TWELVE months ago all the grapes in McWilliam's Mount Pleasant vineyards had been dropped onto the ground after becoming unusable for winemaking by bushfire smoke taint.
It was a fate shared by that vintage's grapes of numerous other Hunter growers, but for Mount Pleasant it came in the wake of other dire happenings.
The 143-year-old McWilliam family parent company fell into administration in early January 2020 and by July it seemed the group would be taken over in a $50 million deal by the Prestnt Asset Management private equity firm.
The money would have given Prestnt the Riverina cellar door, 42,000-tonne-capacity wineries at Hanwood and 420 hectares of owned and leased vineyard. In the Hunter it stood to gain the 800-tonne-capacity Pokolbin winery, cellar door and some of Australia's greatest brands and vineyards: 32.6 hectares at Marrowbone Road, 31.1 hectares at Lovedale in Wine Country Drive, and 26.9 hectares at Rosehill in Broke Road.
By late January 2020, however, the deal had collapsed and KPMG was back as administrator and Colliers International resumed as selling agent. New buyout bids closed last April and KPMG says it's now assessing the offers.
Although Mount Pleasant had no work for grape pickers and made no 2020 wines, it was able to keep its permanent staff on and now the 2021 vintage has given Mount Pleasant lots to celebrate.
Its chief winemaker-general manager Adrian Sparks says good December and January rain followed by hot, sunny weather up to Australia Day has brought an amazingly good 2021 vintage. Whites have all been harvested and he expects all the reds will be finished in two weeks.
A special highlight occurred last Wednesday with the 100th birthday harvest of the Old Paddock vineyard planted in 1921 by legendary Hunter winemaker Maurice O'Shea.
Sparks says 1.83 hectares of 100-year-old vines produced three tonnes of "fantastic" 2021 grapes. They will make one of the Hunter's most prized reds. Old Paddock grapes are also blended with those from the 141-year-old Old Hill vineyard to make the acclaimed Mount Pleasant Old Paddock and Old Hill Shiraz.
Old Hill was planted on the slopes above Marrowbone Road in 1880 by pioneer settler Charles King, whose family in 1921 sold the property to Maurice O'Shea, the French wine-trained lover of fine food, books, music and art, with a level of wine skills then seldom seen in Australia.
Wine reviews by John Lewis
SUPERB OLD PADDOCK
WITH 13.5% alcohol, vivid garnet hues and potpourri scents, this superb Mount Pleasant 2017 Old Paddock Shiraz comes from the historic 1.83ha Old Paddock vineyard. It features vibrant blackcurrant front-palate flavour, middle-palate bramble jelly, cherry, spice, peppermint and savoury oak and a dusty tannin finish. PRICE: $135. DRINK WITH: rib of beef with bearnaise sauce. AGEING: 15 years. RATING: 5.5 STARS
OP AND OH DELIGHT
THE Mount Pleasant 2018 Old Paddock and Old Hill Shiraz is from Old Paddock and the 141-year-old Old Hill vineyard grapes. It has 14% alcohol, purple hues and cherry and rosemary aromas. The front palate shows plush plum flavour, the middle palate mulberry, briar, Turkish delight chocolate and vanillin oak and the finish ferric tannins. PRICE: $55. DRINK WITH: rack of lamb. AGEING: 12 years. RATING: 5 STARS
SPICY IBERIAN MIX
GET today's other wines and this Mount Pleasant 2018 Creek Block Tempranillo-Touriga at mountpleasantwines.com.au and the cellar door. From Iberian-origin tempranillo and touriga vines, it has 12.5% alcohol, ruby hues and spicy raspberry on the nose and front palate. The middle has plum, quince paste and mocha oak and a minty tannin finish. PRICE: $30. DRINK WITH: paella. AGEING: six years. RATING: 4.5 STARS