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As writer Nassim Taleb expounds within the pages of his book Skin in the Game: “Courage is the only virtue you cannot fake; How much you truly believe in something can be manifested only through what you are willing to risk for it.” Angus Vinden of Vinden Wines has courage for the future and belief in abundance. 

Last September, Vinden and wife Hannah purchased the much-revered Somerset Vineyard, set amongst the gorgeous sloping hills of Pokolbin, in the Hunter Valley – Australia’s oldest and most enduring grape-growing region. Now he has skin in the game, and fruit security, too. “I love this place. If I wasn’t able to keep farming grapes and making wine right here, I don’t know what I’d do, to be honest,” says Vinden.

Fifth-generation grape-grower and former owner of the Somerset Vineyard, Glen Howard sums up how he met Vinden: “I first met Angus in 2014. He asked if he could work for me for 12 months to get a feel for vineyard work. I was a bit short-handed at the time, so I said, ‘Yeah, no problem. You can come and work for me, but it’ll be hard work, real hands-on work’.”

It was Howard who ignited Vinden’s love of the Somerset Vineyard and passion for the Hunter Valley wine region. 

“Our relationship’s pretty good,” said Howard when I interviewed him in August, 2019. “We work well together, hand in hand… I believe he’s learned a lot from me, and I know I’m learning a lot from him.”

Sadly, Glen Howard passed away some eight months later, on the 1 April 2020.

“One of my fondest memories of Glen was taking him through the wines I’d made from his fruit at Somerset. We both agreed it was one of our favourite vintages” Vinden recalls. 

Howard’s wish was that Vinden purchase the Somerset vineyard and take up custodianship of this very special site.

Somerset was first planted in the 1890s but was pulled out during World War II to prioritise the land for food production. It was replanted back to vines in 1965. Some 20ha of the 36ha site is comprised of familiar Hunter wine grapes, names like semillon, chardonnay and shiraz. Some regard the verdelho to be of Grand Cru calibre, and only a handful know this site is responsible for some of the most outstanding examples of tempranillo grown anywhere in the Hunter Valley. This is evidenced by the energy, power and presence of the limited release 2018 Vinden Headcase Single Barrel Grand Reserve Tempranillo.

Since working with Howard, Vinden has been instrumental in the vineyard’s conversion to an organic (not yet certified) regime, which he expects will not only ameliorate the vineyard ecosystem and promote environmental sustainability, but also improve the quality of his wines.

“I want to show everyone that the Hunter Valley is a great place to make wine, and that we can make even better wine by improving soil health and fertility by removing synthetic chemicals, like Round-Up (glyphosate), and herbicides and pesticides,” says Vinden. 

“Soon, we’ll be planting out native grasses and creating wildlife corridors around the vineyard to increase and improve the biodiversity of this place.”

At a glance, it seems a bold move to switch off the synthetics in a place like the Hunter Valley, which has a reputation for ongoing climatic inconsistencies, year after year. But Vinden isn’t the first to adopt a more natural viticultural approach, and he certainly won’t be the last. 

Grape-growers, vignerons, and others like Vinden who put their money where their mouth is, who own and work their land all day every day, who have skin in the game, and an incentive to fortify the future of the Hunter Valley, these are the true custodians sustaining the covenant of Australia’s oldest continually producing wine region.

“We’re talking about a place that has multiple century-old vineyards, that makes some of the most age-worthy wines anywhere in the world,” says Vinden. “We’re the home of chardonnay in Australia, and the birthplace of [Australian] verdelho. The Hunter’s achieved more great things than most regions could ever even dream of. That doesn’t make us the best, by any means. What it means is that we have a history of making wines here that are revered all over the world. It means we must recognise and honour that history. And that’s what I intend to do at Somerset,”

There’s not an ounce of fake virtue to be found here. Just a firm belief in the future, and that it will only be met by taking on risks with courage, and through hard work. The way it’s always been.