said it had been a triumphant returnfor the historic wine label, with the recent vintages producing great fruit to work with.
“The 2018 Semillon is fresh and aromatic with lemongrass and lime aromas and a long crisp finish in the classic Hunter style, while the 2017 Chardonnayis creamy with ripe peaches and cashew nut. Richly textured, it has well-integrated oak and exotic flavours,” he said.
“The 2017 Shiraz is deeply coloured with red fruits and spice, followed by a seamless palate with well-integrated oak.“2017 and 2018 were both great vintages with warm, dry growing seasons, although 2017 was a little cooler than 2018. Both produced fantastic, disease-free ripe fruit, a winemakers dream!
“Dalwood is Australia’s oldest surviving vineyard site and winery in the oldest surviving wine region, the Hunter Valley - it is a privilege to be the winemaker for this iconic property and to be the most recent contributor to its storied history.”