There is this notion that the eastern half
was settled by convicts sent there from British.
Well, not every settler had such roots.
Australian winemaker Bruce Tyrrell’s ancestor was an Anglican clergyman who
sent to Australia in 1848 as
the bishop in the Hunter Valley city of Newcastle.
Three of his nephews followed and one of them, Edward Tyrrell, began developing
a vineyard in 1858 and made his first wine in 1864.
Of course, one can dig back much further in
the Tyrrell lineage and, sooner or later, come up with a contentious
individual. An ancestor in 1100 fled to Normandy
after killing the son of William the Conqueror with an arrow! That detail is
actually on the winery’s web site, along with the fact that that ancestor was
subsequently pardoned and returned to England.
During the next several centuries, the
family became more respectable and more successful (one member was a professor
of anatomy and surgery) until young Edward was sent off to be a bishop in the
That led, ultimately, to Tyrrell’s Wines which
celebrated its 150th anniversary in
20008. That is a remarkable longevity in the turbulent Australian wine
industry, which has experienced explosive growth and also contraction in the
past two decades.
For its first 100 years, Tyrrell’s sold its
wine in bulk and it was bottled by other producers and sold under their name.
There is a charming story in one of wine writer James Halliday’s books that a
few customers bought wines from the winery in the 1950s. On those occasions,
bottles were filled from the tanks and someone typed up a few labels.
The business was taken over in 1959 by
Murray Tyrrell, Bruce Tyrrell’s father, and the man who established Tyrrell’s
as an independent brand.
Murray Tyrrell, who had been making his
living in the cattle business, got a rude welcome to wine growing when
hailstorms wiped out the 1959 and 1961 vintages and left him with a 1960
production of 600 gallons. But then he went on to win a gold medal at the Sydney wine show with a
1962 wine. Customers started to show up at the winery. By the early 1970s,
Tyrrell’s had an establishing following for its brand.
Murray died in 2000 at the age of 79, having turned the company over to
son, Bruce, who was born in 1951, and who had been brought into the business in
1974 after getting a degree in agricultural economics.
Murray began exporting wine to the United States in 1972. Under Bruce,
the brand has come to be sold internationally. Tyrrell’s continues as a
family-owned and operated winery, now with 500 acres of vineyards. Murray’s son, Chris, who
had his first vintage in 2001 when he was 18, is one of the company’s three
winemakers. His older brother, John, and his sister, Jane, also are actively
Currently, the winery’s biggest market is China.
Tyrrell’s made a conscious decision several years ago to cultivate the rising
demand for wine throughout Asia. Now,
two-thirds of the winery’s exports – and the winery makes 400,000 cases a year
– are sold in Asia.
That has offset the slowdown in some other
markets, including the once crucial European market for Australian wine but now
a collection to troubled economies. “I reckon Europe is the next Third World,” Bruce says.
Bruce has been at the Vancouver
International Wine Festival at least a dozen times over the past 25 years.
Given the attention he has paid to this market, I was stunned to find only one
Tyrrell wine listed by the Liquor Distribution Branch: Steven’s Vineyard Shiraz
at $31.99. However, a half a dozen other Tyrrell wines are about to become
available in this market, following the tastings that Bruce has been doing
Several private stores also list Tyrrells
wines. For example, Everything Wine has Tyrrells Lost Block Shiraz Viognier for
The winery made its reputation initially
with wines made from the Semillon grape.
For years, Tyrrell’s and other wineries in the Hunter Valley
released this as Vat 1 Hunter Valley Riesling. It was many years before the industry began
applying the correct varietal name.
There is nothing in the world like an old
Hunter Valley Semillon, which take on complex toasty and nutty flavours as they
age. They can age to well over 10 years. One usually has to go to Australia to
taste such marvellous whites.
At one of his Vancouver tastings, Bruce showed off the 2004
vintage of Vat 1 Sémillon
(approximately $65), a dry white in which toasted almonds mingle with subdued
citrus flavours. 91 points.
The winery has several wines under its
“Vat” trademark. The trademark was born simply to identify which vat a wine had
been matured in when the winery was small. Today, Vat wines are made only with
Here are notes on other wines that Bruce
Tyrrell’s 2008 Stevens Semillon
($28). At only four years of age, this wine is
still quite youthful, with lime and lemon flavours and with a crisp finish. 88.
Tyrrell’s 2006 Vat 47 Chardonnay
($55). This is an elegant and fresh Chardonnay
very reminiscent of a white Burgundy
It has citrus aromas and flavours with subtle oak.
There’s a story behind
this wine. Murray Tyrrell was a great admirer of white Burgundy
but, in the late 1960s, there was very little Chardonnay grown in Australia
it happened, one of the few vineyards was just down the road and belonged to
asked for cuttings so he could nurture his own vines and Penfolds refused,
“So one night, we
snuck in there and stole them,” Bruce remembers. A few years later, Tyrrells bought
the entire vineyard.
Tyrrell’s Rufus Stone Heathcote Shiraz 2006
($30). This wine has aromas and flavours of
black cherry and plum, with a touch of spice on the finish. The texture is
Tyrrell’s Vat 9 Shiraz 2010 ($55). The vines that produce this wine date
from 1968; some date from 1892. The vine age accounts for the intensity of
sweet cherry and plum on the palate. There is a touch of liquorice on the
Tyrrell’s 4 Acres Hunter Shiraz 2011
($78). To taste this wine, made from vines
planted in 1879, you might need to join the Vancouver
chapter of the Australian Wine
Appreciation Society. I am told that AWAS has ordered some for its cellar. This
wine is youthfully bright, with layers of berry flavours that dance on the