There is no doubt this summer has been like no other I have experienced. And now, as we move through the final month of the season, we find ourselves in the midst of a difficult Hunter Valley harvest.

During the summer growing period, our vineyards met a multitude of challenges. The continuing drought conditions have been regularly exacerbated by exceptionally high temperatures and relentless wind. The heat and the dry have been so unforgiving that, for the first time, I’ve seen grapevines die. Native trees and shrubs are doing the same and wildlife can be found desperately searching for food and drink. I dragged a wallaby from the dam at our Gundaroo farm after she died in the puddle she was drinking from. Rabbits, foxes and roos chew at vineyard irrigation lines in the futile hope of finding water – again, seeing this is a first for me.  In combination, these ruthless conditions fuelled what we are now only too familiar with – the extraordinary and unprecedented bushfire disaster. This disaster, which in fact started to unfold in November, will be the enduring memory of this summer for many of us. So great is the scale of the drought and the fires, it has touched everyone from the bush to beach along the entire east coast of New South Wales, north into Queensland and south to Victoria.  

Before I go any further, I would like to say this. I count us amongst the very lucky. The challenges we face simply pale in comparison to those dealing with the devastating loss of life and property brought about by the fires. Our thoughts remain with these individuals and families. This includes the families of those firefighters who perished while bravely serving in the defence of others. On behalf of everyone at Gundog Estate we thank each and every person that fought these fires.  

In many ways, we are still only just coming to understand the full impact of this disaster. In the Hunter and now Canberra, our immediate production concern is the potential for ‘smoke taint.’ This can arise in wines produced from grapes exposed to bushfire smoke for extended periods. Unfortunately, the science around smoke taint detection and mitigation is still relatively new and often inconclusive. This means we are working closely with the Australian Wine Research Institute and employing a variety of tests and production strategies to ensure the fruit we do harvest is going to produce high quality wine. We are adamant that we will only release wines of the type and quality our customers expect from the brand. We are also committed to supporting our growers – by harvesting as much viable fruit as possible, without price adjustment. Like other farmers around the country, our growers are on the absolute frontline in responding to and bearing the consequences of disasters, like the drought and bushfires. They are doing it tough.

The combined impact of drought and smoke taint means that our current expectation is for a significantly reduced harvest, potentially by as much as 70%. Clearly this will present challenges for us over the next twelve to twenty-four months, perhaps even longer if the drought prevails. Unfortunately, when multiplied across the number of similarly affected wineries nationally, the economic impact of this summer is likely to reach deep into the industry’s supply and distribution chains. On a regional level, the flow-on effects from the loss in trade, resulting from the abrupt drop in summer visitation (the Hunter Valley and Canberra included), will be profound for many businesses, as will the financial burden carried by growers from cancelled fruit sales.

One of the few highlights from this difficult summer has been the uplifting and extraordinary outpouring of support the wider community has shown for those affected by the fires. For those of you who have made the effort to visit our cellar doors in the Hunter Valley and Gundaroo – thank you. And thank you to everyone else who sent us messages of concern and support throughout. If you were wondering what more you can do to help; my suggestion is really just keep supporting. Continue to seek out, visit and support those businesses in fire-affected areas. Don’t forget that after the smoke clears, the enduring economic, social and emotional impact of these fires will still be felt by many.

And when considering the ways to help with recovery, don’t forget the unprecedented ecological damage these fires have caused. Via our partnership with 15 Trees, Gundog will work even harder to make a meaningful contribution to the regeneration of the natural environment. Please read below about project #GreenShoots and how you too can get involved.

At Gundog we are a resilient crew. The cellar door and winery staff (many of whom were significantly affected by the bushfires) have been doing an amazing job. Our cellar doors are open and ready for visitors and our winery team is busy with the Hunter harvest. The fruit we have taken thus far is in excellent condition and we have high hopes for an, albeit small, high quality vintage. We will soon be preparing for the arrival of our Hilltops and Canberra sourced fruit and again we are hopeful quality will be high.

We look forward to sharing the Gundog journey with you throughout the year ahead. We are grateful for your understanding and ongoing support, particularly when facing difficult years like this one. Without it, we simply wouldn’t be here.


