At Mount Pleasant, where some of the vines date back to 1880 and others were planted by the legendary Maurice O’Shea, the duty of managing the vineyards is a serious business.
The significance of the role is not lost on Paul Harvey, who as Vineyard Manager is responsible for the 110 hectares of vineyards Mount Pleasant controls. For Paul, the vineyards of the Hunter Valley offer opportunities and challenges like no other Australian wine region.
Q: What’s your favourite thing about your job?
Being responsible for the delivery of fruit from some of the most iconic vineyards in the Hunter Valley. I like a challenge so the climate and that type of thing keep things interesting for me.
Q: What separates vineyard management in the Hunter Valley from elsewhere in Australia?
The climate would have to be the biggest separation. We get some really wet conditions at times during the growing season so we have to manage the disease challenges that it brings. Also the challenges during harvest when rain is looming and we need to get fruit off in a hurry if required. But when it works, it works- the Hunter Valley produces some amazing fruit and wines.
Q: Obviously there is a lot of history in the vines at Mount Pleasant. How does that affect the way you operate?
There is a lot of history across the whole site so that affects us by having to handpick blocks that have aging vines and/or trellising. We will generally handpick any of our older vines as the machines can damage the vines and that is not what we are after, they have been around for many years and we want to keep them thriving as more often than not that is where the best fruit comes from.
Q: The old saying goes that “great wines start in the vineyard.” When you’re looking at a finished wine, how much of that is the vineyard speaking and how much the winemaker?
I guess it can depend on the winemaker. If fruit is picked in the right flavour window, the fruit and wine can scream site characteristics. However if the picking window is missed- too early or too late- the site specific flavours and aromas can get lost in green fruit characters or cooked stewed fruit if left on the vine too long.
That is where we are lucky. We have amazing winemakers who spend many hours through harvest out in the vineyard tasting fruit, then picking it at its ideal flavour, producing amazing single vineyard wines like Lovedale and Rosehill that capture the site perfectly.
Q: In your eyes, does being a vineyard manager mean that you have to be a winemaker on some level? Or are the two separate?
On some level yes, you need to have an idea yourself as to when fruit is ready. I have a keen interest in wine and love sitting in on assessments and tastings that the winemakers have in the lab. It’s the completion of the circle and I really enjoy the process.
Q: Of the Mount Pleasant vineyards, is there one that holds a special place in your heart?
Rosehill is definitely my favourite vineyard. It shows so many single vineyard characteristics in all the wines that are made from there. There are a few different soil types and old clones that make some amazing wines.
Q: If money or resources were no object, is there a varietal you’d love to plant at Mount Pleasant?
We are really limited in the Hunter with what varieties we can plant due to the climate. We have been experimenting recently with planting some new varieties and have in the last year planted small blocks of Fiano and Tempranillo, and we have some Sagrantino going in at the end of this year. I would love to experiment with other varieties such as Montepulciano and Vermintino in the future.
Q: Where do you see the future of the Mount Pleasant vines and wines heading in the coming years?
I see a great future for Mount Pleasant. We are going through a process of intensive upgrades of trellising and upgrades to irrigation on the vineyards, also the replanting of blocks to further increase production and our varietal base. We produce amazing wines and I am proud of what has been done and what will be done in the future by our team.
Q: Finally, if you could drink one wine for the rest of your life, what would it be?
That’s a tough question! I have so many favourites but I always go back to a Hunter Shiraz. We have so many amazing producers in the region and all of our wines show so many features of the vineyards the fruit is sourced from. For me it is too hard to nail it down to one wine though, but a wine produced from A block at Rosehill in a good year would be amazing.