Two Rivers has enjoyed its biggest success to date – a 30-year overnight sensation.

Playing For Keeps

An unfashionable grape variety grown in an unfashionable region from a little-known label has been scooping up awards while offering great value for money.
Huon Hooke
courtesy of two rivers.

This is a story about a $20 wine that won four trophies and triumphed over some of the Hunter Valley’s most fancied semillon brands. Two Rivers owners Brett and Linda Keeping took home four trophies from the 2018 Sydney Royal Wine Show, won by two vintages of their Stone’s Throw Semillon. The grapes are grown on their Upper Hunter Valley vineyard at Denman and were vinified by Liz Silkman and her team at First Creek contract winemakers at Pokolbin.

When asked if his wine was in many Sydney restaurants, Brett Keeping replied that he was quite happy with the uptake, but most restaurants – if they have a Hunter semillon at all – “don’t have room for more than a Tyrrell and a Thommo” (Thomas Wines). Such is the tragedy of semillon. Keeping isn’t complaining though: his wine has a very modest wholesale price, which enables restaurateurs to put a hefty mark-up on it and make a healthy profit, while it’s still a reasonable price on their list.

But this is the lot of the Hunter semillon producer. However good the wine, it’s an unfashionable grape grown in an unfashionable region. Add to this the fact that the majority of restaurants in Sydney seem allergic to stocking NSW wines and you can have a problem.

The Upper Hunter has seen the loss of its most important winery, Rosemount, years ago and the area of planted vineyards shrink in recent times. But the Keepings are keeping on. The vineyard was first planted exactly 30 years ago by Brett and Linda. Linda’s parents, John and Mary Muddle, had earlier been partners in Richmond Grove vineyard (remember that?). Originally named Inglewood, Two Rivers vineyard is quite large at 67.5 hectares and is a net seller of grapes. One of its long- standing customers is Tulloch.

Two Rivers is named after the Hunter and the Goulburn, the last not to be confused with the Goulburn that runs through Shepparton, Victoria. There is a cellar door outlet at the vineyard, but it’s a bit out of the way.

Two Rivers markets chardonnay, verdelho, cabernet and shiraz, but its biggest impact has always been with semillon.

The style is more up-front than your classic, age-worthy, reserved Lower Hunter semillons. This no doubt helps when the youngest vintages come before the judges: the 2018 is already a delicious drink, while ‘reserve’ styles such as Tyrrell’s Wines Vat 1, Brokenwood ILR Reserve, Mount Pleasant Lovedale and their kind are still quite closed. That said, the 2013 Two Rivers beat some fancied starters in the 2016-and-older semillon class at Sydney Royal. It top-scored in that class with 96 points and went on to win the Lindeman trophy for the best aged white wine.

The 2018 is just 10% alcohol, so it’s hardly a ‘rich, ripe’ style of semillon. “The grapes come from the ridge of a hill of beautiful red sandy loam over sandstone,” explains Brett. The original semillon block was just a stone’s throw from the Hunter River, which is how it earned its name. Despite the vicissitudes of the Upper Hunter, he is very positive. “The same micro-climate and soils that made Rosemount great are still here,” he says. “We love the place.”

He said that although Two Rivers regularly does well in the wine shows, this was its biggest success to date – a 30-year overnight sensation.

2018 Two Rivers Stone’s Throw Semillon, A$20 –The Dan Murphy’s Value Perennial Trophy for Best Value White The RAS of NSW Annual Prize for Best Young White

2013 Two Rivers Stone’s Throw Semillon, A$50 – The Dr Henry John Lindeman Memorial Perpetual Prize for Best Mature White The Len Evans Memorial Perpetual Trophy for Best Single Vineyard Wine

2014 Two Rivers Stone’s Throw Semillon, A$50 – Gold medal
NOTE: this wine will be released in 2019