Innovative and adventurous winemaker Jonny Hughes is making his mark on the Tasmanian wine industry, and is the obvious choice for our Young Winemaker of the Year.
Travelling from the north west to the south east of Tasmania may be a relatively short distance but it’s been a big step for Jonathan Hughes.
Jonny (as he’s universally known) is a native Taswegian who grew up in the bleakly bucolic north west and dutifully studied economics before throwing financial caution to the wind to roam the vinous globe.
In 2011 Hughes put down roots on the banks of the achingly beautiful D’Entrecasteaux Channel, which runs between mainland Tasmania and Bruny Island. And not just a few roots, but lots of vines he planted with his (financially savvy) brother, Matthew. Their 3.5 hectare Mewstone vineyard has the charming address of 11 Flowerpot Jetty Road, Flowerpot, Tasmania and is the source of the Mewstone branded wines.
To keep the ‘wolf from the (fiscal) door’ the brothers also make wine under the Hughes & Hughes label. Well, it’s actually just Jonny Hughes who physically tends the vines, makes the wines and is the front man for the operation and hence the recipient of the 2019 GT WINE Young Winemaker of the Year.
Hughes believes the collaborative nature of the new wave of Tassie winemakers has been a huge help to his endeavours.
Hughes’ journey into winemaking began in 2002 at Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand with a compressed viticulture and oenology course before vintage at Bleasdale in Langhorne Creek and vineyard work at Felton Road in Central Otago. Hughes hopped back across the Tasman for the 2003 vintage in Mornington Peninsula with Stonier Wines.
As he further progressed, it was the opportunity to work with Alessandro Ceretto in Piedmont that really kindled Hughes’ enthusiasm and drive for making wines that reflect their site, and not the hand of a winemaker. Ceretto encouraged Hughes to take a philosophical approach to winemaking by thinking outside the square. Hughes loved the texture and savoury complexity of the nebbiolo fruit he handled at Ceretto’s three sites. Ceretto clearly made a big impression on the direction of his own winemaking.
Vintages in the Hunter Valley and Canada’s Okanagan Valley helped build Hughes’ experience before returning to Tasmania for a seven-year stint with Conor van der Reest at Moorilla Estate. Again Hughes attributes much to van der Reest’s ability to handle small parcels of fruit in an individual way.
In parallel to his time at Moorilla, he and his brother purchased an old cherry orchard with spectacular views over the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and the rest has been a lot of hard work, grit and determination.
Hughes believes the collaborative nature of the new wave of Tasmanian winemakers has been a huge help. His move to the Pooley winery in 2016 to both make his own wines and work with Anna Pooley and Justin Bubb is an example of this tight-knit alliance. Bubb’s experience in Italy opened common ground with Hughes.
Hughes also acknowledges the pioneering role of Andrew Hood in Tasmania’s wine industry, a mark of how Hughes sees the past as a catalyst for the future. And the future is bright for this young winemaker with the plans for an on-site winery well under way, in time for vintage 2021.
Meantime, the minuscule Mewstone vineyard is growing with the core of pinot noir augmented with chardonnay, syrah, riesling and sauvignon blanc. The estate-grown Mewstone wines sit comfortably alongside the Hughes & Hughes label, which utilises grapes from nearby growers.
Included in the Hughes & Hughes range is a pair of wines that step well outside the square. Soirée is a pétillant naturel made from pinot noir, merlot, pinot gris and riesling – its blushing pink colour and tangerine and Campari-like flavours are definitely far away from the mainstream. So too is Solstice, a novello-style red made from Dornfelder, pinot noir, merlot and sauvignon blanc – a fresh chillable red with acid-etched flavours and a mild-mannered tannin profile.
Hughes is a young man on the rise with a clear focus and assured direction. The fact that he has a business-brain brother to guide the vineyard and winemaking enterprise augurs well for the future of the duo – and for Tasmanian wine.
Photography courtesy of Mewstone Wines.