When it comes to boutique family-owned wine label Hart & Hunter, less is definitely more… Smaller batches of grapes from the best vineyards in the Hunter Valley. Less intervention in the winemaking process. Greater flexibility to try something different. More favourable feedback from consumers and wine critics alike.
It’s an ethos that goes right to the heart of the venture for owners Damien Stevens and Jodie Belleville, who established Hart & Hunter with the aim of producing premium single-vineyard wines that represent provenance.
“It was always about small batches that we could look at sourcing, and making wines that we enjoyed drinking ourselves, and we’ve stuck to that,” Damien said.
“We’ve always looked at small-batch winemaking as being very important, as is identifying the single vineyard sites around the Valley that we source our fruit from because they’re so unique.
“Our winemaking technique is very much hands-off in terms of saying there is no point us getting what we think is some of the best fruit in the Valley and then covering it with our wine making footprint, or with the footprint of an oak producer.
“Our style across all of our single sites is a fruit-forward projection of what that vineyard can do. What we see and like about the vineyard, we like to see at the end of the day in that finished wine as well.
“I suppose we’re minimal intervention, for want of a better term, in terms of what we do with our winemaking styles.”
Hart & Hunter began in 2009 when a long but “fruitful” search for the right parcel of grapes saw Damien secure two tonnes of Shiraz from a local producer.
“We’d just had our first child, and Damien came home one day and said, ‘I took two ton of Shiraz today’,” Jodie said.
“That was how it began pretty much, as these things often do, and we haven’t looked back.
Image credit (top and above): Belle Studios
“We celebrated our 10th year last year, and that’s something special in any business, really, but for a small family-run company that’s definitely a milestone and something to cheer about.”
Opting to source other producers’ fruit to make their wine, rather than invest in a vineyard themselves, also follows the less is more theory. It ensured there was less financial risk for the new venture as well as more opportunity to be selective, not only in the vineyards they worked with but also in the styles of wine they produced.
“You’ve got a few models in the wine industry, you’ve got people that own the vineyard and make their own wine, you’ve got people that own vineyards and get wine contract-made for them and then we’re the flip side of that by making our own wine and supporting local growers,” Damien said.
“That gives us more opportunity to see what other vineyards are out there, to experiment with those and not be locked into a particular vineyard.
“We also get a bit more opportunity to be creative and selective; we have the chance to pick and choose a little bit throughout the Valley on what sites we think are very good, and hit that uniqueness that we’re trying for in our wine styles.”
Those wine styles fall into two distinct categories – Hart & Hunter’s original Single Vineyard Series and their more experimental Black Series.
The Single Vineyard Series stays faithful to their original aim of sourcing the best parcels of fruit from the best possible vineyard sites to make single vineyard wines. It currently includes everything from their award-winning 2019 Hart Vineyard Semillon, to the 2017 harvest version of their very first wine, the Ablington Shiraz, as well as a selection of other reds and whites.
The Black Series, which emerged around the time they decided to open a cellar door in 2014, is where the couple let their creative sides take over, “to dream a little, sourcing alternative varieties and creating experimental batches to create unique textural wines”.
“Our main focus continues to explore the traditional varieties that the Hunter Valley is renowned for, Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz off our single sites,” Jodie said.
Image credit: Belle Studios
“We’ve evolved over the ten years, and we have, depending on the season and the vintage, created an exciting and unique portfolio where in any given year there could be three or four single sites that each produce a Shiraz. With the Chardonnay there is one, sometimes two and with the Semillons, we’ve had up to three sites at a time. They’re all quite individual wines, and they’re quite different to each other.
“Then, within the last couple of years, pretty much since we opened our cellar door in 2014, we had to expand again because obviously, you need more wines to service customers. We created a second range of wines, which were more about different winemaking styles, processing techniques and alternate varieties – whatever took our fancy and we could actually get our hands on, to be honest.
“It’s called the Black Series, and we’ve made a Dr B’s Fiano, a Chenin Blanc, a Hunter River Riesling, a Shiraz Pinot, a Sangiovese, a Chardonnay on skins.
“It gives us a lot more opportunity to be a little wild and free and play around in the winery, and come up with some other really tasty, different styles of wine outside of the single vineyard range.”
Hart & Hunter’s wines have been well received right from the start, with their 2010 Oakey Creek Semillon securing their first wine show award before the wine had even been released to the public.
“Back in 2010 we released the 2010 Oakey Creek Semillon and the 2009 Ablington Shiraz, they were our first two wines,” Damien said.
“We were a bit excited, so we threw that wine into a wine show at the time and were thrilled to pick up the trophy for the best Semillon for that particular year.
“We’ve done quite well with wine shows over the years, and certainly from the cellar door, we get good feedback as well that there’s a lovely clarity within the wines and a beautiful freshness, and that they do hold very well as really good food wines.
“I think the style that we have developed for ourselves has worked well. It seems to be appreciated by both sides of the fence, which is something that doesn’t always happen, you don’t always get wines that do well in wine shows and are received well in public.”
There’s no better place for the public to taste the fruits of Damien and Jodie’s labour than from the charming front deck of Hart & Hunter’s quaint cellar door.
Located on Deasys Road, Pokolbin, it overlooks the picturesque vineyard of Gabriel’s Paddocks where they actually source fruit for a number of their wines.
Jodie said while it’s not a large space, a visit to their cellar door is an experience to remember, with around ten wines on offer between the two different series.
“We have a beautiful, big deck out the front, and we have a great team that work with us,” she said.
“Tastings out on the front deck are informal and relaxing, the team that we have are second to none. They have a great local knowledge, love their wines and just offer a truly personal tasting experience.”
“It’s very much an individual conversation when you come to us; we engage with the people who come in, we find out what’s going on in the world, where they come from, what they’re up to. The tastings are 45 minutes to an hour, to allow people to meander through the soil and the wines, and have these lovely conversations.”
While the cellar door was closed for two months during the lockdowns for COVID-19, they’re back in the swing of things now, with COVID safe tastings and the impending release of 2018 reds and 2020 whites.
Damien is particularly excited about the 10th-anniversary release of their Ablington Shiraz, from the 2019 vintage, as well as 2020 Twenty Six Rows Chardonnay, which he believes is one of the best Chardonnays they’ve ever made.
“We’re in a really good spot in terms of what we have coming out,” he said.
“We have some good styles and some nice differentiation between the styles of the Shiraz that we’ll be releasing, the quality of the Chardonnay and the Semillons is also fantastic.”
To find out more visit Hart & Hunter’s cellar door at 463 Deasys Road, Pokolbin, from 10am–4pm Thursday to Monday, check out www.hartandhunter.com or follow them on Facebook and Instagram (@hartandhunter).
Images above: Simon Hughes Photography