Chris Tyrrell, a fifth-generation winemaker, is the custodian of one of this country’s most revered wine estates and a legacy that stretches back to the mid-19th century. It’s a big mantle, and one he took on in his early 30s after a hands-on apprenticeship with two of the Hunter’s most revered winemakers and under the watchful eye of his legendary father, Bruce Tyrrell. Today, the Tyrrell’s wines are steeped in history, with classically vibrant and long-lived semillon and medium-weight shiraz leading the way, but there is an energy that suffuses the estate and a forward-thinking take on tradition that make them one of the country’s most dynamic producers. Tyrrell was a Young Gun Finalist in 2016.
There are those that enter the wine industry unencumbered by expectations. Not Chris Tyrrell. The Tyrrell name is one of Australian wine’s most iconic, and the family’s lauded Hunter Valley winery is one of the country’s oldest. Founded way back in 1858, it’s also one of the few that has remained in family hands for its entire history. With that weight of expectation, though, come a few resources, with generations of experience on hand, plus an exceptional roster of vineyards, including some of the world’s oldest vines.
Tyrrell is now the Chief Operating Officer, but he began his winemaking career onsite working alongside long-time winemakers Andrew Spinaze (whites) and Mark Richardson (reds) in 2001, when he was 18. That was an exchange of the baton of sorts, with his grandfather, the legendary Murray Tyrrell passing away the year prior. Chris worked as Assistant Winemaker under Richardson and Spinaze from 2006 to 2014, before taking the reins of the business as a whole.
Under Chris’ leadership, the Tyrrell’s brand has seen something of a renaissance, as has the Hunter Valley, with what seemed like a dusty old image given new life by focusing on history with an unwavering eye to progress. Chris has exemplified this by focusing on individual vineyard bottlings, as well as tinkering with varieties like gamay and blending pinot noir and shiraz in homage to the great wines of Maurice O’Shea (the founder of Mount Pleasant).
That focus has seen semillon and shiraz celebrated through a great diversity of sites from the sandy soils of the 1908 planted Johnno’s Vineyard to the 4 Acres vineyard, planted in 1879. Alongside bottlings from their seven sites with vines over 100 years old, Tyrrell’s still produce their benchmark ‘Vat’ wines, taken from across their 900-acre holdings (which also includes a sizable vineyard in Heathcote, Victoria). The most iconic of which are the ‘Vat 1’ Semillon, ‘Vat 9’ Shiraz and the ‘Vat 47’ Chardonnay, which arguably launched Australia’s deep plunge into the variety.
Winemaking is traditional at Tyrrell’s, and perhaps more and more so, with an emphasis on large-format oak and minimal intervention, with the fruit leading. Tyrrell’s also takes their environmental commitment seriously, launching an environmental management system that has reduced their greenhouse emissions by nearly 70 per cent.