Late last year we announced our exciting new partnership with 15 Trees. By purchasing native trees and shrubs, to be used at various rehabilitation sites around the country, we are actively working to reduce our carbon footprint and regenerate the natural environment. The trees are purchased from local nurseries and are a mixture of eucalyptus, wattle and smaller native shrubs. They are planted by community groups such as Landcare, schools and environmental networks. With your amazing support, we have already purchased close to 400 trees since November! You can read about our first round of plantings HERE.

In the wake of the bushfires, we are now on a mission to double down on our efforts! Via project #GreenShoots we are aiming to purchase another 200 trees by March. If we achieve this, our incredibly generous wine club member, Steve, will match this effort making a total contribution of 400 trees! The trees are $5 each and can be purchased via this link to our websitePlanting priority will be given to those areas affected by the fires. We are very excited as this is such an important and tangible way to make a positive contribution to the bushfire recovery effort.


The second year of our partnership with Newcastle based Path 2 Change took a huge step forward with the implementation of a Gundog Estate work experience program. So far, our cellar door has played host to two amazing young people as they gained a multitude of hospitality skills over a six-week experience period.

Working to prevent and reduce youth homelessness, Path 2 Change invests in programs to support and empower those experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Through the support of Path 2 Change, at-risk young people are better placed to achieve independence and connection in the community. The work experience program has been an incredible opportunity for our business and staff to be actively engaged in this life-changing work.

The work experience program supplements our ongoing financial contribution to Path 2 Change which, with your amazing support, is now at almost $17,000.

One particularly successful aspect of our relationship with Path 2 Change is the open communication channels. We receive regular updates as to where our support is being directed and some of the results are simply profound. Here, I am going to share two recent case studies that were passed onto us from Path 2 Change at the end of 2019. I encourage you to take the time to read these. Not only do they highlight the absolute vulnerability of these young people, I also feel they provide a fantastic illustration of the work Path 2 Change performs and how fundamentally important our support is to their clients.

Danielle is a single mum with 2 children. Danielle’s mental health deteriorated and she was unable to attend courses that were a requirement of her parenting payment and was cut off.  Danielle was unable to sustain her tenancy and was at risk of homelessness and had her children removed from her care to be taken by a family member.  Danielle was working to get her life back on track and hoping to have her children returned to her care before Christmas 2019.  Danielle worked with Path2Change to help her find employment.
The caseworker supported her with mental health appointments and spoke with a local hotel about a casual position that had been advertised.  Danielle was advised by hotel staff that a casual position would be provided once she was able to complete her RSA and RCG Certificate. We were able to help Danielle by paying the costs for a RSA & RCG course with Gundog funding.  Danielle completed her RSA and RCG and now has a casual position a Rutherford Hotel.  Danielle’s children have also recently been returned to her care.

Sophie was removed from her family and in the Out of Home Care (OOHC) system for 12 years.  Sophie had accommodation through a Supported Independent Living program whilst she was studying, with her partner.  Sophie’s partner had recently become unemployed and they were struggling to pay the rent and were issued an eviction notice and lost the tenancy. Sophie couch surfed for 6 months whilst completing a Certificate III Traineeship in Nursing, through the Aboriginal Pathway Program that is run from Hunter River High, Raymond Terrace. 
Sophie was referred to Path2Change for assistance in applying for nursing positions at Nursing Homes in the local area and securing accommodation for herself and partner. Path2Change assisted Sophie with a new Resume and online applications.  The caseworker supported Sophie to hand out resumes at local nursing homes.  Sophie presented her Resume at Raymond Terrace Nursing Home and was called back that afternoon, with an interview appointment.  Sophie had no suitable interview clothes.  Path2Change took Sophie shopping and purchased a top and skirt for the interview with Gundog funds and Sophie was successful in securing a part time position at the nursing home.  Sophie is now living in a lovey 2-bedroom home, 5 minutes’ walk from the Nursing Home.


