A visit to Tyrrell’s winery in New South Wales’ Hunter Valley is a journey through the fifth generation vintage history of Australian wine making itself.
When dealing with such a historic family as the Tyrrells, one uses lineage as much as names. Counting the generations since the family’s great-great-grandfather planted their first vines in the nascent Hunter River region back in 1858 is impressive; realising this family-owned winery, one of Australia’s oldest, is celebrating its 160th year is even more so. “It runs through the veins of the family,” says managing director Bruce Tyrrell (fourth generation). “We have been amongst the very few people lucky enough to work with something that is truly unique in the world of wine – Hunter Semillon – and have come close to the perfection of its style.”
He’s joined in that thought by Chris Tyrrell (fifth generation), now involved with the business along with Jane and John, also fifth-generation Tyrrells and no less passionate than those who’ve come before.
“We are lucky enough to make wine from vines planted by our great-great-grandfather in a time when they had no electricity or
any of the luxuries we have today,” says Chris. “It is an honour to work with these wonderful assets.”
They’ve been handed a formidable history to continue on, with plenty of monumental winemaking moments that have seen the Tyrrells put the Hunter Valley on the world wine map. The 1963 release of their iconic Vat 1 Hunter Semillon led to it becoming one of Australia’s most awarded white wines; in 1973, Tyrrell’s was the first Australian winery to mature chardonnay in French oak and enter it into a wine show, a controversial move at the time that had conservative purists clutching at their pearls.
The extensive estates of the Tyrrells, with vineyards extending from the family’s ancestral home in the Hunter Valley, two and a half hours from Sydney, all the way to Heathcote in Victoria, continue to make history of their own. The Hunter Valley property is based largely around the classic regional flagship varietals of semillon, chardonnay and shiraz. These three quintessential grapes have formed the basis upon which the Hunter Valley stands as Australia’s oldest wine-growing region, so it has a certain kind of poetry to visit the Tyrrell’s cellar door and see them for yourself.
The Tyrrells particularly love guests to try their Hunter Valley range, which reflects the winemaking styles of the estate’s original Winemaker’s Selection Vat 1, Vat 47 and Vat 9, in essence making this newer range the ‘baby brothers’ of these three iconic wines. On top of that, the winery’s 160th anniversary just so happens to coincide with the 47th vintage of Vat 47 Hunter Chardonnay and the 150th vintage of the Old Patch vineyard, home to the oldest producing vines in New South Wales.
The central ethos driving the family has always been simple: make high-quality wine that people love to drink. “The closeness of our operation and the family nature of it means we can consistently make wines that are relevant to the drinking public,” says Jane Tyrrell. It’s a notion echoed by Bruce: “The consistent factor throughout time has been our love of the Hunter Valley and the wines that it makes,” he agrees. “In another 160 years, my wish is that the family is still here on our original land, making wines that are great quality and distinctive to the Hunter Valley.”
Make a visit to Tyrrell’s part of your Hunter Valley getaway and mention this article to the cellar door team to receive a complimentary winery tour.