Mount Pleasant

The Mount Pleasant winery is my special subject. It was the home of Australia’s first great winemaker – Maurice O’Shea – and until the early 1960s it was known as the producer of Australia’s best table wines.

Its reputation has barely been dimmed in the years since but nevertheless, scores of wineries have since overtaken it. I recently re-published a biography of Maurice O’Shea, and so I’ve spent more than my fair share of time trawling the winery’s archives, or what can be found of them. And yet even I was surprised to hear that the winery’s famous 1880’s-planted vineyard hasn’t been fermented as a single vineyard wine since 1965. This vineyard routinely produces a tiny yield of grapes and so, since 1965, it’s been fermented with the grapes of other vineyards. This is the equivalent of Henschke’s ancient Hill of Grace Vineyard grapes being blended with the grapes of other vineyards; a thought barely thinkable.

Suddenly though all has changed at Mount Pleasant. The grapes of the 2013 and 2014 vintages from the 1880 vineyard were fermented and matured separately, and have now been bottled as they are. For the first time since 1965 then we get to see the raw produce that Australia’s first great winemaker had to play with, from the estate on which he lived. The result is a revelation. It’s not just a tasty wine; it’s an important one. And yet it’s only the entree. Because strangely enough it’s not the best of the wines added to the Mount Pleasant range.

The change – in thinking as much as anything – at Mount Pleasant hasn’t been specific to the 1880 vineyard. It’s swept through the entire range. In 2009 (and in the years prior) the winery produced four red wines each year. In the 2014 vintage, it produced 14. This is that rare occasion where the expansion of a wine range has been wine-lead rather than marketing-lead.

Many of these new wines are made from individual blocks; seen in all their individual glory for the first time. Maurice O’Shea bought the Mount Pleasant winery in 1921 and so he inherited that 1880-planted vineyard. He didn’t plant or plan it. During his years of roaming the Hunter Valley, on foot and by horse, he identified a block of prime land in the Hunter Valley owned by Emily Dunn. It was 22 hectares of volcanic soil, set on a hillside. He negotiated with her during the second world war, and took possession in March 1945. He called the land Rosehill. This is the site Maurice O’Shea thought would make the best Hunter Valley red wine. He planted vines on this hill, though he never got to see the job properly through; he died prematurely, of lung cancer, in 1956. His Rosehill vineyard started being planted in 1946 though a further crucial set of vines went into the ground in 1965. These vines have been popping out top-grade grapes each summer almost every year since, though again they’ve been blended into large commercial-volume wines. Conditions for the 2014 vintage were perfect. It was decided that shiraz from the 1965 plantings of the Rosehill vineyard should be fermented and bottled separately. It’s the shiraz Maurice O’Shea dreamed of, but never had the chance to make. The result is everything he might have imagined. And more.

There is a lot of “over scoring” of Australian wine nowadays. Far too many wines score close to 100/100. The problem with such scores, inter alia, is that they leave little room to move, should a better wine come along. In the context of today’s scoring environment this 1965 Vines Shiraz should probably score close to 112/100.

Or better put: there’s every chance that this is the best red wine to be produced out of Mount Pleasant in 50 years. Some folks reckon that a rock wall should now be built around Rosehill’s 1965 Shiraz plantings; enclosing it. The wine itself has its own rock wall in-built. CAMPBELL MATTINSON