Hunter Valley – wines and vines facts
Learn about one of Australia's greatest wine regions: The Hunter
New South Wales’ Hunter Valley begins approximately 150km north of Sydney and 90 kilometres northwest of Newcastle. It comprises two distinct regions of viticultural activity – one based around Cessnock and Pokolbin; the other around Denman, Muswellbrook and Scone.
The Hunter Valley is one of 29 zones that collectively make up the Australian wine industry. Its only formally identifiable region is Hunter. The terms Lower Hunter and Upper Hunter have industry currency but have no status as Geographical Indications.
There are six sub-regions that contribute to the Hunter’s regional status: Allandale, Belford, Broke Fordwich, Dalwood, Pokolbin, and Rothbury. All six are located in what is commonly regarded as the Lower Hunter.
The Australian Geographical Indication "Hunter Valley" was entered in the Register of Protected Names on 1 May 1996. The term defines the region’s physical boundaries and proscribes its use under Commonwealth of Australia law (Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation Act 1980).
Commercial viticulture in the Hunter Valley began within 60 years of Australian settlement. The Hunter Valley Viticultural Association was formed in 1847 and represented growers and winemakers in what is today commonly regarded as the Lower Hunter.
In 1855, a sparkling wine from James King’s Irrawang Vineyard was served to Napoleon III at the Paris Exhibition in France. Its appreciative recipients deemed it to have ‘bouquet, body and flavour equal to the finest Champagnes’.
Winegrowing in the Upper Hunter is a relatively recent activity. It began in 1960 with the establishment of a 250ha site at Wybong by Penfolds Wines.
More than 80 kilometres from the New South Wales coast, Hunter Valley vineyards do not enjoy the generally vine-friendly climates of more maritime locations in Australia, such as Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. Indeed, growing grapes and making wine here is as challenging as you’ll find anywhere among the world’s hottest wine regions.
Vineyard heat summation figures in the Hunter – around 2100 units - are on a par with those of South Australia’s Riverland, ensuring shared recognition as the country’s hottest wine region. Heat summation figures recorded in the Hunter are almost twice those experienced in Australia’s cool climate wine regions.
Sites in the Upper Hunter are marginally warmer than those of the Lower Hunter, chiefly because of their lower latitudes. However, Upper Hunter sites do derive some benefit from significantly less adverse rainfall during vintage.
No matter where you choose to visit during the Hunter Valley’s growing season, the days here are always warm. The region’s mean January temperature maxima for Lower and Upper Hunter sites fall within a very narrow range of 22.3°C- 22.7°C.
The Hunter’s highest monthly rainfall totals are invariably recorded during the harvest months of January, February and March. However, summer rainfall, high humidity, and afternoon cloud cover also act to reduce the negative impacts of the region’s high temperatures, which would otherwise make the production of premium quality table wine almost impossible here.
For the wine producer in the Lower Hunter, average rainfall during the growing season typically reaches 530mm. Growers in the Upper Hunter record significantly less rainfall each year. The long-term average there is 400mm per year.
Supplementary drip irrigation across the Hunter Valley provides welcome relief from the region’s high rates of evaporation.
From vine to glass
On international markets, the Hunter Valley brand was once strongly associated with premium quality wines. Today, it is less so. In 2006-2007, export sales for wine labelled Hunter Valley exceeded $1.8m. Its top five destinations were the UK, the US, China, Ireland and Canada.
In 2007, the average price per litre of exported Hunter Valley wine was valued at $5.88, well in excess of the $3.78 average per litre calculated for all Australian wine exported during that period, but a long way short of, say, Canberra ($11.54) or the Southern Highlands of New South Wales ($8.68).
National retail sales and on-premise purchases amount for a significant proportion of corporate wine turn over. Cellar door, on-line and mailing list sales account for a significant proportion of turn-over among small scale producers.
The best Hunter Valley wines often have nationwide distribution. But what better way is there than to enjoy them than on home turf, among good regional foods and dramatic winery landscapes that are uniquely Australian?
Hunter Valley vineyards at a glance:
- Hunter Zone
- GI registered 1996
- Located 32°15'S to 32°50'S; 115°52'E to 151°49'E
- Terrain: Diverse range of gently undulating landscapes and rich farmland set against a backdrop of rocky outcrops, sandstone cliffs and rugged scrub-covered mountains.
- Altitude: 150-250 m
- Heat degree days: 2070-2170
- Mean annual rainfall: 737mm-1000mm
- Growing season rainfall: 400mm-530mm
- Mean January temperatures: 22.3°C- 22.7°C
- Planted area (2007): 4697ha
- Principal varieties (in order of planted area): Chardonnay, Shiraz, Semillon, Verdelho, Cabernet Sauvignon
- Typical harvest period: January - March
- Lower Hunter (NSW)
- Hunter including Newcastle (NSW)
- Upper Hunter Valley (NSW)
- Hunter Valley (NSW)
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