A four-year research project into the history of the Hunter Valley has culminated in Vines, Wine and Identity: NSW and Changing Australian Taste, an exhibition now open at the Newcastle Museum.
The exhibit – helmed by Australia’s foremost wine historian Dr Julie McIntyre and University of Newcastle’s sociologist Professor John Germov – focuses on six generations of local wine producers in the Hunter Valley, from when the first vines were planted in 1828 to the changing tastes and rising interest in wine of the 1980s.
“Instead of defining the Hunter wine community by an external narrative, we’ve shown how this community has its own local logic while being connected to wider influences, including the global economy,” Dr McIntyre said.
“Over the course of the project we interviewed 22 Hunter Valley personalities, preserving their oral history and memories.
“Their first hand accounts are invaluable in building an understanding of the region’s past, contributing to a new understanding of Australia’s role in a critical global sector, and the nation’s growing taste for wine.”
A world first historical sociological study, Professor Germov said this Wine Studies Research Network project uncovers the iconic region’s history and heritage and looks at how Hunter Valley producers have changed the Australian drinking culture by creating a taste for their wines.
“In the mid 1800s there was barely a market for the wine produced in the Hunter Valley. Then you have the 1950s when ‘wining and dining’ was not part of the culture and wine couldn’t be served in public venues after 6pm,” Professor Germov said.
The exhibition is also a world-first collaboration between a region’s university, peak wine body and cultural sector, and charts Australian attitudes towards wine through the years, as well as the revival for Hunter wines beyond the 1960s.
“The late 1960s saw new drinking freedoms for women allied with them movement for women’s liberation, a new restaurant culture of dining with wine and the wine industry’s readiness to make new wine styles,” Dr McIntyre, who is a member of the the Centre for 21st Century Humanities, explained.
“Hunter wines became the basis of new drinking habits, varied styles and prices, and of visiting ‘cellar doors’ on weekends.”
Hunter wine businessmen Brian McGuigan, Jay Tulloch and Phil Ryan were among the project partners that contributed to its development, while museum director Julie Baird co-curated the ongoing exhibition.
The project’s oral history interviews were previewed at the exhibition opening on August 4 and the full interviews will soon be available online. The exhibition runs until October 14.
The project also boasts a history book – titled Hunter Wine: A History – to be released on September 22 at the Newcastle Museum.
The launch will be accompanied by the screening of a forgotten Australian film with scenes shot in the Hunter wine region.