Rosemount joins the rush to Mudgee

Rosemount Estate, that remarkable wine company belonging to the Oatley family, has a knack of spotting trends and exploiting them to the fullest. Starting in the 1970s it rode the white wine boom and built what was to become an enduring global brand with Rosemount Estate Chardonnay to the fore.

By the mid eighties, as everyone else scrambled for Australia’s meagre chardonnay supplies, Rosemount had already acquired or planted over 100 hectares of it – sufficient by my reckoning to produce over 80,000 cases a year.

Much else was achieved beside, but it would be fair to say that in the seventies and eighties, an era marked by overproduction, discounting and low producer margins, Rosemount stands out for having built brands that fetched a premium in the market place.

As demand for red wine picked up in the nineties, Rosemount looked for permanent red-grape sources beyond its traditional Hunter base and the limited resources of a Coonawarra vineyard acquired in 1981. Thus it acquired Ryecroft in McLaren Vale in 1990 and announced a major planting project at Langhorne Creek, near Lake Alexandrina, in 1993.

Rosemount had also been impressed by the quality of red grapes sourced from Mudgee (about 300 kilometres north west of Sydney) since the mid 1980s. Shiraz and cabernet sauvignon from older plantings, made exceptionally deep, intensely flavoured wines.

The exceptional quality of Mudgee’s reds and, no doubt, the area’s proximity to Rosemount’s home base (two hours drive through the ranges to Denman on the upper Hunter) prompted the Oatleys to acquire vineyards in the area.

In 1995 Rosemount took over the Davenport family’s 20 hectare Mountain Blue Vineyard, source, says wine maker Philip Shaw, of some of the best Mudgee shiraz he’s worked with over the years.

Prior to its acquisition by the Davenport family, the site – on a crown of quartz overlaid by rich, red soil – had a long association with Mudgee’s pioneering Roth family.

Bob Oatley believes Mudgee’s first vineyards, planted by Adam Roth in 1858, were on this same quartz crown. Today’s vineyard was established by Roth’s descendents about 30 years ago.

Following the Mountain Blue purchase, Rosemount acquired other land, including the site of the Hill of Gold Winery, bringing total Mudgee holdings to 180 hectares, 140 of it vineyard, or destined to be so.

Shiraz is the star of the area, but cabernet sauvignon is another proven performer and new plantings now underway include chardonnay and merlot, as well. (Mudgee was quite likely the first Australian area to cultivate chardonnay last century).

Bob Oatley rates Mudgee’s reds as ‘absolutely outstanding’ – hence the big investment in the district and the decision to make a top shelf red bearing the Mudgee name, a wine that literally gave birth to itself, because it was too good to blend away.

Rosemount Mountain Blue Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 hit the shelves this month after winning a trophy and 7 gold medals in a year.

It’s fully priced at $35 bottle but passes muster. Opaque, brilliant, cherry-skin red/black colour with vibrant crimson hues, exceptionally intense aromas and flavours and a firm, gripping structure make it an extraordinary red.

Most importantly, it has a ‘Mudgee’ thumbprint. Wine maker Philip Shaw sees its intensity of fruit flavour and firm structure as unique, totally different from McLaren Vale’s fat opulence, Coonawarra’s intense berries or the Barossa’s tender juiciness.

Those characteristics have always been there in Mudgee’s reds. The difference now is that we have a major international player able to polish a Mudgee wine to the highest possible level and parade it for the world to see.

Rosemount’s decisive move into Mudgee coincides with another even bigger investment in the area.

Orlando Wyndham recently announced the impending sale of its Hunter winery to McGuigan Bros after the 1997 vintage, and its intention to invest $10 million in expanding Montrose Winery in Mudgee.

While a good deal of that investment sets Montrose up as a multi-regional processing centre, it will almost inevitably lead to greater awareness of Mudgee among wine consumers.

And, given a wide move to regional labeling at the premium end of the market, we can bank on greater emphasis being placed on Montrose’s Mudgee range in the future. Its excellent but little known reds should have a bright future.

And there’s more. Mudgee may be the northernmost and biggest grape grower of the western slopes, but there’s a diversity of activity heading south along the Great Divide through Molong, Orange, Young, Cowra, Gundagai, Tooma and Tumbarumba! More on those areas in February.