The wines of Brokenwood, Hunter Valley, Australia
A visit to one of the Hunter Valley's top wineries

I’ve got some history with this winery. When I was first getting into wine, a good friend who was acting as my unofficial wine mentor poured me some Brokenwood Graveyard Vineyard Hermitage. I was taken. It was being sold by our local independent, the Wine House in Wallington, who were stocking the 1991. At £13.49 a bottle, this was my first serious splurge, and I bought three bottles. Alas, they are all now gone, and Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz (Hermitage has long since been dropped from the label) is now £40+ a bottle.

A group of three wine-loving Sydney-based lawyers—James Halliday, John Beeston and Tony Albert—established Brokenwood back in 1970. They’d decided to start a winery in the Hunter Valley, which was geographically the closest wine region, and after a couple of years searching, they bought a 10 acre block near the intersection of the McDonalds and Broke Roads in Pokolbin. This was to become Brokenwood.

Iain Riggs, Brokenwood's chief winemaker for almost 30 years

The first acre and a half was planted in 1971, and the three lawyers got their hands dirty doing a lot of the tractor work and planting themselves, as well as the pruning and picking. The first wine was made in 1973, from a ton of Shiraz and half a ton of Cabernet, at Rothbury. Halliday, who went on to become Australia’s most celebrated wine writer, was involved with Brokenwood for just over a decade, but had to leave when he moved to Melbourne in 1983.

Since their beginnings, Brokenwood have expanded their production well beyond their Hunter homeland. Grapes are now sourced from all around South eastern Australia, with emphasis on McLaren Vale, Padthaway and even the Yarra in Victoria.

I first visited as an enthusiastic amateur in 2000, and then returned in June 2009 for a ‘professional’ visit with chief winemaker Iain Riggs.

Riggs has been at Brokenwood since the early 1980s. He studied at Roseworthy from 1972–75, and did his first vintage in the Riverland in 1972. Then in 1974 and 1975 he did vintage at Bleasdale in Langhorne Creek, South Australia, taking a job there as winemaker at the end of 1975. Brian Croser and Tony Jordan head-hunted him for a job at Hazelmere Estate in the McLaren Vale, where he started in 1980. Then, in 1982, he was offered the job of chief winemaker at Brokenwood, where he has been ever since. When he joined Brokenwood was a red wine only winery; Riggs brought his white winemaking skills and now the emphasis is firmly on whites here.  

Semillon is a major focus here. 12 000 cases of regular Hunter Semillon are made each year, plus four single-vineyard wines totalling 2000 cases altogether. Semillon here is crushed rather than whole-bunch pressed: Iain feels that a little bit of oxidation at juice stage isn’t a bad thing.

Brokenwood is a 100% screwcap winery, an issue Iain feels strongly about. He recalls how they recently colour sorted 48 000 bottles of reserve Semillon from 1998–2002, all under cork. They ended up with four grades. The lightest colour, grade A, was kept for museum stock. Grades B and C were released for sale. Grade D, the darkest wines, were scrapped, representing some 30% of production. Riggs feels that the widespread adoption of screwcaps in the Hunter ‘will be a boon for us; especially for the whites.’

‘The long term Hunter position is pretty sound,’ says Riggs. ‘We have such a long history of specializing in Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz.’

‘It’s a tough climate and the soils are tough here,’ he adds. ‘You can’t go planting all sorts of things to see what will happen. From our point of view it is about promoting what we do best, raising the profile and hence raising the price.’ He’s encouraged by the fact that there are many good young winemakers making the Hunter their home at the moment.

Tank/cask samples:

2009 Semillon, a reserve block – luminous green; amazingly vivid and intense with high acidity. Beautifully tight and lemony.

2009 Semillon – single vineyard, reserve – very focused, pure and limey with lovely freshness and acidity.

2009 Indigo Chardonnay, from Beechworth in Victoria. Mendoza clone, free run juice. Lovely rich, taut wine with a little bit of reduction. Bready, rich and complex.

2009 Indigo Viognier, Beechworth. Incredibly rich and exotic with strong varietal characer – peach and pear fruit.

2009 Indigo Pinot Noir, Beechworth. Beautifully rich dark cherry aromatics. Amazingly vivid palate with freshness and elegance. Lovely.

2009 Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz, Hunter. Wonderfully intense dark cherry and berry nose. Beautiful focus, intensity and elegance. A lovely wine.

2009 McLaren Vale Wade Block Shiraz pressings. Concentrated and dark with black fruits, spice and chocolate. Concentrated rich and sweet.


