Swinging Bridge is the premium label that fronts the Ward family’s grape-growing enterprise in the chill climes of Orange, New South Wales. Tom Ward, recognising the immense potential of their site and the broader region, reworked their approach to growing from a commercial mindset to one that prioritised quality and character over yield. Today, Ward makes elegant and pure wines from cool climate varieties, as well as a range that stretches the conventions of blending and making.
Tom Ward grew up on the land, in fact his family have been farming in the district since 1867, with his parents planting grapes in 1995, in Canowindra. That original vineyard was planted to shiraz and chardonnay, but the Ward’s land under vine has subsequently grown considerably to now occupy 100 hectares. Those vines were always destined for contracts, and the original Swinging Bridge (named after the old wooden footbridge over the Belubula River) label was only really intended as a bit of a hobby. The business was growing commercial grapes. And while that is clearly a big part of the family business today, Tom has carved out some prime parcels of fruit to make a significantly more aspirational effort with the family label.
While Ward was studying a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Sydney, he would travel back to work amongst the vines, cementing a love for viticulture. Ward took further studies at the University of Adelaide in wine marketing. Fresh from university, he took on a viticulturist role, establishing and managing vineyards in the Orange region, which saw him set his sights on making wine, too. So, a bachelor’s degree in oenology at Charles Sturt followed.
When Ward returned to the family property, he restructured the approach to focus on producing the best fruit possible to make premium wine. Yields were lowered, and machine harvesting made way for hand-picking. After his experience across the region, Ward recognised the immense potential of their home vineyard, which is planted at a lofty altitude even by Orange standards.
“Our main vineyard, Hill Park, is a special place and one of the last sites to ripen in Orange because of its south facing slope and location at 900 metres altitude,” says Tom. But he also felt that the broader region had plenty of other sides to reveal, too. “Orange has everything – different climates, can-do attitude, great soils and it’s starting to see some great vine age,” Ward also sources chardonnay from the Balmoral block in Caldwell Lane (890 metres), and pinot noir from Wattleview (1,070 metres) and Yuranigh Road (650 metres).
Ward’s winemaking could best be described as classic, excepting the Hashtag Series. “The winemaking focus is not only on producing a collection of the highly finessed, elegant blends sourced from the best fruit around the region, but to push into previously uncharted territory with the Hashtag Series,” says Ward. Expect things like a skin-contact wine made from a trio of classic Alsatian white grapes, and an unusual and especially gluggable combination of tempranillo and pinot noir, which sit in contrast to the crystalline varietal whites and fragrant reds of the Bridge and Winemaker series, and the premium Single Vineyard Series, made from the best and most distinctive parcels of fruit.