Four vineyards, three brands: that might be a handful for some, but with her ‘less is more’ approach, Hunter Valley’s Xanthe Hatcher is managing the juggling act just fine.
One might expect Xanthe Hatcher, chief winemaker of Agnew Wines, to be a tad battle-weary coming off the trying 2022 Hunter Valley vintage. But on the contrary, she speaks positively about the challenge.
“Every vintage is entirely different,” says Hatcher. “It never ceases to amaze me how they vary from one to the next. It keeps you interested as a winemaker”.
Despite the relentless rain, good viticultural practices saw them through, and the team maximised every window of opportunity. As a result, the whites are fantastic, with chardonnay the best it has looked in years. Meanwhile, the reds are reflective of the mild season having classic medium weight.
Hatcher presides over a 2,000-tonne crush, crafting wines under the three labels of the Agnew Wines portfolio – Audrey Wilkinson, Pooles Rock, and Cockfighter’s Ghost – plus a host of labels made under contract.
Preserving tradition amid a dynamic and changing climate is just one of the many challenges for the custodian of the three brands. Recent vintages have been plagued by drought and bushfires, as well as rain.
‘To create something out of what you have grown and share it with people – it is the best thing about wine. I always pinch myself
that I’ve found myself here and that I’m the one that gets to carry on the legacy.’
Hatcher speaks about the industry with authenticity, authority, and eloquence. Not only is she trained in winemaking and viticulture, but she also has a long-standing appreciation for produce farming and experience in the retail sphere.
Her razor-sharp palate allows her to craft wines that are refined, composed, and considered, where the winemaking imprint is discreet, allowing for the honest expression of the vineyard.
The two Hunter Valley brands in the portfolio are very different in style. The Audrey Wilkson range is comprised of medium-weight wines of great fruit purity with a long acid line, whereas the Poole’s Rock wines have more volume, weight and texture. The Cockfighter’s Ghost range, although vinified in the Hunter, is now made using grapes from their Chairman’s Vineyard in Blewitt Springs.
Hatcher reflects on the fortunate position of working with a wine company that has such amazing vineyard resources.
“I see our vineyards as our unique asset”, she says. “No one else has access to this beautiful fruit and these historic sites.”
Sharing an office with long-term vineyard manager Shaune Flynn means that collaborative conversations about the vines happen daily.
Agnew Wines has four vineyards in the Hunter Valley. The Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard has a beautiful amphitheatre shape with diverse soil types and aspects. The dry-grown Marsh Estate Vineyard, just off Hermitage Road, is prized for the quality of its whites. The Post Office shiraz vineyard at the winery site is essential to the Poole’s Rock label, including a treasured plot of 120-year-old vines bottled as the single vineyard Poole’s Rock Centenary Block Shiraz. And on the sandy creek flats at Broke is the Soldier Settler Vineyard, which produces stunning semillon and chardonnay.
Hatcher says her role as custodian of the three different brands is about perceptive winemaking decisions that enhance rather than detract from the core character of the vineyard.
“It is not about me and the wine I want to create,” states Hatcher emphatically. “I can’t give a wine a personality; it is there to start with.”
She adopts a ‘less is more’ approach to red winemaking using large format oak, such as puncheons and foudre, to ensure that fruit remains at the fore.
“We have a fantastic winemaking team, including winemaker Rick Staniford and assistant winemaker Hugh Spinaze,” says Hatcher proudly.
A near decade-long association with the vineyards gives Hatcher an invaluable perspective on making wine.
“You only get one shot at it each year, so it takes a long time to get to know a vineyard,” she says. “To create something out of what you have grown and share it with people – it is the best thing about wine. I am working in the oldest region in the Australian wine industry and we have all this history behind us.
“I always pinch myself that I’ve found myself here and that I’m the one that gets to carry on the legacy.”
FACTS AND FIGURES
REGION | Hunter Valley, NSW
YEARS IN INDUSTRY | 15
ANNUAL CRUSH | 2,000 tonnes
STAND-OUT WINES | Audrey Wilkinson Ridge Semillon; Pooles Rock Centenary Block Shiraz
Photography by Josh Hill Photography.