Just prior to Christmas, we released the Gundog Estate Dry Gin. Drawing inspiration from the Hunter’s ‘great white grape,’ and in what is likely a world first, we infused the gin with our super-premium 2019 ‘The Chase’ Semillon. We then employed a supporting range of botanicals such as green apple peel, lemon myrtle, lime, cloves, almonds, honeycomb and, of course, juniper and coriander seeds. The result is a modern dry gin, with complex, citrus-led aromas, supported by a smooth and vibrant palate.

We have been overwhelmed by the amazing interest in the gin, selling out of the first two batches before they even touched the shelves! The good news is batch #3 has just been released. You can order yours via our website HERE , or by phoning the Hunter Cellar Door on 02 4998 6873. Be quick!


2019 proved to be humbling year of critical acclaim for our wines. Riding the wave of three consecutive Hunter vintages of exceptional quality, brilliant reviews rolled in from Australia’s leading wine writer, James Halliday, for the 2018 and 2019 vintages of ‘The Chase’ Semillon (96 and 95 points) and our 2017 Rare Game Shiraz (97 points). However, the single greatest accolade for the Rare Game Shiraz came in Gourmet Traveller WINE Magazine’s comprehensive classification of Hunter Valley Shiraz from the 2017 vintage. Alongside almost 40 icon wines, some reaching skyward in price to $250, our Rare Game Shiraz so impressed with its power, structure and richness of flavour that it was crowned king of 2017 Hunter Valley Shiraz.

Not to be outdone, our most recent releases of Canberra District Riesling and Shiraz performed exceptionally well. Amongst the flurry of accolades in the 2020 James Halliday Wine Companion, with a stellar 11 Gundog wines rated 95 points and above, the 2018 Gundog Riesling, on 97 points, received the highest rating of any white wine from the Canberra District. The 2017 Estate Shiraz2017 Marksman’s Shiraz and 2017 Indomitus Rutilus all received glowing endorsement and 95-point ratings.  

Other strong reviews came from Huon Hooke, Ralph Kyte-Powell, Campbell Mattinson, Andrew Graham, Winsor Dobbin, Max Allen, Qwine, Patrick Eckel and Regan Drew, rounding out a benchmark year of recognition for the Gundog range.


We are finalising details for our line up of Members & Friends events for 2020. Mark the dates in your diary and stay tuned for your invitation closer to the dates!
1ST MARCH – Sunday Sounds at the Cork St. Cellar Door
21ST AND 22ND MARCH – Live music for Wine Week (further events TBC) at the Cork St. Cellar Door
11TH, 12TH AND 13TH APRIL – Live music for the Easter Long Weekend at the Cork St. Cellar Door
23RD AND 24TH MAY – Lunches at Pony Dining, The Rocks
1ST JUNE – Sunday Sounds at the Cork St. Cellar Door
25TH AND 26TH JULY – Truffle Hunt & Lunch Weekend in Canberra
15TH AUGUST – Hunter Winery Lunch
26TH SEPTEMBER – Brisbane Member’s Lunch (venue TBC)
22ND OCTOBER – Sydney Tasting Event at Living Edge (evening)


It’s been an exciting 12 months leading up to our 3rd birthday at Cork Street! It has been fabulous to see more of our members and friends taking the trip out to Gundaroo and making the most of this beautiful location.

One of the most exciting developments this year was working with our fantastic neighbours, Grazing Restaurant , to develop a seasonal offering of small plates that can be enjoyed in the relaxed ambience of the cellar door, or out on our beautiful garden terrace. We offer a selection of three seasonal entrée size plates and three desserts, in addition to our local cheese and cured meat offering. These plates look and taste absolutely amazing – they should be a must do on your next visit!

Events remain a big part of our Cork St. offering. Now free to attend, our Sunday Sounds continued monthly throughout 2019 and will be scheduled similarly this year. These events are a great way to experience live music from some of our talented local artists while enjoying Gundog wine and delicious plates from Grazing. Big favourites, the Whiskey Straits and Canberra duo, Leisa Keen and John MacKey, will be returning this year. Check out the 2020 Calendar of events (above) for confirmed dates for the first part of the year.

