The Hilltops region surrounds the township of Young, the unofficial cherry capital of Australia. There appear to have been some wineries in the Hilltops region, run by settlers from the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, towards the end of the 19th century.
These wines were even successful at winning medals at the Sydney Wine Shows of the day. However, the modern-day pioneer of the region was the late Peter Robertson who commenced the establishment of his Barwang vineyard in 1975. The area has excellent ripening conditions due to the dry summer and autumn, but this means irrigation is essential. For visitors, the region offers an authentic and unhurried country experience with a wide range of wine and food experiences. The wine styles produced include Chardonnay, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.
The Hilltops region includes the shires of Boorowa, Harden and Young.
All vineyards in the region are planted above the 450-metre (1476-feet) contour line, with site selection and matching of grape variety with altitude extremely important.
The region is currently home to around 10 wineries.
The region has a Continental climate, with the higher altitude ensuring an even and lengthy ripening period.
Irrigation is essential due to the dry summer and autumn.
The soils are rich and deep; typically dark red granite clays impregnated with basalt . They are free draining, supporting strong vine growth.
Shiraz is arguably the variety most suited to the region.
Both Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are powerful wines, yet neither aggressive nor heavy \
While the climate is unequivocally Continental with substantial diurnal temperature variation (difference between maximum and minimum daily temperatures) during the growing season. The altitude at which most of the vineyards are established ensures an even and lengthy ripening period. Spring frosts necessitate careful site selection along ridge tops and the upper slopes. While substantial rainfall occurs in the growing season, most rainfall is in spring.
The dry summer and autumn provide excellent ripening conditions but make irrigation essential. The soils are rich and deep; typically dark red granite clays impregnated with basalt. While capable of holding water at depth, they are free draining and support strong vine growth. These soils persist along the ridge tops and hillsides, which provide the greatest degree of protection against frost.
Chardonnay: For such a warm area, the Chardonnays are surprisingly lean and elegant, with citrus and melon flavours merging into stony/mineral characteristics. They lend themselves to subtle oak handling and give every impression they will age with grace for five years.
Semillon: Several memorable late harvest Semillons have been produced in the region, but today the accent is on dry table styles. They are powerful and carry excellent mid-palate weight.
Cabernet Sauvignon: After a hiatus of more than 30 years, Cabernet Sauvignon was re-introduced to the Hunter Valley by Dr Max Lake at Lake's Folly in 1963. Since then, it has been planted in almost every vineyard in the Valley. It produces an idiosyncratic style and some fine wines are made here from this grape.
Verdelho: Verdelho ripens early in the harvest and is made using the same methods as Semillon except that it is usually picked riper. It goes into bottle early and is usually at it’s best in the year or two after it is made, when it shows ripe, tropical flavours.
Ted & Wendy Ambler, Chalkers Crossing, Hilltops, NSW
Ted and Wendy Ambler established Chalkers Crossing in 1997 when the first vines were planted at the Rockleigh Vineyard near Young, just to the north of Canberra. They believe in growing premium quality fruit to produce premium wines from two specific regions.
"The Hilltops region has a rich history of producing high quality grapes and from them come very smart wines regarded for long life and concentrated rich fruit character. We produce Semillon, Riesling, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Since our first vintage we have complemented the Hilltops varieties by purchasing selected grape varieties (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir) from Tumbarumba, which has become the most talked about emerging cool-climate region in Australia,” Ted and Wendy say.
"Celine Rousseau, 2002 Qantas Medallist for Young Australian Winemaker of the Year, is the company’s winemaker. Celine was born in Paris and trained in Bordeaux. She has experience in Bordeaux, Champagne, St Emilion and Languedoc in France and in Margaret River and the Perth Hills in Western Australia. Her skill and experience are reflected in the success of Chalkers Crossing wines at exhibitions."