The Tulloch Wines Story
When it comes to the long game in the wine business, families always win. The 125th anniversary of one of the Hunter's great family names again proves this adage.
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The Hunter Valley is one of Australia’s most visited wine regions, but it’s only been over the last 50 years that wine has been central to its identity. And when you look back through its history, only a handful of names were there from the beginning, grinding away, turning sunshine and dirt into wine. Tulloch is one of those names and their story, as it has passed down through the generations, custodian to custodian, has become as rich and interesting as the wines they create.
Serendipity and Sustainability
The Tulloch’s wine story begins in 1895 when a cash-strapped customer of John Younie (J.Y.) Tulloch’s general store could not pay his debt and offered 43 acres of his property as payment. That property included some vines and J.Y. started to make wine. By the 1920s, J.Y.’s eldest son Hector was making the wine and the Tullochs were the largest vignerons in the valley.
This success is impressive, not just because the abstinence and temperance movement was in full swing at the time, or that regions like the Barossa and Rutherglen (through trade tariffs) were able to produce fortified wine and brandy cheaper than in NSW, but simply because wine was not something associated with the Hunter Valley.
The family pushed through WWI, the Great Depression and just before J.Y. died in 1940, he passed the business onto Hector, naming it J.Y. Tulloch & Sons. From the 1940s through to the 1960s, Hector’s foresight and drive heavily influenced the success and credibility of the business, ultimately propelling it through a significant period of change for Australian wine.
While table wine was being made in a handful of Australian regions, the market was very small. However, from the 1950s onwards, people slowly began to drink less fortified and more table wine.
Sensing this momentum, Hector made and released a Shiraz made from the 1952 vintage and labelled it Tulloch Private Bin Pokolbin Dry Red. Hector’s second Private Bin Pokolbin Dry Red from the 1954 vintage won the ‘Best Claret’ and ‘Best Red Wine of Show’ at the 1956 Royal Sydney Wine Show, elevating the Tulloch reputation.
Despite the family name gaining credibility, the industry was rocky. “There was no prestige associated with wine like there is today,” Jay recalls. “Very few people understood or wanted to know about table wine.”
Then, in 1965 Hector passed away and as his brothers were getting on, they decided to sell. A then 25-year-old Jay was asked to stay on as general manager, but this began a 32-year period where the business shifted ownership, including a five-year stint where there was no family involvement.
As Jay’s daughter and current CEO Christina explains, this period was tough for the family as they saw the corporate approach to wine doing damage to the brand, eroding the hard work of her father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
This changed in 2001 when the family had the opportunity to buy the business back and resurrect its soul.
“We’ve been up the top of the hill, down the other side,” Jay reflects. “Viticulture and winemaking will survive around here and without a shadow of a doubt, it’s going to be families who do it.
After a stint in journalism, marketing and PR, Christina joined the business in 2003 and since then she and her family have focussed on elevating Tulloch to new heights.
To help celebrate the family’s 125-year anniversary and the success of bringing the family back to the brand, Christina and Jay hosted a tasting to explore the wines that define the Tulloch story.
We started with a line-up of Private Bin Pokolbin Dry Red Shiraz, which proved to be a premium, modern expression of Hunter Shiraz celebrating all that is great about the style; medium bodied and earthy with fine tannins and structure that promotes graceful aging.
The oldest, the 2005, was in great shape, being elegant and juicy with the classic Hunter leather developing in the background flanked by fine, earthy tannins. Highlights were the 2011 and 2014 for their complexity, mouth-watering acid and character, with the youthful 2017 and 2018 showing great promise as they open up. Overall, these wines are highly understated Hunter classics, each representing true regional character, delivering personality, great value and will reward into the future.
“It’s the style that identifies us,” explains Christina. “It connects us to this place. It’s the style that made the Hunter famous and it’s what we want to keep doing.”
Next up the family flagship, the ‘Hector’. Stretching back nearly 30 years, these eponymous wines have only been made 20 times, in great Hunter years, and are released as an aged wine.
Compared to the Private Bin Pokolbin Dry Red Shiraz, these wines have the volume turned up on all fronts – intensity, complexity, oak and character – and take time to open up. The 1991 was regal; glossy and round with a lovely mouthfeel and palate-load of dried herbs, leather, black and red fruits. Standouts were the 1995 for its freshness, 2000 for its classic Hunter River Burgundy character, 2005 for its complexity and the 2009 for its slippery mouthfeel and earthy fruit tones.
When it comes to whites, the family produce the Hunter classics of Semillon and Chardonnay, but they have carved out a point of difference with Verdelho by making a range of popular styles.
We tasted their exceptionally valued Estate Verdelho with 2019 showing plenty of fresh, attractive zesty and tropical fruit, a 2003 that had aged beautifully and tasted like preserved lemons and a 1991 that was fully matured, but still had structure and mouthfeel.
Lastly we tasted the Cellar Door Release NV Verscato, a fun pink riff on Muscato and the Cellar Door Release NV Crème de Vin that pays homage to the great fortified wines of Madeira. The wine was mouth-watering, offering a credible nod to its origin and a perfect conclusion to a tasting that neatly summed up the Tulloch’s passion and commitment to their region and the legacy of their family history.