One of our event highlights for 2019 was the sellout hit Truffle Hunt and Lunch. The event featured a truffle hunt and tour at Blue Frog Truffles in Sutton followed by a three-course lunch at the cellar door, prepared by Grazing Restaurant, with each dish featuring truffle (of course!). Our host at the truffle farm, Wayne Haslam, was one of the very first truffle growers in the Canberra region and was more than happy to share his wisdom throughout the tour. We wandered with the dogs as they judiciously sniffed out and scratched at the soil concealing the ’black diamonds’ hidden throughout the property – the revelation of each truffle was met with ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the crowd. Needless to say, the lunch was enthusiastically met following the tour and one of my personal highlights was the Black Forest Pavlova with truffle toasted meringue! We believe the Truffle Hunt and Lunch will become the flagship annual members event in Canberra, so please stay tuned for details about the next one scheduled for July this year.

To stay up to date on these events and other Cork St. happenings, keep an eye on our Facebook page.

See you soon!
Sara Lauer



Detail, precision and purity are the key themes driving this wine for us. As per the 2017 and 2018 releases, ‘The Chase’ is produced exclusively from fruit grown at the Somerset Vineyard in Pokolbin; the 2019 release entirely from the 1969 planting, set over an old creek bed that runs through the property. Lower yields and later ripening than 2018 mean there is certainly a greater sense of generosity in the 2019 Semillons. Depth of flavour, slightly higher alcohols, higher pH’s and lower TA’s combine to deliver styles more reminiscent of the 2017 vintage; vibrant, textural and expressive.

Given the high daytime temperatures, we once again made the decision to pick with machine in the cool of the night and, again, I am pleased we did. The early morning arrival of Semillon in the winery meant we could process without the pressure of time and temperature, ensuring the juice remained bright and fresh all the way to tank.  
Winemaking revisions are minor from year-to-year for ‘The Chase’; we pressed gently (only taking the first 450-550 litres per ton) then, following fermentation, we racked from heavy lees and allowed the wine to mature slightly cloudy in tank for four months to flesh out and bring a sense of cohesiveness to the palate. Very little fining was required before bottling, as the small amount of residual phenolic material helped to shape and add weight to the wine.


With the Wild Semillon , we consistently aim to deliver a fresh, modern and exotic take on a classic Hunter variety, quite at odds with traditional styles and winemaking practices. Looking over past vintages, back to the first in 2011, it’s incredibly pleasing to see how the character of this wine has evolved. It seems increasingly surefooted and recent vintages, including the 2019, strike me as the most resolved. I believe the warmer vintages lend themselves to the Wild Semillon, with greater levels of natural flavour and phenolics better placing it to absorb the additional winemaking work we apply.

In terms of blend components, we have parcels clean fermented in tank (some fermented to dryness, others not), a portion fermented cloudy in barrel, some 100% on skins and a parcel that is 30% on skins with extended maturation. Contrasting vineyard sites and winemaking processes present us with an exciting array of options when it comes time to blend. Despite the extremes of individual component styles, we are ultimately looking to achieve an impressively cohesive wine, boasting immediate balance and appeal. 


Our 2019 Canberra District Riesling is the third release of Gundog Riesling and once again we find ourselves delighted by the quality and consistency of style! Continuing to work with John and Sarah Collingwood at the Four Winds Vineyard, it feels like we are finding our feet with the production approach, which I see made manifest in the level of overall balance and integration in such a young wine. We only take the first 500 litres per tonne of free-run juice, which we then fine and rack clean, prior to fermentation with an aromatic yeast (QA23). We find this process delivers our targeted level of purity and precision, in combination with bold and exotic aromatics. With a pH of 2.94, a TA of 7.3 g/L and a residual sugar of 4 g/L, chemistry is close to the previous two vintages, though alcohol sits slightly higher on 11.8% (versus 11.3% in 2018), reflecting the warmer season.


The 2019 Rosé is our first single vineyard release, produced exclusively from Cabernet Sauvignon grown at Phillip Williams’ Wallaroo vineyard in Hall. Skin contact was around 24 hours and pressed juice was fined and settled prior to fermentation with aromatic yeast (QA23). The warm seasons favour the use of Cabernet Sauvignon as a desirable Rosé grape; we can pick relatively early – but avoid undesirable tomato leaf and capsicum flavours. The variety’s inherently modest acidity also facilitates the drier, savoury, style we aim to deliver year to year.


