There is no denying that the landscape of Australian wines has changed significantly over the past decade with wine lovers eagerly searching for something new and increasingly drinking wines made from alternative grape varietals, in particular, the Italian and Spanish varieties that tend to suit Australia’s warmer climate regions.
This rise of ‘alternative’ varieties in Australia is becoming an increasingly important topic for the country’s winemakers which has been largely driven by an increased awareness that the traditional varieties planted in Australia don’t always suit the sites or regions they currently occupy.
Wine producers are now also increasingly aware of the impact climate changes are having on their wine grapes and are switching to more resilient grape varieties to cope with these changing conditions now and in the future. As a result, a growing number of Hunter Valley wineries have taken it upon themselves to adopt a few alternative varieties and with fantastic results.
For Wendy Lawson of Catherine Vale Wines in Broke, the move to adopt the alternate varieties of Arneis, Barbera and Dolcetto was an obvious one.
Established by Wendy and her late husband Bill on a 100-acre property at Broke in the early 1990's, Catherine Vale Wines took the lead in 1998 by introducing new Italian varieties into the region.
After initially planting the two white varieties Semillon and Chardonnay, and a desire to expand their range of wines to include reds, Wendy and Bill made the decision to identify what grape varieties would be most suitable to not only the region and climate but also appeal to visitors to the Hunter Valley.
"The Hunter Valley has no shortage of large Shiraz and Cabernet producers," said Wendy.
"For a relatively small winery producing Chardonnay and Semillon and considering what red grape varietals to plant, it made sense to introduce varieties that were different to the typical Hunter Valley red varieties of Shiraz and Cabernet."
After some extensive research, Wendy eventually narrowed the choice down to the alternative Italian varieties Dolcetto and Barbera from the Piedmont region in Italy which they planted in 1998 and in doing so took the lead in the production of alternative varieties in the Hunter. It proved to be an inspired decision as Catherine Vale Wines is now one of just a few Hunter Valley vineyards growing Barbera and the only winery in the region producing Dolcetto.
A few years later they added the Italian white varietal Arneis to the vineyard. Known affectionately as "Italy’s little rascal," Arneis is an elegant Italian white wine grape variety that is currently creating a real buzz amongst wine lovers and is regarded as being among the top new white varieties in Australia.
In addition to Chardonnay, Semillon, Verdelho and Arneis amongst the whites and Barbera and Dolcetto amongst the reds, Catherine Vale Wines also have a small range of popular dessert wines – namely Fortified Verdelho and Late Harvest Semillon.
"These new varieties add another dimension to our enjoyment of wine, giving the consumer a touch of the exotic, new tastes and also provoking debate," said Wendy.
To experience something altogether different and wines that are relatively unique to the Hunter region and Australia, a visit to Catherine Vale Wines is a must.
The spectacularly located property borders the World Heritage-listed Yengo National Park that forms the backdrop to the unique purpose-built cellar door which was designed in the style of an Australian country church to complement the nearby family residence – a former Edwardian-style Uniting Church Manse.