Jancis Robinson, MW once said of wine from the Hunter Valley in Australia “Hunter Semillon is Australia’s great gift to the wine world…” I would agree with her, however this treasure is at risk from the likes of the coal industry. You see there is coal in them ther’ hills and coal mining is far more profitable than grapes. As Andrew Jeffords recently reported about the Roxburgh vineyard in the September 2012 issue of Decanter Magazine,
“…the great engines are bearing down on it. The vines are going and soon even the terroir will be gone, ripped open to reveal the lustrous coal beneath.”
The Lower Hunter Valley has already had more than 200 acres of vineyard land converted to coal mines with more soon to follow. Australians have a love of coal as evidenced by the fact that 54% of the energy generated in Australia comes from coal. Therefore, the Australian average carbon footprint is actually larger than that of the average SUV driving American.
So why should we care? After all this area is not what we picture when we think of a world-class, wine growing region. Its climate is hot sub-tropical (think Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, or Georgia) with rainfall dominating the summer and its harvest season. Not exactly the picture of Napa, the Rhone, Tuscany or many other world-class vineyard sites. But you see, the vignerons have learned how to craft wines that have earned the right to stand on the world stage with the greats of other regions. Take its Semillon for example, which is harvested before the end-of-season rains that could decimate this thin skin variety. The resulting wine is low in alcohol (11.5%) taught and tightly wound, often appearing neutral in flavors and high in acidity. However, what happens when one is patient is what makes this wine remarkable. The wine develops remarkable layers with age resulting in outstanding lemon curd and toasty complexity and becomes barely recognizable from its demure beginning.
Even Shiraz is noteworthy from this area as the Hunter Valley imprints its regional stamp on these reds as well. The typical young Hunter Valley Shiraz is a medium-bodied wine showing red and dark berries, spices and plenty of soft tannins. However, it can be quite deceptive, because the best examples can age for a considerable time – longer then its siblings from Barossa and other Australian regions. With bottle-age, it becomes much more layered and complex, with earthy, leathery overtones and a beautiful perfume. It also acquires a silkiness and grace, becoming a smooth, wonderfully complex and richly flavored wine, that has more in common with old world than new world examples.
We should care about the loss of these vineyards, not only because not enough wine drinkers have had the chance to taste these wines, but also they are labors of love, and we risk losing a style of wine in Hunter Valley Semillon that is not found in any other wine-producing region of the world. Lastly, because wine will always taste better, spur more interesting conversations, and lubricate more social interaction than coal ever will.
Here are some suggestions to seek out if you want to experience these wines first hand:
Hunter Valley Semillon:
2010 Brokenwood Semillon (Hunter Valley) $18.00
2005 Tyrell’s Wines Vat 1 Hunter Semillon $50.00
Hunter Valley Shiraz:
2010 Tyrell’s Wines Brokenback Shiraz $18.00
2009 Brokenwood Shiraz $30.00