If there's one thing Andrew Thomas loves as much as making great Hunter Valley wine, it's his beloved Sydney Swans. The guy's a tragic. But even he reached new heights when he accepted his award for Winemaker of the Year at the annual Hunter Valley Legends and Wine Industry Awards presentation dinner at Wyndham Estate on Thursday night. He mentioned the Swans not once, not twice, but three times in his brief acceptance speech. That's gotta be a record. Firstly, he pointed out how unfortunate it was for the organisers to put the ceremony on the same night as the Swans were locked in a heavyweight clash with the Geelong Cats. And then, as his speech continued, he gave not one, but two 'live' scores straight from his iPhone. To be fair, Thommo had hosted wine writer Tony Love from Adelaide earlier in the day through a vertical tasting of 10 vintages of his cracking Braemore semillons. Wine that good shouldn't be tipped into a spittoon, and we think it fair to say that among the spitting there was a bit of sipping going on as well. But let's cut to the chase: the Swans won by 110!
One of the other big winners on the night was Kevin Sobels, who was named the newest Legend (an award that recognises long-term commitment and dedication to the Hunter Valley wine industry). After moving to the Upper Hunter in 1972 from South Australia, Sobels moved down to Pokolbin in 1986 where his operation has thrived ever since. It capped a pretty good year for Sobels, who also celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary in 2014. And here's one for those who like a family tradition: members of the Sobels family have now made 166 consecutive vintages of wine in Australia - a record that would come close to being unparalleled we expect. And with Sobels' son now making the wine, and another generation waiting in the wings after that, there's every chance the 200-year barrier could be broken. Some feat!
In a fun twist on a night of celebration Mike De Iuliis, who was MC, (and did a very impressive job - he's a natural. Did someone mention Michael Slater?), started off the night tweeting a selfie and brought along an air horn to signal when acceptance speeches were starting to drag on. It worked a treat with speeches, in the main, short and sweet. Enter Brian McGuigan. McGuigan was to make one of the presentations but he had a few things he needed to say. At the first sight of the air horn he took it and kept it. And then he spoke ... and spoke ... and spoke. His message of how the wine and tourism people need to pull together certainly resonated however. As did his reminiscing about the history of Wyndham Estate, one of the great Hunter Valley wineries that will close its doors on October 31. He and his family grew up at Wyndham and have a very strong connection to the old winery on the banks of the Hunter River, and it was poignant stuff indeed. But geez, he can talk. Now for the other winners. Belinda Stapleton of Spicers Vineyard Estate won the Rising Star of the Year Award. Restaurant Botanica at Spicers is one of our favourite spots to eat and is a must-visit for anyone visiting the Valley. And check out the wine list. Wow! Louise Eather of Wyndham Estate was named Viticulturist of the Year, Tulloch Wines was Cellar Door of the Year and the Heritage Award was shared by Marthaville Homestead in Cessnock, and the 1973 Vintage Festival Poster. All in all, a top occasion and what the Hunter does best: a serious night but with a sense of good fun.
And what did we drink? On arrival we sampled the Tyrrell's Pinot Noir Chardonnay sparkling and the Wyndham Estate Shepherd's White Single Vineyard Semillon 2012. With entrée - either free-range chicken, pimento, smoked paprika and Serran jamon terrine with white asparagus or cured ocean trout with orange, fennel and mustard oil - there was the McGuigan Bin 9000 Semillon 2007 and the 2011 Scarborough White Label Chardonnay. To accompany the mains - Milly Hill lamb shank with a feta, pea and olive pithivier or duck confit with cassoulet Toulouse sausage, white beans and pumpkin - we were spoilt for choice with the 2011 Hunter Valley Shiraz Brokenwood and 2011 Scarborough Black Label. Then it was a Margan Botrytis Semillon to finish off before the bar and a cold Peroni and bubbles beckoned. It was a great night folks. And go the Swans.