Hunter wineries big guns take a hit from smoke taint

WRITE-OFF: Mount Pleasant chief winemnaker Adrian Sparks said they won't pick a single grape this vintage.
WRITE-OFF: Mount Pleasant chief winemnaker Adrian Sparks said they won't pick a single grape this vintage.

The smoke taint concern for Hunter Valley wineries is starting to hit home with Mount Pleasant - producers of the NSW Wine of the Year for the past two years - writing off its 2020 vintage completely.

"We won't pick a single grape ... none," chief winemaker Adrian Sparks said.

It comes on the back of fellow Hunter powerhouse, Tyrrell's Wines, announcing they had fared only slightly better with a "severely reduced" crop of about 20 per cent of their usual vintage.

While the news comes as a major blow to both wineries, they were at pains to point out that the smoke taint has not hit all vineyards across the valley.

"There's good fruit out there, completely unaffected ... I've tasted it," Sparks said. "So I'd urge people not to give up on this Hunter vintage. But unfortunately we're in a little pocket and we've done all the testing, all the micro ferments, and we've been hit.

"We've built up a strong following over many years, we have a loyal customer base and we just can't afford to put out a wine that's not up to standard. Simple as that."

We have a loyal customer base and we just can't afford to put out a wine that's not up to standard. Simple as that

Adrian Sparks, Mount Pleasant chief winemaker

It was a similar story from Tyrrell's. In a newsletter to members, Bruce Tyrrell wrote: "This decision has been our own and reinforces our premium quality standing in the world of fine wine. As with any other year, any wine that we do bottle from the 2020 vintage will only be of a standard that the family deem befitting of our 162 year legacy.

"As the drought continues, the grapes from these affected vineyards will not go to waste and will be utilised as mulch and feed for the cattle on our property."

Like Sparks, he said "the impact of smoke taint is not universal across the region".

For Sparks, who was the man behind both Mount Pleasant NSW Wine of the Year Awards in 2018 and 2019, it comes as a particularly bitter pill to swallow.

"I'm a winemaker, this is my favourite time of the year," he said. "It's tough, but we'll get through this."

Mount Pleasant's parent company McWilliams announced this month that it had been forced to call in administrators. So to turn their back on vintage shows the importance they place on quality. But when a number of your wines have a price point north of $100 - they have little option.