Even on a dreary, grey winter’s day, with hefty, threatening rainclouds hung above the steep rise behind the winery – a mountain, so they say – this place still exudes an uncanny aura. Australia’s greatest winemaker, Maurice O’Shea, baptised it Mount Pleasant, befitting of the hallowed Hunter Valley ground that it is.
In 2021, Mount Pleasant quietly celebrated its centenary. Quiet, because of Covid and lockdowns – and the newly expanded and refurbished cellar door wasn’t quite ready to go. It meant members, fans, customers and aficionados of this historically significant wine label couldn’t join in the festivities that such a milestone demands.
“It wasn’t a very nice time, to be honest,” says winemaker Adrian Sparks, only the fifth successor to O’Shea himself.
Sparks would know, more than most. Since being promoted to the position of chief winemaker at Mount Pleasant in 2018, he’s seen it all. Warm vintages, cool vintages, and one blazing hot vintage from hell where not even a single berry throughout the entire Mount Pleasant estate was picked. This was partly due to the ambient smoke drifting across on the air from bushfires burning nearby, but mostly due to former Mount Pleasant custodians, McWilliams Wines, calling in administrators right at the start of 2020.
“There were some dark days, just going through the whole administration process. Even before that, copping phone calls and abuse from suppliers, because we hadn’t paid them. And, you know, all I’m trying to do is make great wine,” says Sparks.
Now, in 2022, after a tumultuous and thoroughly unpleasant two years, Mount Pleasant is facing more forward than ever, while retaining a firm, reverential foot in the past.
“We’ve simplified everything. Stripped it all back, cleaned it up to honour the history of this place and the man,” he says. “It’s amazing to see what a bit of renewed enthusiasm and a decent chunk of change can do, when you put it to good use.”
Heavy and heartfelt investment from shrewd capital allocators, the Medich Family Office, is what has made this rebirth possible. Look closely and you’ll see how the family has
thrown its entrepreneurial wit, weight, and hard-earned wealth behind a number of projects throughout the Hunter Valley, including residential developments, retail, and farming projects; particularly beef cattle – and now, wine. One can only speculate as to just how much the family enjoy a glass of shiraz with their steak.
Since taking over from McWilliams in 2021, Mount Pleasant’s new owners have invested in all areas of the business, from the vineyards to the winery, new branding, and a significant refurbishment of the cellar door, which is sure to become an unmissable Hunter Valley wine tourism destination.
“I can remember having lunch with Anthony [Medich] down in Sydney, just after the sale went through. I asked him if he’d read The Wine Hunter, by Campbell Mattinson, and he said he hadn’t, yet. So, I gave him a copy of the book, and about a week later he called me and said, ‘You know, I knew how special Mount Pleasant was, but I had no idea just how special’,” Sparks recalls.
One of Australia’s most esteemed wine labels established by, arguably, Australia’s greatest winemaker, who is known to have produced some of the most age-worthy wines ever made in the world. Mount Pleasant is a definitely jewel in the crown that is Australia’s oldest continually operating wine region.
“I think, now, just like anyone who reads that book, he [Anthony] understands the significance of O’Shea, who he was, and just how important this place actually is to the history of the Australian wine industry. I think he also realised that the business needed a lot more attention than he first thought,” Sparks says.
The Medich family spared no time or expense in making new and significant investments in the business, from new equipment to additional staff populated with all-rounders.
Indeed, Sparks says you’re likely to find some of them have been out in the vineyard, tending to the oldest pinot noir vines in Australia, or perhaps pruning the last two remaining rows of montills in Australia, before pouring wine and talking about it in the cellar door. As such, there’s a new energy about Mount Pleasant, these days.
“We bought a brand new harvester within the first two months, which means now we can go pick a block of grapes whenever we want instead of having to ring up a contractor and trying to book in a spot,” says Sparks.
“And for the first time in a long time I’ve got people emailing and texting me telling me they really want to come and work here because they can see what’s happening. It’s exciting that people want to be a part of that energy,” he says.
With most of the wines from the recent 2022 vintage not ready to be released just yet, perhaps the most obvious and evidently exciting aspect of Mount Pleasant’s centenary resurrection is the newly refurbished and expanded cellar door:
Silver Colorbond steel stretches out across the existing homestead style structure of the cellar door, positively gleaming in contrast to the overcast sky above; Bacchus knows how bright it must shine on a clear, sunny day. There are two main spaces within which to congregate and taste Mount Pleasant wines, now; the newly refurbished cellar door, and the separate member’s lounge in the adjacent building, or barn, as it’s affectionately known.
The new cellar door offers an expanded tasting area, where a veritable splendour of stylish furniture; chairs and couches couched in a range of colourful comfy pillows, and the accompanying tabletops, invite sitting for hours, rather than mere minutes, as you taste through the wines of Mount Pleasant, and admire the incredible collection of original artworks hung on the venue’s elegant white walls.
“We have reimagined the historical Australian homestead in an authentic and contemporary way,” explains designer Rachel Luchetti, of architecture and design firm, Luchetti Krelle.
“Wine is at the heart of the design, from the arresting display in the wine store, through to the cellar door, where an impressive overscale blackbutt and zinc counter becomes a staging area for the winemaker to tell stories and share insights into their craft.”
Newly appointed head chef Kyle Whitbourne has designed a share plate menu that focuses on locally sourced produce to complement the wines. Whitbourne worked in collaboration with renowned chef Justin North, from Concept Hospitality, who has also worked alongside the team with the conceptualisation of the cellar door experience.
Over in “the barn” – just a short walk across the veranda – there’s a whole room dedicated to Mount Pleasant members, who can book a tasting experience, or simply show up and chance their arm at a spot on the couches by the fire, with a view towards one of the oldest shiraz vineyards in the Hunter, nay, Australia: Old Hill (first planted in 1880).
“We knew we needed something special for members to come and relax here, and this is the place,” says Sparks.
“It’s a nice quiet place to escape to, really. With a really nice outlook, back up the Old Hill. It’s exciting. I honestly can’t wait to open the doors,” he says.
Can you feel it? That optimism in the air? A genuine sense of confidence, enthusiasm and hopefulness for the future? Rejuvenated, revitalised, refurbished from the ground up – from the vines to the wines; from the soil to the cellar door – Mount Pleasant is born again, 100 years later.
2021 Mount Pleasant Rosehill Shiraz, A$55.
Hailing from a classically damp Hunter vintage, on the western side of the relatively unknown Chick’s Hill (adjacent the eastern facing Folly), which is more often referred to as Rosehill; planted and renamed by O’Shea himself in 1945. An intense ruby red colour arrays a heady nose of earthy red and black fruits; black cherry and bramble, peppercorns and clove. Supple, yet firm, wrought by powdery earthen tannin. Strong.
2021 Mount Pleasant OP & OH Shiraz, A$55.
Pure cool vintage class from this composite of great Hunter sites, Old Paddock & Old Hill (planted in 1921 and 1880 respectively). Yet again, these gnarly old vines yield an elegant nose of black and blue, like the silver-lining of a bright Hunter sky, perpetually menaced and obscured by clouds. Liquorice, blueberry, and plum glide gracefully on a silken texture wrapped in satin tannin. Glorious.
2019 Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz, A$275.
Blended from the best of the best shiraz sites from the Mount Pleasant Estate, one year before the Earth stood still; a warm, no, hot year, 2019 delivered a Maurice O’Shea for the ages. Dense and intense red and black fruits elevated above earthy notes of pepper, graphite, and spice. A fleshy texture and firm tannin renders supreme line and length. Better than ’14. Maurice O’Shea is a Hunter Valley icon.