Tyrrell’s Sacred Sites

Chris Tyrrell with the Old Patch vineyard in the background. (Photo: Hannah Rose Robinson)

“It’s an old vineyard but a very short tasting,” joked Chris Tyrrell as we prepared to taste the ‘complete works’ of Tyrrells’ Old Patch Shiraz. The vineyard is one of the oldest in the Hunter Valley, planted in 1867, nearly as old as Tyrrell’s Wines itself (established 160 years ago this year), but there were only seven wines to taste. And that includes the still unbottled 2018.

Their definition of a sacred site is a vineyard on its own roots (ungrafted) which is more than 100 years old.

Tyrrell’s began buying grapes from this vineyard, which is the oldest section of the Stevens family’s Hillside vineyard, in 1993 but, somewhat surprisingly, did not bottle the Old Patch separately until 2007. The balance of the vineyard, from younger vines, is bottled as Tyrrell’s Stevens Shiraz.

Since 2007 the Old Patch was only bottled separately in the 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2017 and assuming no catastrophe, 2018 vintages.

The vines, like 90% of Tyrrell vineyards, are unirrigated, so in drought years they are vulnerable. Hence there was no wine from 2011, an otherwise top Hunter red year. The vines were so stressed they defoliated, and the grapes never ripened.

Tyrrell’s bought the entire Hillside vineyard from Neil and Bernadette Stevens in December 2017. They have now collected all their old-vine wines under the umbrella of Tyrrells’ Sacred Sites.

Their definition of a sacred site is a vineyard on its own roots (ungrafted) which is more than 100 years old. Tyrrell’s now has seven of these sites, and in 2021 the vineyard known as NVC (which stands, somewhat ironically, for new vine cuttings) will turn 100 and the wine could potentially join them. As well, Tyrrell’s will be releasing for the first time from the great 2018 vintage, an 8 Acres Shiraz.

This will join the other Sacred Sites, Old Patch, 4 Acres Shiraz, HVD (semillon and chardonnay) and Johnno’s* (shiraz and semillon).

Both the 4 Acres and 8 Acres blocks are located on the right-hand side of the driveway as you enter the Tyrrell’s Ashman’s winery property from Broke Road, Pokolbin. Their vines are on heavy red volcanic clay and produce lighter wine than the Old Patch, which is on more brown-hued soil a few kilometres away, off McDonald’s Road.

“These blocks are made separately to honour these old vines’ age and ability to continuously make great wines that are true to their individual sites and varieties,” says the Tyrrell manifesto.

“To the best of our knowledge, they would all be first or second generation cuttings from the part of the Busby Collection that James Busby gave to his father, whose property Kirkton was on the banks of the Hunter River at Belford. These vines are some of the oldest and rarest in not only Australia but the world, all because the Hunter Valley never had phylloxera.”

As Chris Tyrrell said:

“Our vat numbered wines were always the best of the vintage, but then we realised these old individual sites were so rare and extraordinary, why not bottle them separately?”

At a recent event celebrating the 150th vintage of the Stevens vineyard Old Patch shiraz vines, every Old Patch Shiraz was tasted, along with two vintages of each of four other great Tyrrell’s Sacred Site wines: HVD Old Vines Chardonnay 2013 and 2017, Johnno’s Semillon 2009 and 2017; Johnno’s Shiraz 2009 and 2014, and 4 Acres Shiraz 2009 and 2014. My notes are now on The Real Review.

The seven Tyrrell’s Sacred Site wines are:

The Belford semillon vineyard will turn 100 in 2033.

The Sacred Site wines are mostly limited by the vineyard size to 250-300 dozen bottles of each wine, except the HVD Semillon, which is larger.

These are some of the most outstanding wines in the entire country. The winemaking at Tyrrell’s has never been better and, with the sheer number of great wines this company is releasing these days, it has few peers.

And watch out for the 8 Acres Shiraz 2018: tasted from the barrel, it looked awesome. So good is the 2018 red-wine vintage, Tyrrell’s will be releasing a record 11 shirazes.

*Johnno’s was previously known as Long Flat, and was renamed after Tyrrell’s sold the Long Flat brand.

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