Working your way through the list of vintages and varietals is fun when you’re in wine country. But this Hunter Valley winery takes you from the cellar door to a whole other level of wine-tasting.
Run by the Scarborough family for two generations (and counting), Scarborough Wine Co in the Hunter Valley has been crafting superb wine for over 35 years.
Christina and I first met the Scarborough family back in 2015, when they invited us to their property to get to know the brand a bit better.
Anyone who’s met the Scarboroughs will understand how we were immediately made to feel like part of the clan.
From that moment, we fell in love not only with the family and their wine, but with the Hunter Valley in general and top-level Chardonnay specifically.
And until 2022, the pinnacle of their wines was the Obsessive Range, so named because of father and founder Ian ‘Scarbie’ Scarborough’s meticulous wine-making style.
And with it comes a tasting experience like no other.
A quick catch-up before the main event
We meet Sally and Jerome at the secluded Cottage Vineyard, where the grapes for the Keepers of the Flame Chardonnay and also the Obsessive Semillon grow.
It’s a unique site, somehow cooler than the other vineyards that are closer to the foot of the Brokenback Mountains. And the fine sandy loam produces the exceptional fruit that Jerome and Liz knew would be perfect for this new top-of-the-line wine range.
While we’re here, the four of us relax on the veranda of the quaint cottage by the rows of vines for a bite to eat and a chat. Sally’s also brought some lunch—delicious antipasto picnic boxes from Our Italian Table in Pokolbin.
After lunch, Jerome prompts a move: “Let’s go and taste some wine,” he announces, and we all head to the Gillards Road Vineyard and the Scarborough cellar door. It was also once the family home where Jerome and Sally grew up.
What’s more, it’s here that the Keepers of the Flame wine-tasting experience happens.
Keepers of the Flame Tasting Experience
As we crunch through the gravel of the cellar door carpark, Sally excitedly tells us about their new soil pit that Jerome and Liz have recently dug. For some reason, we’re just as excited at seeing it, even though it’s literally a six-foot hole in the ground.
In the pit, Jerome takes us through the various layers of soil, substrate and mineral deposits, explaining what each layer means to the vines and how they grow in it. It’s entirely fascinating and solidifies the meaning of ‘terroir’, which until now was a kind of misty vague concept we knew linked wine with soil.
From there, we walk to the vines where Jerome and Sally talk us through the ways they use nature in their wine-making processes.
Members of Sustainable Winegrowing Australia, Scarborough Wine Co is closely focused on environmental impact and sustainability, and we learn how they’re using age-old techniques from allowing nitrogen-fixing plants to grow between the vine rows and managing the ecosystem of the vineyards to mulching vine prunings and making their own compost.
We talk irrigation, harvest timings, picking methods, pest control, grafting techniques, vine age… it’s so interesting, and Sally and Jerome are open books with all our questions.
Back at the house, we sit down to a beautifully laid table looking out over the gardens and vines of the Gillards Road Vineyard.
The tasting includes five different wines in two vertical tastings: two Obsessive Chardonnays from consecutive vintages and three Keepers of the Flame from different years too.
Vertical tastings are so experiential as you get to taste the results of time in the bottle and also see how different vintages affect the wine.
Jerome and Sally taste with us, talking us through the wines as we go and also sharing in the delicious cheese plate and bread that comes with this tasting.
As part of this amazing immersive experience that takes around an hour and a half, you’re accompanied by either Sally or one of the experts at the cellar door, and you come away knowing so much more about wine.
What’s So Special About Keepers Of The Flame?
Sally, Jerome and Liz are very excited about this new range of wine, and not just because it’s new.
They’ve developed Keepers of the Flame to be a celebration of the past and of what Scarbie’s achieved, but also a way to pass on the love of wine-making to future generations.
It’s a collaboration of their different skillsets: marketing, winemaking and viticulture.
Each year, Keepers of the Flame will be slightly different. Jerome’s not aiming for consistency—apart from the quality of course. He wants the wine to reflect the moment in time each vintage represents.
Grapes are carefully chosen for their quality and these small batches of wine are inoculated with wild yeast for a natural fermentation. From there, the careful nurturing in selected barrels results in some of the finest Chardonnays we’ve ever tasted.
On the nose, a struck match and brioche aromas are followed by citrus and white peach, and to taste, superb structure around more citrus and stone fruit. Wonderful mineral qualities come next with a silky texture and lines of oak that highlight the acidity.
From the three Keepers of the Flame vintages we try, the 2021 is the current favourite, though Jerome also gives us a taste of the brand new 2022, which might just be our new favourite. But we’ll have to come back to try that once it’s ready for release.