The middle child in a family of three great Hunter vintages, 2018 is the closest we have come to the dizzying heights of the benchmark 2014 season. With the 2018 Rare Game Shiraz boasting very similar levels of fruit purity, natural acidity and subsequent freshness to bottle – I feel the narrative of the season was only slightly muddied by the extremely hot conditions experienced throughout ripening. Sure, we were spared the horrific three days of temperatures over 46 degrees of the vintage prior but, nevertheless, the days were relentlessly long and hot. Ripening was somewhat staggered, with the vines instinctively oscillating between sugar accumulation (photosynthesis) and water retention (shutting down). The positive spin off was a slightly longer ripening period and, at ripeness, the fruit boasted fabulous natural balance and condition.

Working with Shiraz from terroirs like the Somerset (1970) and Tinkler’s (ex-Lindemans 1948) vineyards, in an exceptional season like 2018, meant I was free to indulge my passion for what I believe to be the most natural and long-lived style of Shiraz from this region – ‘Hunter Burgundy.’ I felt the same kind of excitement and creativity as I did in 2014 and set about crafting a style of Hunter Shiraz that, while modern by nature, offers more than a nod to the benchmark Hunter wines of the past.

Taking fruit early is integral to this pursuit (ideally below 13.5 baumé), as is fermentation in open tanks. Running these ferments at higher temperatures is as important to the style as the selection of which French oak the wine matures in. After years of experimentation, the only new oak our Hunter Shiraz sees is tight grained puncheons, exclusively from the St. Martin cooperage. In the case of the 2018 Rare Game Shiraz blend, this was 30% new and maturation was over 16 months.


Our other flagship red is a blend of the best parcels of Canberra Shiraz to come through the winery doors. The goal is to craft a distinctly regional expression of Shiraz – one that presents on the palate with understated, yet powerful, shapes and tones. 2018 vintage highlights came from Phillip Williams’ Wallaroo and Four Winds vineyards. For each parcel, a combination of crushed fruit and whole-berries were cold-soaked for 2 days, prior to warm fermentations, which we allowed to initiate naturally, before over-seeding with M2 yeast. Maturation then took place over 16 months in (37% new) French oak puncheons prior to blending.

I believe there is a confidence evident in the complexity, plushness and poise of the 2018 Marksman’s Shiraz . It’s a confidence which speaks of outstanding vineyards situated in one of the country’s most exciting regions, delivering on the promise of another high-quality season.


A little over a year ago, we embarked on a most exciting project in our beautiful Gundaroo vineyard. We began changing the four thousand, 24-year-old vines from a mixture of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon fruit to Riesling. We have had so much success with Matt’s recent versions of one of the Canberra District’s hero wines that we wanted to secure a regular future supply of this delicious grape.

Grafting the tiny Riesling buds onto the gnarled, older vine trunks, at the optimum growing stage, is a delicate task, performed by a travelling team of expert grafters in record time. The after-service is much longer, and requires constant and diligent attention, from the appearance of the first fluffy miniature leaves, to the stage where the first canes require strapping up and directing to their new life positions on the trellis structure.  It is this demand for constant vineyard attention that led us to spread the grafting programme over two vintages.  

In early December 2018 we grafted the Chardonnay block in perfect conditions that provided us with a 98% strike rate. Now these vines, although only half their ultimate foliar size, have produced some fabulous looking tight little bunches of Riesling fruit. With good ripening conditions over the next six to eight weeks we may well have a crop of fruit to deliver to the winery.

The remaining batch of grafts was undertaken in December 2019, but struck harsher conditions, with record hot days, and no rainfall, so it is sprouting more slowly and less vigorously than the previous year. Nonetheless the sight of the increasing greening of the previously bare vineyard is hugely gratifying and promises the taste of outstanding, fruity, dry and generous Gundog Estate Riesling!