Brokenwood Semillon 2008 Hunter Valley
10% alcohol. Taut, fresh and lemony with crisp, bright lemon and herb fruit. High acidity. Lean and pure with lovely freshness. 90/100

Brokenwood ILR Semillon Reserve 2003 Hunter Valley
A hot, dry year. Taut, herby and lemony with some lemon oil notes and richer spicy notes, as well as a hint of toast. The palate is concentrated and bold with lovely lemon and lime fruit. Intense with some herby depth, and hints of vanilla and lanolin on the finish. 93/100

Brokenwood Cricket Pitch Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2008
Two-thirds Sauvignon, a third Semillon, mainly from Cowra and King Valley. Open and sweetly fruited with a range of fruit characters from lemon to tropical. Attractive and subtly grassy. 89/100

Brokenwood Forest Edge Chardonnay 2007 Orange
From a vineyard at 1100 m planted in 1998. Full yellow/gold colour. Toasty and nutty with lovely broad fruit. Warm yet savoury flavours with nice oak use. Sophisticatd. 92/100

Brokenwood Cricket Pitch Red 2007 South Australia
Multiregional blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Shiraz. Sweet berry fruited nose. The palate is ripe, open and quite elegant with some spicy structure. Red berries and blackberry fruit. Very appealing and drinkable. 88/100

Brokenwood Wade Block 2 Shiraz 2005 McLaren Vale
This vineyard was 10 years old in 2005, planted with cuttings from Kays Block 6. Sweet, ripe chocolatey nose. Vivid and spicy with some pastille character. The palate is ripe and generous with spicy, chocolatey richness as well as nice focus and structure. Finishes spicy. 91/100

Brokenwood Shiraz 2006
From McLaren Vale, Hunter Valley and Beechworth. Cherry, smoke and spice notes on the aromatic nose. Fresh with nice lift: hints of greenness, but in a nice way. The palate has lovely freshness and elegance with dark cherry and spice character. 92/100

Brokenwood Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz 2007 Hunter Valley
Fresh and aromatic with dark cherry, blackberry and sophisticated roast coffee notes. A really elegant style. The palate is midweight with black cherry fruit backed up by spicy richness in the mid palate, and sweet red fruits. Long spicy finish with elegance combined with power – this will last for a long time. It’s not a totally obvious wine but the length on the palate and mid-palate concentration of flavour suggest this will age beautifully. 95/100

Brokenwood Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz 1998 Hunter Valley
Evolved nose showing beautifully floral, earthy, spicy notes and a hint of medicine. The palate is broad, warm, earthy and spicy with lovely earthiness and a touch of iodine. Just lovely, with real complexity and some elegance. Apparently this isn’t as fresh as this wine typically shows. 93/100

Brokenwood Hermitage Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz 1986 Hunter Valley
A truly great wine. Fresh nose with lovely focus and intense red/black fruits. Very focused with lovely fruit quality. Complex. The palate is fresh with spicy, earthy red fruits and amazing acidity and structure. Superbly elegant and fresh with beautiful intensity and concentration. The freshness here is amazing with beautiful acidity and complexity. 97/100

wines tasted 06/09

Older notes (from January 2005)

Cricket Pitch Sauvignon Semillon 2002
Comes fom Cowra, McLaren Vale and King Valley. Ripe, fruity, fresh and correct. Nice weight and balance. Very good+ 85/100

Hunter Valley Semillon 2003
21st vintage of this classic. Really nice lemony fresh white. It’s a little simple and fruity at the moment. Light and zesty. Very good+ 86/100

ILR Reserve Hunter Valley Semillon 1998
Nice nutty and honeyed fruit with a fresh lemony twist. Soft, rounded, nutty palate is evolved but still displaying plenty of freshness. Very good+ 88/100

Forest Edge Vineyard Chardonnay 2002 Orange, New South Wales
Barrel fermented with wild yeasts. Rounded, rich toasty nose is very full and classy. Lovely savoury rich nutty palate with rich texture. Lots of complex ripe fruit here. Delicious and integrated. Very good/excellent 91/100

Cricket Pitch Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2001
Also has a bit of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc in it; origins are McLaren Vale, Padthaway and Yarra Valley. Rich chocolatey fruit. Ripe and rounded. The palate shows ripe chocolatey black fruits – a tasty wine. Very good+ 86/100

Shiraz 2000
A multi-tegion blend with contributions from McLaren Vale, Padthaway, Hunter Valley, Yarra Valley and King Valley; aged in a mix of American and French oak. Tasty ripe and smooth, this is showing some evolution. Rich, ripe chocolatey nose dominated by sweet berry fruits. The palate displays smooth, rich spicy fruit. Quite soft. Very good+ 88/100

Rayner Vineyard Shiraz 2000 McLaren Vale
From a single 2 acre vineyard. Lovely ripe, intense nose is bold and full with a spicy undercurrent. The palate is very ripe, spicy and concentrated with smooth rich fruit. Great concentration, lots of fruit and some evolution already. Very good/excellent 90/100

Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz 2001 Hunter Valley
Aged mostly in new French oak after fermentation in two ton open fermenters. Nicely defined spicy nose is intense and rich. The palate shows a good concentration of well-defined rich fruit with a rich spiciness and some earthy elements under the fruit. Good acidity. Very good/excellent 92/100


Part 1, Tyrrells
Part 2, Brokenwood
Part 3, McGuigan

See also:

Landmark Australia Tutorial: an immersion in Australia's fine wine dimension

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