Big Changes at Tower Estate

Samantha Connew, popular Hunter Valley winemaker who was a shock retrenchment from Tower Estate recently, has two winemaking gigs lined up for the 2012 vintage.

She’s presently working at Margan Family in the Hunter and then goes down to Tasmania to Bay of Fires. Connew and her assistant Chloe Parkinson were retrenched after Tower management made the decision to save money by having its wines contract-made at Monarch. Then they discovered that their licence prohibited them doing that: they must make wine on their own premises. So former Tower assistant winemaker Jeff Byrne, now at Audrey Wilkinson, was approached and agreed to take charge at Tower, even though he is committed to Audrey Wilkinson – which was last year purchased by Poole’s Rock owners, the Agnew family.

Meanwhile Tower Estate has consolidated and will be receiving only Hunter fruit this year, instead of buying grapes from various regions as it had been doing. “We have a lot of wine in the warehouse,” said a candid Tower Estate CEO Matt Cowley. “The 2012 crush will be about half what we usually do.”

Tower Estate was set up by a syndicate headed by the late Len Evans in 1999, the name no doubt a tongue-in-cheek reference to the likes of Chateau Latour. Its philosophy was to take small parcels of top-class grapes from the regions where those varieties grew best. Hence Adelaide Hills sauvignon blanc, Clare riesling, Tasmanian pinot noir, Coonawarra cabernet, as well as Hunter semillon, chardonnay and shiraz. “With the economic situation we’re under now, it’s not feasible,” said Cowley. Up to now we’ve followed the Evans philosophy, but it’s a very expensive way to make wine, and I don’t think anyone is doing that any more.”

Tower will increase its emphasis on single-vineyard wines while focusing on the Hunter, with wines from Cowley’s own vineyard Hillside and Peter Barnes’s Coombe Rise. 


Bay of Fires lost its longstanding chief winemaker Fran Austin last year, but assistant Peter Dredge, a very capable former Petaluma winemaker, has stepped up to take charge. Austin and her husband and family have bought the old Delamere vineyard at Pipers Brook. They are reviving the vineyard and have already released two 2010 pinot noirs under a re-designed Delamere label. 

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