The new Hunter Valley cellar door specialising in organic, small batch wines
At HUNTERhunter, we love bringing you news of great new venues to try. Not just because they’re new though. We get a real kick out of finding those little gems that offer something unique or simply provide a great experience.
And happily, that’s just what we discovered when we visited the Hunter Valley’s newest cellar door, Horner Wines.
Located on Palmers Lane in Pokolbin, Horner Wines is a boutique producer offering small-batch, organic wines.
If the name sounds familiar, there’s a good reason for it. Horner Wines have been around for a few years now, kicking off their label with online wine retailer, Naked Wines.
And, while their journey with Naked Wines was pretty smooth sailing, the development of their new cellar door can only be described as a labour of love, one that’s been over two years in the making.
Checking out their new digs, you can see the effort owners Ash and Lauren (Horner) have gone to converting the large shed into a fully functioning winery and cellar door. According to the couple, a lot of time and energy was spent renovating the space and getting the existing winery in tip top shape.
The Horner's even enlisted Newcastle-based designers, Horton & Co to help bring their dream to life, ensuring the space was equal parts engaging and welcoming.
If you ask me, they nailed it!
Despite its size, the space has a lovely warmth to it thanks to the barrels lining the walls and the cleverly matched American Oak tasting bar at the back of the shed, which gives the area a rustic and almost homely feel.
It’s definitely the kind of place you’d be happy to hang around for a while which is just what Ash and Lauren wanted.
“It’s not just about tasting wine. When you meet us, you become part of our story. And we want to get to know you and hope that you’ll have a great time and keep coming back.”
It’s precisely their outlook on all things wine that differentiates the Horner’s, in particular their friendly and unassuming demeanour.
Take their wine club for example. It’s called ‘Ash’s Got Ya Back’ which entitles members to private tastings with Ash whenever they’re in town.
Yes, they really are that down-to-earth. They even built their cellar door right next to the winery, not for convenience sake, but so they can show visitors around.
“We purposefully built the cellar door next to the winery so people can feel part of the action, particularly during vintage when it’s all happening.”
And the wines? Horner are currently offering four for tasting. That’s two Hunter wines, a Shiraz Viognier and a straight Viognier from the Upper Hunter, as well as a Verdelho from the Central Ranges and a Rosé from Orange.
You won’t likely find a Semillon in this wine portfolio though. Its clear Ash likes to stand out from the crowd and do things a little differently.
His philosophy is all about making drinkable wines best suited to the regions in which their grown and wherever possible, selecting fruit from organic vineyards.
“There’s a fine line between complexity or ‘funkiness’ and drinkability. We want to sit in the middle where the wine’s still fresh, with nice acidity and aromatics but there’s a bit of interest, texture and different flavours.”
Both Ash and Lauren grew up in the Upper Hunter area and have always been around wine or working in agriculture. Even when the pair moved up to the NSW mid-north Coast in 2002 for a time while Lauren was studying, Ash still worked vintages in different parts of the country to “keep his toe in the water”.
Returning to the Hunter in 2004, Ash worked at Mount Pleasant, where he was mentored by then Chief Winemaker, Phil Ryan and following that, First Creek.
In 2010, Ash landed a vintage job at Tamburlaine and that’s where his passion for organic wines started to grow.
“My Dad’s had a vineyard in the Upper Hunter ever since I was a kid and although it wasn’t certified organic back then, he worked by those principles of minimal intervention and no spraying” notes Ash.
“He was just really in-tune with the land and I’ve always thought that was the best way."
It wasn’t long after securing that job at Tamburlaine that the opportunity to collaborate with Naked Wines came up, a partnership that proved extremely successful enabling the Horner’s to purchase their own winery and build the cellar door. Lauren notes.
“We were looking to buy somewhere in the Valley for a while and this place came up which was ideal. All the infrastructure was here and being 25 acres, it had the potential to build a cellar door and eventually plant vineyards. It also had the house onsite which was a bonus.”
That’s right. Ash and Lauren along with their three children also live on the property, just a hop, skip and a jump from the cellar door.
In addition to growing their own fruit, and establishing the cellar door, the pair have other projects on the horizon. Namely, the introduction of two new white wines to their tasting list.
Both wines, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Picpoul (pronounced: “pick-pool”) from Orange in NSW will be welcome additions.
The Picpoul in particular, a grape variety originating from the Southern Languedoc region of France, has them pretty excited.
Lauren tells me that both of these wines will also be available to try “straight up” meaning not filtered or fined.
Following some positive feedback, Horner will produce an extra small batch of around 20 dozen for visitors to taste and compare with the “finished” versions of each wine.
“That’s what’s so great about being a boutique producer”, says Lauren.
“We have a lot of flexibility and can make small batches of quality wine that interest us and that we hope our visitors will enjoy.”
Horner Wines are now open for tasting Friday to Sunday, 11am to 5pm. Tastings cost $10 per person, which is refundable with any purchase.
If you can’t get to the Hunter to visit their new cellar door just yet, you can always try a bottle of Ash’s finest from their online store here.