James Lusby

Winemaker - Tintilla Estate

1) Can you tell us a little bit about your winery and the history behind it?
Our family connections with the Hunter go back to the late 1700’s with the discovery and naming of the valley by our ancestor John Hunter. With family coming from Morpeth we often visited the Hunter and decided to build a vineyard and winery in the 1990’s. Tintilla Estate was purchase as a Tree covered lot on Hermitage Rd (used for mine props) in 1993. We cleared it, spread gypsum and lime and double ripped the soil to one metre, and put in two dams on the property. We spent lots of weekends with the family picking up sticks ,then we planted a crop to build up the plant matter in the soil. In 1994 we planted Shiraz and Semillon, in 1995 we planted Merlot and Sangiovese and in 1996 planted Cabernet Sauvignon. Our first full vintage was 1998. We opened our cellar door in 2000 and build our winery in 2005 when I took over wine making, we had been making wine here in small amount up until then but the main wine making was contract out. We now do contract wine making for some of our neighbors.

2) Tell us about your wine, varieties, inspiration and influences?
When deciding to plant we were primarily influenced by the topography of the block and its aspect and the two varietals that traditionally reflect the Hunter- Semillon and Shiraz. We also looked for something new and different to stand out and attract interest. Having read John Gladstones book on viticultural properties and grape vine selection where he suggested the hunter would be suitable, decided to plant the Italian Variety Sangiovese.
I will tell you about these varietals as we could be here all day if I talk about all we produce. On the creek bed soils we planted Semillon – a classic Hunter Varietal in the knowledge that some of the best Hunter Semillon came of tributaries of the Rothbury Creek. Our Semillon is a dry table wine in the style the Hunter Valley is best known for and I think we make a very good example – unoaked, lower Alc (9.5% – 12%), with citrus back bone and for us lovely tropic fruit in the hot/dry years and in the wetter/cooler years more gooseberry and lemon grass, it is the best wine for seafood.
On the slopes where there is good clay and limestone in the soil we planted Shiraz. Shiraz from the Hunter I think is one of the best examples of this grape varietal in Australia, showing great finesse and eloquence. We tend to get a lower Alc (12.5%-14%) than some parts of Australia but boy do we get some great complexity.
The last grape I will talk about is the Sangiovese, originally form Tuscany we have pioneered the variety here in the Hunter. Our Saphira Sangiovese has proven to be very popular as a medium bodied food friendly wine. We make a traditional Rosato and a Sparkling wine the Sangiovese. The sparkling Rosalind Blush is our latest addition to the range, we do this in the Brut style which is the tank fermented like a Prosecco, rather than bottle fermented. We are looking for fresh crisp flavours, not for the yeasty flavours of bottle secondary fermention. Just the lovely fresh strawberry and cranberries that we get form Sangiovese.

3) A winery is as unique as the region where it’s located. How does your region influence your wine production?
To some wine lovers “Place” is everything in expression of wine style. When you open a classic Hunter wine the aroma and flavours jump out at you and say “Hunter”! There is a lot of history in the Hunter being the second oldest grape growing area in Australia, second only to Sydney. The terroir of the Hunter in particular the summer rainfall pattern has driven the approach to wine making. Semillon, for instance, is picked at relatively low Beaume’s which provide a good acid backbone leading to its longevity and unique flavours. The cloud cover and cool nights play a role in moderating and softening Hunter Shiraz.

4) What is your main goal when you are making your wine?
Uncompromising approach to grape growing and wine making. This is an all year long process starting after harvest, through pruning spraying, and overall management of the vines to the best grapes so as to make the best wine. I look after the vineyard as well as making the wine which enables me to seek out quality at all stages of the wine production. Its just a matter of quality first, second and third!

5) Tell us about your equipment, and production capacity?
We are a small operation up to 40tonne for Tintilla, plus 40tonne of contracts, we have invested in a small modern winery that is user friendly. A combination of closed and open fermenters is used, all with cooling capacity, we have some tradition with a lovely old Willmes press or hydraulic basket press depending on need. Other wise its all the some stuff you would find in any winery – pumps and tanks etc. Never enough space of course. We have an air conditioned barrel room, with largely French oak in use.

6) Which is your best wine and why? (Year and variety)
Most recently it would be the 2011 Patriarch Syrah pick up a Trophy or the 2009 Angus Semillon 3 Trophys both last year at the H.V.Boutique Winemakers Show.

7) What can you tell us about your wine labels, how did you came up with their design?
During an archeological dig in Jordon we found the image of a Dionysian dancer which we thought would be appropriate as our logo. The label draws on the Greek wine tradition of women, followers of the god of wine, joined in communion by drinking wine and dancing. Tintilla is an Old World term for red wine used by Samuel Pepys interchangeably with claret for the red wine of Bordeaux. It was also one of the first grape varietals planted by the Australian agricultural company in 1826, a grape that added colour to red wines.

8) What are some of your favorite food pairings for your wines?
Seafood with Semillon you just cannot go wrong or Anything Italian with Sangiovese

9) Please tell us about a normal day in your winery? What is an usual wine production day?
It really depends on the time of year, vintage is very busy period as for the rest of the year there is always something going on like topping barrels, just looking at the wines and coming up with possible finished products, preparing for bottling. Tasting the wines and blending is always a challenging time to get the right combination where as much as 2-5% additions will influence the outcome.

10) What are the most important standards and skills a winery need to follow to obtain a top wine?
Good fruit is first then a good monitoring program, constant tasting and testing to make shore all is going the way you want it to. The patience to let the wine speak for itself without to much interference!

11) What are your winery plans for the future?
To keep making Hunter Valley wines of the best quality. We are about to increase our storage ability giving us more control.

12) Now it’s time to promote your wines. Please invite our readers to try your wines, and why not.. visit your winery!
Tintilla Estate is for everyone with a love of food, wine and family. One of the Hunter Valley’s outstanding small wineries, this thoughtful family run vineyard and winery is a leader in the burgeoning cellar door wine experience.
“We sell on Taste” Come and try our range of traditional and innovative new wines.