With a historic stone cottage cellar door dating back to 1889, a freakish competition record, a reputation for producing outstanding wines - particularly with their Riesling, Semillon and Shiraz, the Hunter’s only vineyard growing a dry Riesling and one of the largest speciality food outlets in the region, Pokolbin Estate Vineyard is a destination not to be missed.
Your Hunter Valley Magazine decided to find out a little more about the small but dedicated team making visitors feel welcome at Pokolbin Estate Vineyard and the Hunter Olive & Gourmet Food Centre.
All round nice guy and consummate professional, Graham, is the longest serving employee at Pokolbin Estate where he has been the General Manager for the past 12 years.
When asked how he first became interested in wine, Graham explained that it went back many years to when he was working in Sydney and studying at University. Why weren’t we surprised!
“When I was a young man working in Sydney and going to university, I required a job that was going to support myself and my (active) lifestyle. I was working at the Keiron Reception Centre at Waverly in Sydney, providing ‘silver service’ to a lot of high-profile individuals,” Graham said.
“My role was to appropriately recommend food and wine pairings, which is where I found my passion for wine. More specifically my passion for HENSCHKE ‘Hill of Grace’ Shiraz, which remains one of my favourite wines.”
After a successful career in marketing, Graham, moved to the Hunter Valley 17 years ago in the pursuit of semi-retirement when he was approached by one of the owners of Pokolbin Estate, Richard Friend, to work at the vineyard.
Since then Graham has worked across all aspects of the business, experiencing the good times and bad – especially when in August 2011 fire gutted the elegant, landmark sandstone cellar door and tasting rooms, which were rebuilt in 2012.
When working in the cellar door, Graham likes nothing more than to provide customers with a unique and unforgettable wine tasting experience and introduce them to wines varieties they may have never tried before - such as their Mediterranean varieties of Tempranillo and the Italian varieties that include Nebbiolo and Sangiovese which are grown on their Belebula Vineyard.
Mitchell is the Sales and Wine Club Manager and has been with Pokolbin Estate for the past two years. Mitchell grew up in the Hunter Valley and it was while studying at the University of Newcastle that he sought a part-time job at the vineyard which soon became a full-time role.
Since then and under the guidance of Graham, he quickly found a passion for the wine industry and when the opportunity presented itself, found himself in the role of Wine Club Manager at the age of 20.
Mitchell’s role as Sales and Wine Club Manager includes managing the day-to-day operations of the cellar door, providing private wine tastings, and co-ordinating the organisation of annual wine Club member packs, while also managing the vineyards social media.
“It is a joyous challenge,” Mitchell said.
“I only started here two years ago with a very limited knowledge of wine, and now I am running a wine club with several hundred members. Working with Graham I am continuously learning about all aspects of the business, which I love, because I know if I were in a large business, at my age I may never have had the opportunity, and for that, I am very grateful to Graham.”
Logan is employed as a casual, a role he has been in for the past 6 months while also studying Construction Management at the University of Newcastle. With a strong work ethic and a background in hospitality, he has quickly implemented himself as a key cellar door salesperson.
While the wine tasting experience at the Pokolbin Estate cellar door may be second to none, another equally good experience is a trip to The Hunter Olive & Gourmet Food Centre which can be found just a few metres away from the cellar door and also located on the grounds of Pokolbin Estate Vineyard.
Established in late 2003 to integrate a love for food and wine and to showcase some of the finest gourmet foods produced in the Hunter Valley, The Hunter Olive & Gourmet Food Centre is now one of the largest speciality food outlets in the region featuring the Hunter Valley's largest range of olive products, with over 400 locally produced delicacies to taste and collect. On display are olives, extra virgin olive oil, jams, preserves, conserves, mustard, oil dippers, vinegars, chutneys, dukkah, chilli products, confectionery, jerky, a large range of herbs and spices and much more.
Here to assist you with your choice, you will find Nadear who, before moving to Australia, lived and worked in Thailand for many years in the health and wellbeing industry and included the Thai Princess as one of her clients. She also spent many years manufacturing and retail of Thai food products.
Nadear has been at Pokolbin Estate and The Hunter Olive & Gourmet Food Centre for the past four years and has been instrumental in introducing a hint of spice and Thai-style foods to the Hunter Valley, collaborating on products including the Thai marinade and Thai-inspired olive flavours such as chilli and garlic.
Janelle originally worked at the Hunter Bottling Company before she made the transition to work in the Hunter Olive & Gourmet Foods Centre where she has been for the past 7 years.
Janelle is responsible for the day-to-day retail operations as well as food production, specialising in products such as flavoured olive oils and chilli sauces.
"One of my favourite things about working here is that after seven years, I still love to see familiar faces come back to enjoy the products I had a part in making. " Janelle Said.
Apart from the friendly faces and excellent service from Graham’s team, with a visit to Pokolbin Estate and The Hunter Olive Centre, you could well be forgiven for believing that you have landed on the shore of some exotic destination, as the flavours of the Mediterranean greet your senses.
Header Image: (L to R: Logan, Mitchell, Graham, Nadear and Janelle)