HAPPY PARTNERSHIP: Jodie Belleville and Damien Stevens of Hart and Hunter wines were big winners at the 2014 Boutique Winemakers’ Show
PROUD: Damien Stevens, right, receives the Karl Stockhausen Trophy
from the man himself.
Damien Stevens and Jodie Belleville's period of productivity
By John Lewis
THREE trophies at last week's 2014 Hunter Valley Boutique Winemakers' Show have capped off a momentous nine months for winemaking couple Damien Stevens and Jodie Belleville.
This year Damien and Jodie quit their jobs at the First Creek winery, welcomed the arrival of a new baby daughter and set up their Hart and Hunter wine venture with its own winery and cellar door. Baby Audrey is a sister for five-year-old Grace, who is pictured running through a row of vines on the Hart and Hunter website.
In 2010 Damien and Jodie made a spectacular maiden entry into the Hunter Valley Wine Show and have since established an enviable reputation for their white wines.
In competition against some of the region's top semillon producers at the 2010 Hunter show, the Hart and Hunter 2010 Single Vineyard Semillon took the Marshall-Flannery Trophy for the best current vintage semillon and the H. J. Lindeman Trophy for the best current vintage dry white of the show.
And they've proved to be no slouches with reds too. At last week's Hunter Valley Boutique Winemakers' Show judging at Maitland, the Hart and Hunter 2011 Shiraz claimed the trophies for the best red wine of show, the best Regulation 2 2011 and older shiraz red and the Karl Stockhausen Trophy.
Damien told me last week the Stockhausen trophy win was a special delight because of the warm friendship he had enjoyed with the 84-year-old Hunter Valley living legend of wine.
The trophy was established last year to honour Karl's contribution as a Boutique Winemakers' Show judge, and is awarded to the entry considered to have special merit.
There are only small stocks of the triple-trophy Hart and Hunter 2011 Shiraz, which I reviewed on December 21 last year, and it will only be available to Hart and Hunter wine club members.
Damien and Jodie have previously produced their wines by buying in grapes from premium Hunter growers and, with the generous approval of their boss Greg Silkman, have processed the fruit at their workplace at the high-tech First Creek winery in McDonalds Road, Pokolbin.
Now they have leased the Gabriel's Paddocks winery and cellar door in Deasys Road, Pokolbin, from the owners - business heavyweight Chris Anderson and his wife Gabriel.
The 43.7-hectare spread was part of the failed McPherson co-operative group before Neil and Caroline Sutherland bought it in 1979.
Chris Anderson, former managing director of John Fairfax Ltd from 1987 to 1990 and former chief executive of Optus, purchased the property from the Sutherlands in 1999.
The Hart and Hunter venture had its beginnings at a 2006 wedding reception in the mountains of Sicily.
The wedding was that of London-based couple Dan and Elle Hart, friends of Damien and Jodie.
Dan, a wine merchant, and Damien met when Damien was running the bar in the Cayenne Restaurant in Belfast, Northern Ireland. In Belfast the friends often talked about launching their own wine label and at the Hart wedding they resolved to launch the Phat Wine Co Pty Ltd and the Hart and Hunter brand.
Implementation of the plan became possible after Damien and Jodie both joined the winemaking team at the First Creek winery, in McDonalds Road, Pokolbin.
Born in Coffs Harbour, Damien developed an interest in wine during a youthful backpack foray overseas. His friendship in Belfast with Dan Hart heightened his interest and, when he came back to Australia, he launched into a wine career that took him to First Creek, then Wandin Valley then back to First Creek. Jodie, a Taree girl, worked as a winemaker at Brokenwood and McGuigan wineries before going to First Creek.
Damien and Jodie and Dan and Elle Hart maintain their partnership in Hart and Hunter and Damien says they remain committed to producing quality wines in limited quantities.