Catherine Vale is located in the Wollombi Valley near the town of Broke. As the name implies, it is a beautiful place located within a river valley, remembering the assertiveness of Catherine Lyndsay Hayden, Bill’s Aunt. The property is spectacularly located in the lee of the Hunter Range and borders Yengo National Park which forms the backdrop of the Cellar door. One hundred and eighty degree views including “Yellow Rock” impress most visitors to Catherine Vale. This outlook will give you an instant emotional attachment to the environment, and is why we call it our beautiful spot.
Catherine Vale is a 40.52 hectare (100 acre) property with 10 acres of grapes. The property has a large portion of the area as native bush, the main species being Iron Bark and Bulga Wattle, with much understory.
Bill and Wendy have built everything from scratch, a task not tackled by many grapegrowers on their own. Bare paddocks had to be cleared of rocks and boulders, irrigation lines and wires were installed by them and the vineyard slowly took shape. The end posts were sourced from wooded areas of the 100 acre property and treated pine intermediate posts were all pounded in by Bill with an old belt driven post pounder.
When the Uniting Church Manse in Singleton came up for removal, Bill and Wendy decided to put in a tender and their tender was accepted. With great excitement and much effort, the historic residence was moved to Catherine Vale and restoration began. Now, after nearly 20 years, it is almost complete. The manse was 100 years old in 2014 and is truly Wendy’s baby and a source of pride and joy.
It was always the intention to have a Cellar Door to match the manse and with many country churches up for sale, it was hoped to use one of these. Bill and Wendy looked at many such churches but all were in the ‘too hard to move’ category. So they decided to build their own purpose built Cellar Door in the style of an Australian country church. The building was officially opened mid 2004.
We grow red and white grape varieties at Catherine Vale. The whites are Semillon, Chardonnay, Verdelho and the Italian variety, Arneis. The red varieties are the Italian varieties Dolcetto and Barbera.
Much research by Wendy led to original plantings of traditional Hunter Valley whites, Chardonnay and Semillon. Special rootstocks and clones were reviewed and sourced for the first 8 acres of these vines to be planted in with the help of friends in 1993.
A small first crop was obtained in 1996 and sold to well known upper hunter winemaker Jon Reynolds. Since then we have used our grapes to make our own Catherine Vale Wines.
In 1997, Bill and Wendy produced their first wine under the Catherine Vale label. The wine was made by John Hordern in the old milk factory in Muswellbrook. John has made all our wines since then and the milk factory is now a substantial winery known as Hunter Wine Services.
The 2016 vintage was our 20th vintage of our original wines Semillon, Chardonnay and a Semillon Chardonnay. Over the years we have added to our offering with Verdelho, Arneis, Barbera and Dolcetto, plus our dessert wines Madeira and Late Harvest Semillon.
Having initially planted only the two white varieties Semillon and Chardonnay, and having produced such good wines out of them, our customers would say ‘if you can produce such good white wine, where are your reds?’ This led Wendy to research alternative varieties. She discovered there was an oversupply of Shiraz by big Hunter Valley producers and the soil in this area, with a couple of exceptions, did not produce top Hunter Valley Shiraz. Her research eventually came up with the alternative Italian varieties Dolcetto and Barbera. This led us to take the lead in Hunter Valley production of alternative varieties and proved an inspirational decision as the decline in the market set in and wine drinkers sought new varieties.
In 2006 Bill and Wendy undertook a tour of the Piedmont region of Italy where their chosen varieties originated. They stayed near Alba at a vineyard and winery called Ada Nada and spoke with local winemakers who tasted samples of their reds, which they had brought along. They were chuffed to find the Italian winemakers were impressed with their efforts.
On several of their winery visits in the area, they found plantings of an Italian white grape Arneis. This variety has an interesting history and they were so impressed they were determined to grow this white as an addition to their alternative varieties. This has subsequently been done and has proved an inspired choice.
Bill and Wendy can look back on their pioneering of alternative varieties in the Hunter Valley with great pride.