Can you tell us about your background in the wine industry and how your family's history has influenced your winemaking journey?
How does it feel to carry on the winemaking legacy of your family, dating back to the 1850s? In what ways have you incorporated your own style and passion into Ivanhoe Wines while remaining true to your family's viticultural heritage?
Stephen: Carrying on the winemaking legacy of the Drayton Family is a source of immense pride for me. It's a legacy steeped in tradition, and knowing that I'm the custodian of this heritage is both an honour and a responsibility. Our family's history is deeply intertwined with the Hunter Valley, and that connection is something I hold dear.
In terms of incorporating our own style and passion into Ivanhoe Wines, Tracy and I have always believed in the importance of evolution while staying true to our roots. Winemaking and viticultural practices have indeed evolved significantly over the years. To maintain the authenticity of the Hunter Valley style and achieve our signature "Big & Gutsy Reds," we've embraced modern technology and equipment.
We've found a balance by combining these modern tools with the timeless tactics passed down through generations. This approach not only helps us keep our vines healthy but also preserves the true and honest fruit flavours that define the Hunter Valley. It's this blend of tradition and innovation that allows us to create wines that are a testament to our family's heritage while meeting the expectations of today's wine enthusiasts.
What motivated you to continue the family legacy in the Hunter Valley?
Stephen: The motivation to continue our family legacy in the Hunter Valley was deeply rooted in my lifelong connection to the wine industry. I've always had a dream of starting my own label and vineyard, and it was a dream that I carried with me throughout my career.
In 1994, circumstances took a turn when my parents passed away. Tracy and I found ourselves inheriting the Ivanhoe Vineyard, a property with a solid reputation for producing high-quality Shiraz. It was a pivotal moment. We saw this as our opportunity to turn our dream into reality. We decided to launch Ivanhoe Wines and build our own legacy.
Tracy: The journey began with a lot of hard work and dedication. We knew the potential of the property, and we were determined to make the most of it. We used the momentum of the vineyard's reputation to establish Ivanhoe Wines as the home of "Big & Gutsy Reds." It was a journey born from both necessity and passion, and it's one that has been incredibly rewarding.
Stephen: We feel privileged to have taken this path and transformed Ivanhoe Wines into what it is today—a place where our family's legacy continues to thrive, and where we can share our passion for exceptional Hunter Valley wines with wine enthusiasts around the world.
How would you describe your winemaking philosophy and the principles you adhere to when producing wines?
Tracy: Our winemaking philosophy revolves around honouring the Hunter Valley's traditions while infusing our unique touch. For our red wines, it's about crafting bold, balanced flavours with robust tannins. Our white wines are all about clean, crisp varietal character. Quality and authenticity drive everything we do.
What sets your approach to winemaking apart from others in the industry?
Stephen: Our distinctive approach lies in the vineyard. We take our time, letting our vines ripen the fruit more than many other estates in the Hunter Valley. We're not satisfied until our Shiraz reaches 14 Baume, while most others harvest at 12.8 Baume. This patience results in bigger flavours and richer colours in our wines.
Could you share any particular winemaking techniques or practices that have been passed down through generations in your family?
Stephen: Absolutely, our family has a rich winemaking heritage spanning over 170 years in the Hunter Valley. Throughout this time, we've accumulated a few well-kept family secrets, techniques, and practices that have been passed down through the generations. These secrets give us a competitive edge and contribute to the unique character of our wines. While we can't reveal all our tricks, they are an integral part of what makes Ivanhoe Wines so special.
Could you share with us some of the signature wines that Ivanhoe Wines is known for?
Stephen: Ivanhoe Wines has gained a reputation for our Big & Gutsy Reds, which form the cornerstone of our wine range. Our flagship wine, the Shiraz Pressings, stands as a testament to this reputation. It's a wine that's big, bold, rich, and incredibly smooth. What makes it truly unique is that it's the only one of its kind in the Hunter, crafted entirely from Hunter fruit.
Tracy: In addition to our reds, our Semillon and Verdelho have also earned a special place among our customers. These white wines are incredibly popular for their easy-drinking styles. Our Semillon showcases delightful citrus characteristics, while the Verdelho bursts with tropical fruit flavours. They provide a refreshing contrast to our robust reds and add diversity to our wine portfolio.
Are there any unique or lesser-known grape varieties that you work with to create distinctive wines?
