Vineyard sprouts in the Sydney CBD

McGuigan vineyard

I had the most interesting lunch today. Across from Circular Quay. In front of Customs House. Dining… amongst the vines? Who’d a thunk.

Yes, one of the most unique wine promotions has come to Sydney, in which McGuigan Wines has set down a massive patch of grassy lawn, which they quickly did on Tuesday, and then ‘planted’ six rows of shiraz vines. The significance of this part of Circular Quay is that this is approximately where the First Fleet first unloaded their cargo, and where the first cuttings came from the Old World, and therefore where the Australian wine industry was born. And, well, it looks pretty damn cool in an area that’s mostly just a concrete pedestrian crossing.

Of course, the underlying excuse is that McGuigan is trying to raise its profile, and its pricing, so thus the high-profile spread to promote the company’s new Discover wine range, which is featuring four varietals: a Victorian pinot gris, Adelaide Hills sauvignon blanc, Limestone Coast rosé (from cabernet grapes) and Langhorne Creek shiraz/viognier. They’re all priced at about the $16 mark, and are aimed at bringing wines with more elegance and finesse to the label as it tries to make people think of it as more than a moniker for cheapie $8 wines. The geographic diversity also aims to reinforce the fact that McGuigan is a lot more than just its Pokolbin headquarters.

“People think of us as the Hunter, but it’s really a small part of our range,” CEO Dean Hudson tells me and other wine journos.

So at a table under umbrellas, I sit down with a number of wine writers, including the Sydney Morning Herald’s Huon Hooke and prolific wine scriber Windsor Dobbin, as well as handful of top brass from McGuigan Simeon, including Neil McGuigan, Hudson and their chief winemakers from the Barossa and Hunter.

Out of the four Discover wines, my favourites are the rosé, which is light and dry yet with just enough residual sugar to keep it interesting, and the sauvignon blanc, whose passionfruit is lower-key than those Marlborough fruit-bombs. For me, that’s a good thing. McGuigan has more brands that just its eponymous one, which includes its acquisition of Nepenthe, best known for its sauvignon blanc in the Adelaide Hills, and the artisan Yaldara label, know for its impressive chateau in the Barossa. To little wonder, I am most excited about the Yaldara shiraz, which goes for some $70 a bottle and is only produced during top vintages. It is complex and has plenty of structure to work wonders in my cellar. If I had one. Might be time to buy a wine fridge.

If all goes well, McGuigan plans to add a higher-level range under its own brand, which I think would do well to better endear enthusiast wine folks to its bottlings. That aside, I’m admittedly more excited about this vineyard in the city. The square in front of Customs House would be a helluva lot more pleasant if we could rip up the pavement, properly plant those vines, and have a wine bar and restaurant along the grassy knoll. Now that Clover Moore has done so well with liquor licensing, maybe we can add that to her to-do list. In the meantime, there’s free grog to be had, so escape the office tomorrow during lunchtime and have a tipple as you skip through the vines. Otherwise, you’ll have to drive up to the Hunter to get similar treatment.

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