Researchers uncover true stories of Vines, Wine and Identity in the Hunter Valley

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

A new book examining the history and personalities of the Hunter Valley wine community will be launched at Newcastle Museum on 22 September.

Hunter Wine book

Hunter Wine: A history is one of the outputs of a four-year research project Vines, Wine and Identity: Hunter Valley NSW and Changing Australian Taste, a world first collaboration between a university, the peak wine body for a region and the cultural sector. The University of Newcastle project team is renowned sociologist Professor John Germov and Australia’s foremost wine historian Dr Julie McIntyre, a member of the Centre for 21stCentury Humanities.

“This is an important Australian wine book that uncovers new truths, challenges old myths and moves at a cracking pace with a delicious wine tale just right for the present”, said Melbourne-based wine journalist Jeni Port.

Professor Germov and Dr McIntyre will launch the book on 22 September surrounded by an exhibition, currently on display at the Newcastle Museum until Sunday 14 October, which brings to life the early years of the Hunter Valley tied to colonial, national and global themes, as featured in the book. The book launch will be accompanied by the screening of a forgotten Australian film, Squeeze a Flower. This made-for-TV movie has scenes shot at Pokolbin in the Hunter wine region in the late 1960s, and stars famous Australian and international actors.

The book and exhibition both trace through six generations of wine producers in the Hunter Valley, from when the first vines were planted in 1828 to the changing tastes and rising interest in wine of the 1980s, introducing the reader and viewer to the changing historical conditions and many personalities that helped shaped the region.

“The identification and naming of these generations is an important feature of the project”, Dr McIntyre said. “Some of what used to be called the history of the Hunter wine region actually came from past marketing material. This project replaces 'fake history' with knowledge obtained through scientific methods”.

“It’s also been important to give the Hunter wine community of producers and workers a voice. Instead of defining the 'wine region' by a narrative from wine education or branding, we’ve shown how this community has its own local logic and innovations while being connected to wider influences, including the global economy, to demonstrate its national significance”.

“Over the course of the project we accessed many public and private archives and interviewed 22 Hunter Valley personalities, preserving their oral history and memories,” Dr McIntyre said. “These mixed historical sources are invaluable in building an understanding of the region’s past, contributing to a new understanding of Australia's role in a critical global sector, and the nation's growing taste for wine,” Dr McIntyre said.

The oral history interviews will be soon available to view online.

“Jointly funded by the Australian Research Council Linkage Projects scheme, the Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism Association and the Newcastle Museum, this project is an example of the University of Newcastle’s commitment to producing world-class research through regional partnerships,” Professor Germov said.

Hunter wine businessmen Brian McGuigan and Newcastle Museum director Julie Baird were project partners. Other Hunter wine businessmen Jay Tulloch and Phil Ryan were members of an Industry Advisory Committee who contributed to the project’s completion and success.

Professor Germov said this Wine Studies Research Network project uncovers the iconic region's history and heritage and looks at how Hunter Valley producers have changed Australian drinking culture by creating a taste for their wines and a new touristic tradition of visiting the region.

“In the mid 1800s there was barely a market for the wine produced in the Hunter Valley. That changed at the turn of the twentieth century, until the outbreak of World War I saw stricter values about drinking alcohol. By the 1950s temperance policies during the two world wars and the Depression meant that ‘wining and dining’ was still not part of Australian culture and wine couldn’t be served in public venues after 6pm,” Professor Germov noted.

Dr McIntyre said Australian attitudes towards wine started to relax by the mid-1960s and the years that followed were a revival for Hunter wines and the beginning of new national enthusiasm for wine drinking and visiting wine regions.

“The late 1960s saw new drinking freedoms for women allied with the movement for women’s liberation, a new restaurant culture of dining with wine and the wine industry’s readiness to make new wine styles. Hunter wines became the basis of a new drinking culture of varied styles and prices, and of visiting ‘cellar doors’ on weekends,” Dr McIntyre said.

By the end of the 1970s Australians drank more white wine than any other country in the world, and no dinner party was complete without wine, with Hunter-based products integral to this new ethos.

“In the 1980s, tastes changed again with rising interest in wine styles from single grape varieties like Chardonnay, Semillon, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Hunter Valley stalwarts Tyrrell’s, McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant and Brokenwood were at the forefront of developing these styles for a new generation of drinkers,” Professor Germov said.

The exhibition at Newcastle Museum runs until Sunday 14October 2018.

This project comes as the Hunter wine region has received a $100,000 state government grant to pursue state heritage status. The funding will go towards theHunter Valley Heritage Vineyards Strategic Study which will document the wine region’s historic assets including buildings and some of the oldest surviving vines in the world.

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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.