Our diligent neighbours who have been accurately recording rainfall for the last thirty years recently gave us their stats for the year 2019. Clearly, we weren’t getting enough rainfall during the year, especially during the winter months when it is important for the grapes, and our dam has been completely empty for some time. It seems 2019(432mm) wasn’t the worst on record. That occurred in 2006(373mm), coincidently, the year we purchased this vineyard! The average rainfall over the last 30 years is 681mm per annum.

For the past couple of days, I have watched storms form on the horizon, tease us with a little thunder and lightning, and then move away from the valley to deposit their precious contents elsewhere.  The Weather Bureau is heroically forecasting significant rainfall for us over the next few day and I am quietly hopeful!

I’m mostly looking forward to smelling petrichor, the word used to describe that delicious, typically hot, summer day smell that we experience when falling rainfall makes contact with the ground. As a small boy, standing barefoot on a hot surface, be it a tarmac road or school playground, whilst an afternoon summer storm broke overhead, I loved that exotic aromatic experience, both cooling and oily, and I can still recall that precise heady smell of summer.

Like many smells that enter our personal space as we move about, or as the environment changes around us, it becomes instantly stored in our sensory memory and immediately assessed as pleasing or not.

Smell is the most emotional and evocative of our senses, with the ability to bring back memories faster and with more immediacy than a photograph. The smells of a garden, a particular flower or herb, the scent of a lover, the nose of a great red wine can all be recalled instantly and accurately, while ways of describing these aromas remains particularly difficult.  The Red Wine aroma wheel for instance has 150 suggested smell descriptors attached to that complex beverage that are also linked to the taste and mouthfeel of the wine once you take a sip. Smell is critical to taste; food and wine professionals most fear a loss, or a deterioration, of their sense of smell as the greatest risk to their professional skills.

The power of aroma, it’s influence on our taste in both food and wine, and the interaction between them, has always fascinated me. I was, sadly, reminded of some of my earliest gastronomic experiences when I read of the death of Tony Bilson on January 23rd last.  

Often described as the “Godfather of Australian cuisine”, I think it would be more accurate to say he took traditional French food style, and techniques, and adapted them to Australian produce. I first met Tony and his partner Gay around 1972 in their tiny Sydney restaurant, Tony’s Bon Gout, at the Central Railway end of Elizabeth Street. There was always a menu of the day which depended on the availability of ingredients, most often some form of seafood I recall, and was always $9.50, BYO.

The thing about Tony was that he was incredibly well-read and had strongly formed opinions on all matters, not just with food but also wine, both new world and old. He knew more about wine, and its relationship with food, than any other person I have met and his enthusiasm continued all his life elevating his menus in all the great restaurants he operated, his last, of course, being the ill-fated 3-hatted BILSON’S at Radisson Blu in downtown Sydney.

Tony once said to me, by way of self-explanation, and before I had become totally engrossed in the world of wine, that “the purpose of fine food is to accompany great wines”. Years later I had not only realised the veracity of this statement but his courage, modesty and inclusiveness in saying it.

Tony loved cooking with wine and had his own set of rules which had to be followed. No cheap “cooking wines” or oxidised left-overs from the bottom of the bottle. “Never cook with wine you wouldn’t drink yourself”, he pronounced at one of his cooking classes I attended at the Sydney Fish Markets. “If wine is featured in the dish you are cooking then that should be the wine you drink with it’s eating”. If Tony’s recipes required wine, he specified the variety, and often its source.

One of the favoured books on the shelves of our vineyard kitchen is Tony Bilson’s Recipe Book, published in 1987 when Tony was running Kinsela’s Brasserie and Bilson’s at the Quay. It includes a couple of his favourite preparations, that he attempted to teach me at his cooking school: quenelles and mousselines. These delicious morsels, basically a poached mixture of pureed seafood served with a yabby coulis or a beure blanc were frequently on his menus: CLICK HERE FOR THE RECIPE
Served with a crisp Canberra District Riesling or a Petit Chablis from Burgundy life doesn’t get much better!

Bon apetit!
Geoff Burton


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101 McDonalds Rd Pokolbin NSW 2320 – Cellar Door Open 7 Days – 10am to 5pm
(02) 4998 6873 |

42 Cork St Gundaroo NSW 2620 – Cellar Door Open Thurs-Sun 11am to 5pm
(02) 6236 8276 |

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