How Hunter wine producers changed Australian drinking culture

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

A new book documenting the Hunter’s rich history of wine making has been launched, revealing the changing historical conditions and many personalities that have helped shaped the Hunter Valley region, and Australia’s drinking culture, over the past two centuries.

Professor John Germov and Dr Julie McIntyre
Professor John Germov and Dr Julie McIntyre

Hunter Wine: A History is the result of a four-year research project led by the University’s renowned sociologist, Professor John Germov, and Australia’s leading wine historian, Dr Julie McIntyre.

Tracing six generations of wine producers, from when the first vines were planted in 1828 to the changing tastes and rising interest in wine of the 1980s, the book uncovers new truths about the Hunter’s wine community and connection to the global economy.

“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 what historians consider to be scientific methods,” Dr McIntyre said.

Over the course of the project, the team accessed public and private archives in addition to interviewing 22 Hunter Valley personalities, preserving their oral history and memories.

“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.

“It’s been important to give the Hunter wine community of producers and workers a voice. This project has shown how this community had its own local factors, such as the environment, but that the community’s innovations were at all times in touch with national and international factors like the economy and changing social trends.”

Highlighting the colonial and global influences of the region’s early years, the project has revealed how Hunter Valley producers changed Australian drinking culture by creating a taste for their wines and spurred touristic traditions of visiting the region.

“In the 1850s there was barely a market for the small quantities of wine produced in the Hunter Valley, but Hunter wine became very popular in the heady era of Australian prosperity from the 1880s to World War 1. Then, due to war and the Depression, drinking fell out of favour until the mid-1960s when producers like Lindeman’s, Drayton’s and the McGuigan family encouraged a new drinking culture of ‘introduction wines’ – products that are easy-drinking and affordable,” Professor Germov said.

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

The book will be launched on Saturday 22 September from 2pm at the Newcastle Museum alongside an exhibition from the Vines, Wines and Identity project, which was jointly funded by the Australian Research Council Linkage Project scheme, the Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism Association and the Newcastle Museum.

The launch will also feature a once-only public screening of a forgotten comedy filmed in the Hunter wine region in the late 1960s.

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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.