WINE: New beginning for vineyard complex

LIKE Dolly Parton, who confesses to having any of her “sagging, bagging or dragging” 68-year-old body parts “sucked, plucked or tucked”, the Upper Hunter’s Arrowfield Estate has had many makeovers in its 45-year history.

REFURBISHED: Emma and Karen Williams in the newly opened Hollydene tasting room.

Now, however, the Jerrys Plains property that in 1977 boasted the largest producing vineyard in Australia and was devastated by fire in 1999, seems headed for a bright new future under the ownership of Central Coast couple Karen and Gary Williams and their family.

Last week they brought the scenic 3483 Golden Highway complex back to life by opening it as the Hollydene Estate at Arrowfield tasting rooms and cellar door, incorporating a spacious fine-dining restaurant and function room presided over by young Czech-born chef Pepa Hanus and his wife Laura.

The cellar door is open seven days between 10am and 4pm, and the Vines Restaurant is open for lunch from Monday to Thursday, for lunch and dinner on Fridays, and for breakfast and lunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

Karen and Gary, who had in 2005 purchased the Hollydene vineyard, on the Golden Highway at Hollydeen village, 10 kilometres west of Denman, and in 2006 the Wybong Estate vineyard, in Yarraman Road, Wybong, bought the Arrowfield property in 2011.

Using grapes from these three vineyards and fruit bought in from the Mornington Peninsula and the Orange area, Karen Williams has assembled a smart portfolio of 17 table wines, sparklers and liqueurs crafted by ace young Pokolbin-based winemaker Matt Burton.

The buy-out of Arrowfield from Inagaki, one of Japan’s foremost sake brewing groups, gave Karen and Gary 81 hectares of land, 18 hectares of vineyard, but not the Arrowfield brand.

Last year they sold the property to the adjoining Coolmore thoroughbred stud, leasing back the winery and a surrounding 19 hectares of vineyard and gardens. Coolmore is adding the remaining 63 hectares to its stud landholdings.

The winery, which commands superb views over Coolmore and along the Hunter Valley floor, had previously stood abandoned and stripped of all its wine production gear and former restaurant equipment.

At multimillion-dollar cost, the Williamses have imaginatively refurbished the building, upgraded the surrounding gardens and revived the old vines, some of which date back to 1969 when Sydney-based Pacific Islands trader W.R. Carpenter and Co Ltd bought a large tract of Hunter River frontage land.

Carpenter used 650 hectares for a charolais cattle stud and devoted a further 480 hectares to a massive vineyard and hilltop winery.

The opening of Hollydene at Arrowfield is the culmination of an expanding Upper Hunter investment by Karen and Gary Williams that takes in five vineyards, beef cattle, sheep and cropping properties.

Singleton-born Gary is a former mine manager at Mount Thorley and Bulga Coal, who now heads a major mining consultancy business that has an office in Jakarta.

Karen, a Sydneysider who worked in hospitality at the Menzies Hotel before marrying and coming to the Hunter with Gary, is executive director of the Hollydene operation – part of the United Pastoral family company.

Karen and Gary have six children and seven grandchildren and daughter Emma is Hollydene’s business and administration manager.

The couple lived in Muswellbrook before moving to the Central Coast, but retained a strong love of Hunter life, leading them in 2004 to buy the Roseglen vineyard at Wybong and prompting Karen to begin the wine course at Kurri Kurri TAFE. They later sold Roseglen to buy Hollydene in 2005.

Arrowfield has been “sucked, plucked and tucked” plenty of times since the founding W.R. Carpenter company hit deep trouble in 1983. It was taken over by Ric Stowe’s Western Australian Griffin Holdings Ltd group, which in 1986 sold Arrowfield to John Messara’s Australian Racing and Breeding Stable Ltd.

The Messara group set up what is now the Coolmoore thoroughbred stud on part of the property and opted out of the wine side of the property in 1989 by selling to a group headed by Nick Whitlam and wine merchant Andrew Simon.

In 1990 the Whitlam-Simon group sold the Arrowfield wine business for $7.4 million to the Japanese Inagaki family of Toyama.

The Inagaki ownership saw numerous management changes and was hit by a disastrous 1999 mid-vintage fire that destroyed the restaurant, cellar door outlet and 36,000 bottles of stored wine.

Despite a praiseworthy rebuilding program, by 2010 Inagaki had had enough and Arrowfield was shut down and stood unused and empty until eventually sold to the Williamses in 2011.

Jail’s recycled sandstone a feature

THE Hollydene vineyard and its distinctive polygon-shaped winery were established in 1968 by Sydney fashion retailer Ken Commins and later taken over by Brian McGuigan’s Wyndham Estate group.

The 60-hectare Hollydene property’s vineyard once covered 48 hectares and is now six hectares, with the balance being used for cattle and pasture growing.

The Wybong Estate vineyard was established in 1967 by leading Sydney orthopaedic surgeon Bob Smith and grazier David Hordern.

Bob Smith and his wife Theo took sole ownership in 1983, and enlivened the Upper Hunter social scene with weekend food and wine festivals and jazz concerts in the lovely sandstone winery built from stone from the old 1840s Bengalla jail.

Highly regarded winemaker Jon Reynolds and his wife Jane bought the property in 1989 and established a fine reputation with their Yarraman Estate wines.

Karen and Gary Williams’s 2006 purchase of Wybong Estate gave them 142 hectares of land, in which there are 14 hectares of vines.

The Hollydene, Wybong estate and Arrowfield vineyards provide them with shiraz, chardonnay, semillon, tempranillio, sangiovese, traminer and verdelho grapes.

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