Twenty-five years after vascular surgeon Robert Lusby planted the first seed of a dream to establish his own vineyard, Tintilla Estate is still thriving amongst the picturesque surrounds of Pokolbin. Celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2019, Tintilla Estate is well known for producing a range of distinctive, individual and award-winning wines and olive products.
This month we’ve gone behind the scenes with Robert’s son James (both pictured above) to harvest the rich history behind this award-winning family business.
YHV: Tell me a little about the history of Tintilla Estate.
James Lusby: Tintilla started in 1993. We cleared the land, put in the dams, prepared the soil and planted the vineyard ourselves. My parents always had an interest in wine and while living in California could see the potential of a small, dedicated, boutique winery. They chose the name Tintilla, a word used by the 17th-century writer Samuel Pepys in his diary interchangeably with claret to refer to red wine. We planted mainly red wines on our hillside block, so the name seemed appropriate.
Which members of your family are involved and what are their roles?
Every member of our family is involved to some extent. My dad helps out with mainly viticultural things while my mum is active in the cellar door. I am the winemaker and manage the viticulture as well, my youngest brother John works in the cellar door, does the books and generally helps both in the winery and vineyard, my sister Justine helps with marketing, organising our presentation and also cellar door sales as does my brother Edward. Both Justine and Edward are part-time, having other jobs in Sydney.
Can you describe Tintilla for anyone that has never visited before?
We have a picturesque site surrounded by native trees and lined by olive trees. You look over the vines from the cellar door, down a gentle slope with various blocks with the vines orientated for best drainage and sunlight exposure. A large dam at the bottom of the hill leads to the creek bed soil where our Semillon is planted.
I believe the olive trees were planted before the vines - what made you choose to grow olives?
We have over 500 olive trees planted in parts of the property that were not so suitable for grapes. We chose mainly eating varieties although many are dual purpose. Manzanillo, Sevillano, Frantoio, Verdale and jumbo Kalamata are the main varieties. We cure and pickle them on the property and sell them in the cellar door. We also have an orchard from which we produce seasonal jams and relishes.
When were your grapevines planted and what varieties do you grow? Are your wines produced only from the grapes grown on the estate?
Yes, we are a single vineyard producer, with Shiraz on the hill slope, Merlot at the top of the hill, Sangiovese also on a hilly nob, Semillon and Cabernet Sauvignon are planted on the creek bed flat. We grow the grapes and make the wine with passion!
Tell us a little about your background as a winemaker - when did your interest in it begin?
Most of my training was done on the job, working under and learning from an outstanding winemaker, although I also did a TAFE diploma in viticulture with wine science. I have worked in the USA at a winery called Colombia Crest in Washington state. I came up from being a vineyard manager to winemaking, which I think gives you a much better understanding of the grapes and leads you into making better wines.
What is your philosophy when it comes to making wine?
Doing the viticulture ourselves and ensuring high quality we let the fruit speak for itself - not too much interference but striving for excellence.
How much wine do you produce each year and what varieties do you produce?
We do between 40-60 tonne of our fruit and an additional 20-40 tonne of contract winemaking here at Tintilla Estate. We produce Semillon, Chardonnay, Shiraz, Merlot, Cab Sav and Sangiovese of which we were the first to plant it here in the Hunter Valley. With these varieties, we make dry table wines, blends, sweet wine, sparkling, Rosé and fortified (Ports), something for everyone we hope.
I believe you had some success at wine shows this year - tell me about the awards you have won and what you think makes Tintilla Estate's wines so special?
Yes, we have been very lucky to have won a number of trophies and gold medals over the years, particularly with our aged Angus Semillon. Most recently we won a trophy for our Pebbles Brief Chardonnay 2016 for best-aged Chardonnay at the Hunter Valley Boutique Winemaker Show and a Top 100 in Winestate Magazine for our Reserve Shiraz 2017. These go with the trophies we have won over the years for our Merlot, Sangiovese and Shiraz.
Do you have any special events or changes planned for 2019?
Yes, we are having two long lunches, one on March 23rd, which is French themed, and one in September, which is Tuscan-themed. These are great events which we have been doing for 12 years. As this is also our 25th year here in the Hunter, we will be holding some celebration parties that are yet to be confirmed, but we will keep you posted!
Tintilla Estate offers free tastings of their wines and olives 7 days a week from 10.30am until 6pm, for groups of less than 8. Private tasting experiences are available for groups of more than 8 for only $5 per person which includes a selection of boutique wines and a cheese and olive tasting plate (bookings recommended).
Tintilla Estate's annual long lunches have become events not to be missed, with a delicious four course Lunch with Tintilla Estate wines to match. The French Provincial Long Lunch in March and Tuscan Long Lunch in September always sell out in advance. For more information visit www.tintilla.com.au