Visit for the gin, stay for the views at Kawal Rock Vineyard
Driving north along Milbrodale Rd in the Fordwich region of the Hunter Valley, just 20 minutes from Pokolbin, you can’t help notice the landscape takes a dramatic twist. The Brokenback Range that was once in the distance now towers over us, like a guide to our destination, that being Kawal Rock Vineyard.
The newly established boutique distillery has without doubt some of the most spectacular views in the Hunter, which are only to be outdone by the magnificent Sentry Rock that stands proudly over the property.
Louise and Maria are the spirit-loving ladies behind Kawal Rock Vineyard, and on the morning we met they explained how their journey into the spirit world wasn’t always part of the plan,
“We made the decision to quit our jobs, Louise sold her house and I sold my business, with the thought being to buy a caravan and travel around Australia. But when we realised how much that was going to cost, Louise suggested we buy a property in the country instead.” Maria explains.
Whilst there were a few options within their budget, it was love at first sight when they were introduced to the now Kawal Rock Vineyard.
“The property had no facilities, but when we took a tour, we just fell in love with it. Especially when we realised that Sentry Rock was a part of the property, it was an instant yes.”’
“It's called Sentry Rock because back in the day, guards would be stationed up there to watch over the convicts as they worked on the roads, to make sure they didn't run away, however, when it came to naming the property we took inspiration from the group of wedgetail eagles we'd seen flying around the rock. With this being Wonnarua Country, 'Ka-wal' is traditional Wonnaruan for 'wedgetail eagle', and as they are a symbolic protector in Wonnaruan culture out of respect and thankfulness, we named the property Kawal Rock Vineyard."
So what does a former police prosecutor and tobacconist do with a spectacular property that has muscat grapes growing on it? You make brandy.
“The muscat grapes that existed on the property were in good shape so it seemed like a good idea to start making brandy, which meant investing in a copper still which took two years to complete,” says Maria,
“The distiller in Tasmania is a busy guy, so whilst we were waiting for the still to be made Louise went to Adelaide Uni to do a distilling course, as well as several courses in Tasmania, and here we are, after spending a lot of money [Maria and Louise laugh].”
Standing in the warehouse/cellar door, the purposely rusted iron roof sheets and red wine barrel timber walls provide the newly built structure an authentically aged feel, and it's in here Louise and Maria have spent their time creating their ‘Girls on the Hill’ (which the ladies are affectionately known as) Signature Gin, Brandy and Moscato.
“The moscato is made by local winemaker Dan Binet and with this we make a really nice cocktail called the Gincato, which is a combination of our Signature Gin, Moscato, strawberries and lots of ice, it’s delicious’, says Maria.
Louise adds, “Our Signature Gin is a gentle gin, it’s not overly in your face, or has too much juniper which can turn people off. The Itchy Wombat is our native botanical gin, and even though it starts with Juniper the remainder is native botanicals and it really pushes the Tasmanian Pepperberry, which is like a good curry, after three tastes it gives you a nice kick.”
“We do everything from scratch, there are no additives, it’s all natural colours and because we source our spirit from wine, it means our gin is gluten free.”
Whilst the property is spectacular and the spirits smooth, it’s Louise and Maria’s welcoming hospitality and humbleness that will have you sticking around a little longer than you expected.
“Before we started this, I wasn’t a gin drinker, and when I sold my house and Maria sold her business we said, if this all goes to shit, we’re going to have a lovely ornament in the lounge room. [laughs Louise and Maria]”
“It’s been one step at a time, and we’ve had lots of local help, everyone has been really supportive which we are truly grateful for.”