The Hunter Valley is Australia’s oldest wine region and is defined by its rich historical tapestry. Famous Australian wine names like Audrey Wilkinson, Maurice O’Shea, Dr Henry Lindeman and famous wine families like Drayton and Tulloch are borne of the Hunter Valley and its winemaking traditions.
There is one famous family name in the region where the great traditions of the Hunter Valley are joined by a restless spirit of wine innovation. That name is Tyrrell’s. They blend dedication to hand-crafted, minimal intervention wines while never shirking the growth and evolution of wine styles. It’s a practise that has been handed down from generation to generation, renewed with fresh vigour with each passing of the baton.
Today, the winemaking baton is being passed from fourth generation father Bruce Tyrrell to his fifth-generation son, Chris Tyrrell. Sharing the learnings that come from over 150 vintages in one of the world’s great, unique wine regions. In a relatively short space of time, Chris has blossomed when others may have wilted under the weight of expectation. The future for Tyrrell’s is looking brighter than ever.
“In our family, it’s forever looking for the next thing. Not necessarily just for the next thing, but you are looking for the next challenge. We’ve been there, we’ve done that and we’ve got that right… What’s the next thing? How can we improve that?”
Tyrrell's: A history of excellence
But before we get to where Tyrrell’s are going, we should take a quick look back at where they’ve been. The founding father of Tyrrell’s Wines, Edward Tyrrell, spent his childhood growing up in Kent, often known as the garden of England. In 1854 Edward moved to Australia, and in a few short years he and his family had settled in the Hunter Valley.
The Hunter Valley can be a rugged and unforgiving environment and must have seemed a million miles away from the verdant folds of Kent. But Edward had a strength and determination that would come to be a hallmark of the Tyrrell’s clan.
Edward wasted no time building the first residence on the property; an iron bark hut that still stands today. Next was a winery in time for the first Tyrrell’s vintage in 1864. This was soon followed by more vineyards including the 4 Acres Vineyard. Planted in 1879, it is one of the oldest in the Hunter Valley and still produces exceptional fruit for Bruce and Chris to work with today.
“It’s a very humbling experience to be able to go to work every day and work with vineyards that were planted by my grandfather, my great grandfather and my great, great grandfather. And while the Hunter Valley was Australia’s first grape growing region it is still a progressive wine region. No one rests on their laurels here, and at Tyrrell’s we are very much a part of that.”
A history of innovation
Edward worked hard establishing his Hunter Valley property - then known as Ashman’s Vineyards - as one of the most renowned in the region. In the late 1800s the baton passed from Edward to his son, Dan. You could say Dan was born to work amongst the vines and in the winery, having worked in the vineyards from the age of fourteen when his father’s health started to decline.
Dan expanded upon his father’s legacy right up until his passing in 1959. The grapes he grew in his 70 vintages were renowned in the Hunter Valley and across Australia. Grapes grown by Dan Tyrrell made their way into the legendary wines of Australia’s first great winemaker, Maurice O’Shea.
Thanks to Edward and Dan the Tyrrell name and fame was growing. Dan’s nephew Murray took the reins and quickly proceeded to take things to another level. Before Murray almost all of the Tyrrell’s wines were sold to other wineries. Murray changed this, keeping and bottling the best wines under their own label. Before too long names like Vat 1 Semillon, Vat 9 Hunter and Vat 47 Hunter Chardonnay became part of the Australian wine lover’s vernacular. Murray also introduced new wine styles and revolutionised wine tourism in Australia, setting a new standard of excellence in innovation that his son Bruce built on since the turn of the century.
‘The big change when my father took over was introducing Australia to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay of modern times. But probably more importantly he was the real father of wine tourism. In the 1960s we had no other way of getting people to buy our wines, we had to get them to come to us!’
Bruce Tyrrell has had a ruthless focus on quality and provenance since taking over the day-to-day running of the Tyrrell’s wine business. He quickly jettisoned the Long Flat brand that focused on quantity, giving the winemaking team the chance to focus on Tyrrell’s single-vineyard, sacred site and winemaker’s selection wines. The results? Tyrrell’s global reputation for exceptional Semillon and Chardonnay is now matched by a reputation for their reds that is the envy of many in the valley and across Australia.
Just as Dan learnt from Edward and Bruce learnt from Murray, today Chris Tyrrell is learning each day from Bruce and the rest of the team in the vineyard and in the winery. Like Bruce, Chris isn’t just blindly following the path others before him have forged - he wouldn’t be a Tyrrell if he wasn’t looking to improve, innovate and evolve.
Rather than looking to the modern or the technical to improve the way things are done at Tyrrell’s, Chris is actually heading back to the past while looking to the future. Back then apart from a few rudimentary tools in the vineyard and winery, it just took a heck of a lot of work to get the grapes getting grown, picked, crushed, fermented and bottled.
Over the years there have been many machines, tools and gadgets that have removed the amount of hard work needed in the vineyard and in the winery. Some of these tools have been invaluable in improving the quality of wines made around the world. But other tools have reduced the connection between the vigneron and the land, making it harder to truly express a sense of place.
‘A lot of the wineries in the region, including us, have been dusting old bits of museum equipment and bringing them back to life. For us it’s the basket presses and old bits of vineyard gear and old plows… Everyone, especially with viticulture, is going back to the way things used to be. Doing right by the vineyard and doing right by the soil.’
Chris has been a key influence on processes in the vineyard and in reviving minimal intervention winemaking traditions in the winery. The result? The wines are in better shape than ever. On a personal note, Chris has been recognised and awarded as one of the best young winemakers in Australia. Chris was a finalist in the Young Gun of Wine Awards in 2016 and took part in the Australian wine community’s Future Leaders program for the industry’s best and brightest, just a few of the accolades in his short career.
Tyrrell’s – A legendary Australian wine name with a bright future
In the rich and colourful history of Australian wine there are many names that have shone brightly but ultimately failed to create a lasting legacy. No such concerns with the Tyrrell’s of the Hunter Valley. The solid foundation built by Edward, grown by Dan, shared with the world by Murray and matured into one of Australia’s great family wineries by Bruce is stronger and tasting better than it ever has. Chris Tyrrell, one of Australia’s brightest young winemakers and fifth generation family member, is now taking this special legacy and shaping it for the future. An illustrious history. A bright future. The Tyrrell’s name and fine Australian wine will be synonymous for many, many years to come.
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