From the tasting team

Jane Faulkner on the Hilltops

By Jane Faulkner

28 Mar, 2023

Known for its orchards and olive groves, New South Wales' Hilltops wine region is also a grape growers' paradise. Tasting Team member Jane Faulkner makes a case for seeking out the region's many spoils. 

The best place to start a tour of the Hilltops region is its beating heart and epicentre, the town of Young, about 165 kilometres north-west of Canberra. It’s known as the cherry capital of Australia, just another reason to visit particularly in summer. 

But any season is lovely with the picturesque countryside heaving with orchards, olive groves and vineyards. It’s a grape growers’ paradise: cool climate, around 500 metres above sea level, and generally frost free, which is why many producers from Victoria through to Queensland tap into the goldmine of available fruit. 

And the diversity is astonishing. Apart from chardonnay, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, there’s tempranillo and an abundance of Italian options: nebbiolo, sangiovese, prosecco and fiano for starters. Yet, the Hilltops’ modern wine era is relatively young, reignited in 1969 when Peter Robertson started Barwang Wines

Winemaker Bryan Martin of RavensworthBryan Martin of Ravensworth.

The family-run Grove Estate has been growing grapes for about 35 years on a site that originally had vines planted by Croatian settlers in 1862. Today, the family manages more than 100 hectares with winemaker/co-owner Brian Mullany at the helm. In 1997, the family decided to start its own label: a slew come crafted by Bryan Martin at Ravensworth and Tim Kirk of Clonakilla fame. Special mention to its 2019 Sommita Nebbiolo, because it’s one of the finest I’ve tasted. So, too the 2018

For 22 years, Brian Freeman, a former professor of wine science at Charles Sturt University, has called Hilltops home all because of his obsession with northern Italian reds rondinella and corvina. Why? Amarone, a style made from partially dried grapes. 

“I was fascinated by these long-lived wines as they have massive complexity and natural tannins. That’s why I focused on them,” he says.

As a grower, he has spent the last 20 years buying vineyards to the point he owns about a third of the region’s sites – around 200 hectares comprising 27 different varieties. That’s commitment. So what makes Hilltops special? 
“The soils and climate. The region sits on a huge granite rock and from that rock is 15 to 18 metres of decomposed granite soils plus red sand blown in from central Australia. We have 
free draining, very good soils particularly for red varieties. We can produce fantastic quality grapes.”

Freshly harvested red grapesFreshly harvested corvina grapes at Freeman Vineyards.

He crafts some of the most interesting, unique and exhilarating styles from fresh prosecco, textural fiano, and his youthful Corvina Rondinella Rosso to the rich, Amarone-style Robusta Corvina.

Given the size of his vineyard holdings, Brian quips: “We are very efficient at growing grapes and that supports the hobby of having a winery.”

Speaking with him in the thick of harvest, he says: “There’s something so satisfying in seeing a truckload of grapes roll out of the gate (destined for their allocated producer) even after not sleeping for 26 hours. It’s just amazing to farm, to produce something that keeps people going and then seeing the outcome; wine.” 

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