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THE Hunter Valley’s night-of-nights was held recently at Wyndham Estate to toast the outstanding achievements of those in Australia’s oldest winemaking region who have made major contributions and excelled within the Hunter Valley wine industry.

Winners were announced in seven categories including the newest Hunter Valley “Living Legend” who was inducted into this prestigious group.

Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association (HVWTA) vice president Mike De Iuliis commented that the annual awards are a celebration of, and give recognition to, individual achievements of its own.

It recognises the skill, hard work, dedication and excellence of the region’s winemakers, viticulturists and industry professionals and reflects on the successes of the year and the regions historical roots.

“The awards recognise those who have been integral in building and maintaining the Hunter Valley’s standing as a world-class wine producing region, and at the same time celebrates our history,” De Iuliis said.

“Alongside Kevin Sobels being announced as our newly inducted “Living Legend”, there were also two winners who repeated their successes from recent years – Andrew Thomas as Winemaker of they Year and Tulloch Wines taking out Cellar Door of the Year. Congratulations to all winners.”

The 2014 award winners are:

2014 Hunter Valley Wine Industry Living Legend: Kevin Sobels

Kevin Sobels’ career as a winemaker began in a winery owned by the Hardy family in Waikerie, South Australia where he was appointed winemaker/manager in 1967 by Seppelts of their Chateau Tanunda winery.

In 1972 he moved to Muswellbrook in the Upper Hunter Valley to join a new wine venture called Denman Estate.

In collaboration with several other vignerons in the Upper Hunter, Sobels established the Upper Hunter Vineyard Association in 1976 and the Upper Hunter Wine Festival which launched in 1977.

A move to Pokolbin in 1986 marked the beginning of Kevin Sobels Wines as it remains today, on the corner of Broke and Halls Road.

Sobels boasts a rich family history in winemaking and is now assisted by his son Jason to make their 167th consecutive vintage which continues an unbroken record unrivalled in Australia.

2014 Winemaker of the Year sponsored by First Creek Winemaking Services: Andrew Thomas, Thomas Wines

Andrew Thomas was inspired to make wine from an early age by his father, Wayne Thomas who had a distinguished career making wine in McLaren Vale, where he was raised.

Working at Tyrrell’s for 13 years developed Thomas’ passion for the more subtle and savoury structured wine of the Hunter Valley which encouraged him to pursue his own winemaking venture.

In 1997 Thomas Wines was born with a clear and focused objective to specialise in single vineyard Hunter Valley Semillon and Shiraz.

His close and collaborative alliances with an impressive folio of local growers, who each own and operate arguably some of the Hunter Valley’s most distinguished sites, producing world class, regional styles is what he attributes his success.

2013 Rising Star of the Year sponsored by Riedel: Belinda Stapleton, Spicers Vineyard Estate

With more than 20 years of experience working in hospitality world wide, Belinda Stapleton is a very worthy recipient of this award which she adds to her collection including recent awards from Gourmet Traveller and The Restaurant & Catering Association of Australia.

During the past 12 months she has overseen the design and project management of extensive building additions to Spicers Vineyards Estate giving rise to additional employment opportunities and increased development of young entrants into the wine, tourism and hospitality industries.

As president of the Hunter Valley Sommeliers Group, Stapleton has helped showcase the region to a wider audience, as well as making significant contributions to the local tourism industry.

2014 Viticulturist of the Year, sponsored by Laffort: Louise Eather, Orlando Wyndham

Louise Eather has been working in viticulture for the past twenty years, of which the majority has been spent working within Hunter Valley vineyards.

Winemaking and sales experience prior to her viticulture roles has contributed to her holistic and integrated approach to vineyard management resulting in much success such as Wyndham Estate’s production of the award winning Black Cluster Shiraz and Shepherd’s White Semillon.

Eather was responsible for the endorsement of the commercial production of what is now known as the SARDI fan by Croplands, used for spray coverage.

She also produced a booklet titled “Procedures for spray cart calibration, evaluation & implementation” which PRW issued to all grower and own vineyard managers in Australia.

2014 Cellar Door of the Year, sponsored by CBA Local Business Banking: Tulloch Wines

The Tulloch Cellar Door is nestled amongst the vines at the foot of the Brokenback mountain range and incorporates a large function room and private tasting areas.

Combining contemporary design with historical charm, Tulloch Wines welcomes guests to experience the true heritage of the Hunter Valley.

All the wines from the Tulloch range are available for tasting and sales at their cellar door, including a range of famous Hunter Valley Verdelho and their exclusive Cellar Door Only and Limited Release ranges of wines.

Tulloch Wines was named “Cellar Door of the Year” for the second time since the awards inception and remain committed to ensuring the Hunter Valley is recognised as the pre-eminent wine region within Australia.

In 2015 Tulloch Wines will celebrate 120 years of production in the Hunter Valley.

2014 Hunter Valley Heritage Award, sponsored by Brian & Fay McGuigan: Marthaville Homestead & 1973 Vintage Festival Poster

Marthaville Homestead:

The old Cessnock Estate property is home to a twin-gabled homestead built in 1885, named by George and Martha Brown as ‘Marthaville’ complete with a vineyard in place of the old racecourse.

Marthaville remains the oldest sawn timber home in Cessnock, and still retains many of its original piers.

Several of the rooms have retained their original fireplaces, cedar mantelpieces and coal burning heating and cooking facilities.

In 1995, local artsists and craftspeople established Marthaville Guild Art and Craft Centre to display their works for sale, and to encourage others to develop their creative skills.

Marthaville is recognised not only as a heritage site, but for its early heritage relating to the Hunter Valley wine industry.

1973 Vintage Festival Poster:

Recognising another piece of our history, a further Heritage Award was awarded this year.

This award recognises the 1973 Vintage Festival and the integral part it played in the development of wine and tourism into the Hunter valley’s Wine Country.

The Hunter Vintage Festival was first held in 1973 at the site of the now De Bortoli Wines in Pokolbin and later at Cessnock Showground.

The festival was run every second year up until 1983, attracting thousands of visitors keen to sample the best of the Hunter’s wine and food in what was then an expanding tourism market.

Spearheading the event at the time were local winemakers Brian McGuigan and Bruce Tyrrell.

Marthaville and its inaugural owner Mr Brown played a critical role in the early promotion of wine.

A copy of the 1973 Vintage Festival Poster will be printed and hung up on display at Marthaville House.