Hastings River has a history of viticulture and winemaking that dates back to 1837. Like many other Australian wine regions in the early 1900s, disease and competitive pressures lead to a halt in production of wine in the Hastings Valley.
In 1980, after 60 years of dormancy, the Cassegrain family decided to reinvigorate the area as a wine region. Improbable though it seemed at the time, the family pioneered new varieties and new ways of managing vineyards. This indirectly encouraged the development of other vineyards and wineries along the northern coast of New South Wales. With its close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, Hastings River is certainly the place to taste amazing seafood, paired with intense white varieties. The Ellenborough Falls, a world-heritage, sub-tropical rainforest is a must see when visiting this region. The main wine styles produced in the region include Chardonnay, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot and Chambourcin.
- The Hastings River has a viticulture and winemaking history dating back to 1837.
- The Hastings River region currently has more than 200 hectares of vines, producing fruit for seven different companies.
- There are currently around six wineries in Hastings River.
- New vineyards in the Hastings River are the only significant new plantings in Australia in the past 30 years not to have been supplemented with irrigation.
- This region is uncompromisingly warm, with high summer humidity and high rainfall.
- The climate is affected by the tail end of tropical cyclones and by its close proximity to the warm Pacific Ocean.
- The best vintages are the driest; those in which the late summer rains are below average.
- The soils vary greatly in fertility, depth and drainage capacity, spanning rich, free-draining alluvial and red volcanic soils, and running from sandy through to heavy, water-resistant yellow clay; some are deep, others overlie gravel or limestone.
- Chardonnay is the main variety planted in the Hastings River.
The vineyards of the Hastings River are the only significant new plantings in Australia in the past 30 years not to have been supplemented with irrigation. The region combines high summer humidity and high rainfall, as well as being uncompromisingly warm. It is affected by the tail end of tropical cyclones moving down the coast from Queensland, and by its proximity to the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean.
The best vintages are the driest; those in which the late summer rains are below average. However, even in these circumstances the successful outcome of the vintage is dependent on split-second timing of the harvest and very careful management of the canopy. The only assured solution has been the propagation of the French-bred hybrid Chambourcin, which is resistant to the mildews that otherwise pose a constant threat.
The gently hilly terrain offers a wide choice of aspect that, along with the prevailing winds, are helpful in assisting disease control. The soils vary greatly in fertility, depth and drainage capacity, spanning rich free-draining alluvial and red volcanic soils, and running from sandy through to heavy, water-resistant yellow clay; some are deep, while others overlie gravel or limestone.
Chardonnay: Chardonnay dominates plantings in the Hastings River and does well. The style is not unlike that of the Hunter: rich and generous in the peach and tropical fruit spectrum. It lends itself to manipulation in the winery and to the use of oak to add complexity and depth. As might be expected, it matures relatively quickly but the wines from drier vintages can hold their peak for several years.
Semillon: The thin skins and large berries of Semillon are especially vulnerable to the effects of vintage rain. As in the Hunter, the saving grace is the unusual ability of the Semillon to produce excellent wine at lower than usual sugar (and hence alcohol) levels of around 10 degrees Baumé. Thus early picking is important to ensure a high quality wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot: Vintages such as 1991 and, to a lesser extent, 1993 show what can be achieved with these varieties. The resulting wines are soft and quite fleshy, with abundant berry and earth flavours. Merlot, too, can be successfully made as a single varietal, though it is sometimes seen as a cross-regional blend.
Chambourcin: Intensely purple in colour, the flavour of Chambourcin is pronounced. In its youth, it falls into the black cherry and plum range with occasional slight spicy and gamey overlays. As a young, fresh wine it is among the best examples of hybrids produced anywhere in the world.
Map coordinates: 31º 27'S, 152º
Altitude: 70 metres (230 feet)
Heat degree days, October-April: 2310 (cut off at 19ºC (66.2ºF) but otherwise not adjusted)
Growing season rainfall, October-April: 1080 millimetres (42.5 inches)
Relative humidity: September-March, 3 pm Average 73%
Mean January temperature: 22.5°C (72.5°F)
Harvest: Late January – Early March
Ian Adams, Bago Vineyards, Hastings River, NSW
The Hastings River Region is situated approximately 400 kilometres north of Sydney and is a popular stopping place for people travelling between Brisbane and Sydney. The main towns are Port Macquarie (a popular seaside resort town) and Wauchope. The population of the region is approximately 70,000.
The region is steeped in tradition. Port Macquarie was originally settled as a penal colony, with Wauchope the commercial hub and centre of a bustling timber, rural and dairy industry. Grapes were first grown in the region in the early 1800s with some 35 vineyards/wineries stretching from the coast to Long Flat, about 60 kilometres west of Port Macquarie.
Ian Adams from Bago Vineyards says there are many theories as to why the wine industry declined in the early to mid 20th century, with many believing this was due to the inability of its earlier winemakers to compete with the weather conditions that prevailed along the coast.
“It wasn’t until the 1980s that the wine industry in Hastings River re-emerged, with pioneering wine families such as Cassegrain, Charley and Mobbs establishing vineyards,” Ian says.
"The challenges of competing with the temperate maritime climate and seasonal rain just prior to and during vintage had to be overcome. Varieties such as the resilient French hybrid Chambourcin were planted along with Chardonnay, Semillon, Verdelho and Merlot. In more recent years, the region is becoming better known for its quality Verdelho, with the pioneering Chambourcin taking a back seat.
"Bago Vineyards (a family owned and operated vineyard and winery) continues to trial many new varieties such as Viognier, Tannat and Petit Verdot. The vineyard is somewhat unique in being nestled between state forests and a national park.
"Depending on the weather conditions, vintage in Hastings River commences between mid-January and late-January and continues throughout February and March. A number of smaller vineyards have emerged in the region in the past couple of years, with a small number also emerging in neighbouring districts.
"The Hastings River Region is renowned for its seafood and local produce, with farmers' markets almost a weekly event. The district is also known for its award-winning dairy products, particularly cheese manufacturing – both the hard/matured style and softer brie styles.
"The combination of wine and cheese along with fresh Hastings River oysters makes for an enjoyable visit to the vineyards in the Hastings."