Tracy: One of the more unique grape varieties we work with is Chambourcin. It's a distinctive grape that produces a wine that's rich and full-bodied, yet notably light on tannins. This characteristic makes it incredibly easy to enjoy. What sets it apart is its fruit-forward nature, where you can truly savour the flavours of berries and plums. It's a wine that pairs exceptionally well with pizza, pasta, or lasagna, and it's honestly one of my top picks for these dishes.
How does the unique soil composition, particularly the nutrient-dense volcanic soils on the slopes of Mt Bright, contribute to the flavors and characteristics of the red grape varieties you grow?
Stephen: There's an age-old rule of thumb in the wine industry that goes, "Red soil for red grapes, white soil for white grapes," and our vineyard embodies this principle. Our hillside consists of Red loam and rich volcanic soils which are deep red in colour. The extra minerals and dense nature of the soil give the Shiraz Vines the opportunity to thrive and produce some really high quality fruit. Similarly, on the bottom side of the property we have Sandy Alluvial soils which are relatively free-draining and help us achieve crisp and acidic white grapes, which in turn gives way to crisp and clean white wines.
Could you tell us more about the Hand sculpture and the custom-made grapevine sculpture on the property? How do these elements contribute to the overall ambiance and branding of Ivanhoe Wines?
Tracy: In 2017 we did a major renovation of the cellar door to make it a bit more modern and fresh. Part of those renovations included the addition of our Sculpture “The Clasp” by Mike Van Dam. The sculpture itself is made from Stainless steel chain which has been welded together and is symbolic of a Knights Chainmail gloves. We have also recently acquired a new piece which is positioned in the courtyard of the cellar door. The new piece is a 3.9m tall knight (also made from chain) and is known as “The Guardian”.
Have you had any memorable moments or experiences with guests in these picturesque settings?
Tracy: We've had countless memorable moments and experiences with our guests, but some of the best ones happen during our members' days and events in the courtyard of our cellar door. These events, which often host around 180 people, involve a delightful 4-course picnic-style long lunch with live music. What's truly special is that regardless of the weather, our Round Table members always make the most of the event, and by the end of the day, you'll find them up and dancing, creating an incredible atmosphere.
Stephen: Additionally, there's immense satisfaction in sharing our family's passion and knowledge of the Hunter Valley with our guests. It's a joy to see that "lightbulb" moment when guests truly start to appreciate and enjoy themselves. The relaxed atmosphere, combined with the breathtaking views of our 80-acre vineyard and rolling hills, creates a setting that's perfect for creating lasting memories and meaningful connections with our visitors.
Can you describe the wine tasting experience at Ivanhoe Wines? What sets it apart from other wineries in the region?
Tracy: When guests arrive, they are greeted by our friendly team and promptly shown to their table overlooking our 80-acre estate. But I think the key difference in our wine tastings is the friendliness of our staff and their ability to curate the tasting to the guest's personal taste. It's the personalised nature of our tastings that make the biggest difference, coupled with the wines being high quality as well as the view, it’s the perfect way to spend an afternoon.
How do you ensure that visitors have a memorable and enjoyable wine experience, rather than just a standard tasting?
Stephen: This is all about the people and the passion. Our team are all personable with shared life experiences, making conversation during the tasting experience flow very easily. Similarly, they all love wine! And our team enjoys educating our guests about the unique nature of the Ivanhoe property as well as its history. Similarly we don’t just pour wine and walk away. Our team asks questions to find out what kinds of wines the guests tend to enjoy as well as showcasing different or unique varietals to help them find the wines they love.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in running a winery in the Hunter Valley? How do you overcome them?
Stephen: One of the biggest challenges of managing a vineyard and wine business in the Hunter Valley is the weather. The Hunter Valley is prone to wet summers and severe storms which makes growing high quality grapes rather challenging. Similarly, when we have good, dry vintages, the wines are outstanding and managing the vineyard is relatively easy if you are able to irrigate your vines.
On the flip side, what are the most rewarding aspects of being winemakers in this region?
Tracy: The most rewarding aspects of being winemakers in the Hunter Valley are deeply gratifying. We have the privilege of producing world-class wines that people truly enjoy. The diversity of Ivanhoe Estate's soils gives us the opportunity to create a broad portfolio of grape varietals and wine styles, all of which are tailored to our brand's reputation for crafting Big & Gutsy Reds. Knowing that our wines are savoured by wine enthusiasts both near and far is incredibly fulfilling and drives our passion for winemaking.
The Drayton family loves welcoming guests at their Hunter Valley Cellar Door. If you are interested in learning more about their rich history and would like to taste some delicious wine, book a tasting today.