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Hungerford Hill’s history is a story of endurance and innovation.
Since its colonial beginnings, Australia had been a nation of beer drinkers. After World War 2 a massive influx of immigrants from European countries led to Australians discovering a taste for wine.
In the early 1960’s the Sydney entrepreneur John Parker decided to invest in the wine business. Parker visited the Hunter Valley and saw “Hungerford Hill”, a cattle property owned by the Hungerford family, for sale.
Parker bought the property and planted the first vines in 1967. In 1970 he built a winery in time for the first vintage, and in 1972 built Australia’s first wine tourism complex, incorporating a restaurant, underground cellars and function centre. A motel and children’s playground were added later. The new business was a great success, and Parker went on to buy a property in Coonawarra, South Australia and planted vineyards there to produce a range of Hungerford Hill Coonawarra wines.
In 1980 Hungerford Hill appointed Ralph Fowler as Chief Winemaker. Under Ralph’s leadership Hungerford Hill won many awards, establishing the winery’s reputation as a quality producer.
In 1985 Parker lost control of the business in a hostile take-over. The new owners sold off the Hunter winery, the tourism complex and the vineyards, and the Hungerford Hill brand was left without a home and without a vision. The winery became home to McGuigan Wines, and the tourism complex became Hunter Valley Gardens. Parker managed to keep the Coonawarra vineyards which became Parker Coonawarra Estate.
In 1990 the Hungerford Hill brand was acquired by Southcorp, which found it a home in an old church in Macdonald’s Road, Pokolbin. Well ahead of their time, they introduced wines from New South Wales’ emerging cool climate wine regions Tumbarumba and Hilltops. Sadly, sales continued to languish due to a lack of promotion.
In 2002 James Kirby, a regular visitor to the Hunter Valley, discovered these extraordinary wines on a visit to the old church. Seeing their potential, James convinced his family, owners of the James N Kirby engineering business, to acquire the Hungerford Hill brand.
Needing a home that fitted their vision for Hungerford Hill, the Kirby family purchased and completed the eye-catching complex then known as One Broke Road. Hungerford Hill’s wine complex is now recognised as an icon of the Hunter Valley.
The Kirbys appointed Phillip John as Chief Winemaker. Phillip had spent his entire career with the Southcorp group, and had a great understanding of the cool climate regions of New South Wales. Phillip was responsible for the revitalisation of Hungerford Hill’s reputation, creating a portfolio of distinguished wines which have continued to win national acclaim.
Phillip retired in 2008 and continued to consult to the business through to 2014. He handed over the reins to Michael Hatcher who continued the evolution and development of the unique Hungerford Hill style, making wines that continued to win national and international awards.
In 2012 Adrian Lockhart was handed the keys to the winery. Adrian continued to build Hungerford Hill's reputation as a premium NSW wine producer.
In early December 2016 Sam Arnaout took ownership of Hungerford Hill, complementing his first wine related investment in the region with the purchase of Sweetwater Estate in early 2016.
Sam’s vision is to build the premium wine brands from both vineyards and to continue to successfully grow and develop Hungerford Hill as a family owned business.
“The 1960’s was a boom time for the Australian economy, and Australians started to develop a taste for table wines. Lakes Folly was established in 1963 and was the first new vineyard in 40 years.
I was approached in the early sixties by John Parker, a Sydney chartered accountant, Greg Ross Jones, a successful Sydney solicitor, both now deceased and David Constable, a Sydney stockbroker.
The four of us had a meeting at Johnnie Walker’s Bistro in Angel Place. Apparently they had substantial income and cash flow from their cotton activities in north western NSW they wished to use for a vineyard development in the Hunter River region. They asked me who I thought would be capable of establishing the venture. …
I recommended …Norman Hanckel, who had just finished replanting for Wyndham Hill-Smith of Yalumba, their now renowned Riesling vineyard in the Adelaide Hills.
After the meeting at Johnnie Walker’s, John Parker flew up to the Pokolbin region to check out potential sites for the vineyard development, and saw a property for sale. This was owned by the Hungerford family, long-time residents of the Pokolbin area, and the property was called Hungerford Hill. Norman Henckle agreed that this would be a suitable site to establish a vineyard, and so the Hungerford Hill story began…
We introduced the label into our restaurants to acclaim and it always occupied a spot on our wine list from day one.”