Meet Nathan Heuston, Winemaker, Chardonnay Enthusiast, and Lover of Good Beer.

We were lucky enough to have a chat with Nathan from Hunter Wine Lab on Hermitage Road and hear about his remarkable journey to becoming a Wine Maker, growing his own grapes, AND brewing craft beer too!  There’s a popular saying in the industry, “it takes a lot of good beer to make great wine”, and that definitely resonates with Nathan, so with that in mind, put your feet up, pour yourself a glass of Chardonnay (or a stout) and enjoy our chat!

Why do you love making wine? 

I enjoy everything about the process, from growing the grapes right through to showing people the final wine that we have produced from the farm.  This is my third career change from being a Metallurgist and Occupational Therapist, to now growing grapes and making wine. I get to combine my learnings of therapy and science in producing wine!

For us this is about passion and lifestyle, whilst providing a product, experience and education to all our customers.  The experience our customers get at the cellar door is representing that boutique family-owned business, which is nothing like the experience you get in a bottle shop or mass production winery/brewery.  We operate out of a unique space that incorporates the cellar door into the winery, creating an immersive experience for visitors.

What is your personal favourite wine variety?

Chardonnay!  Chardonnay, unfortunately, has a poor reputation right around the world. I believe mass production has ruined the reputation of Chardonnay but that is another conversation! However, Chardonnay is now officially the most planted white grape variety in the world and finally overtook the Spanish Airen variety.

Chardonnay is also the most versatile white grape. It has very similar properties to red grapes so can be made in a similar style to a red wine, in particular it lends to Malolactic fermentation, a process that converts malic acid to lactic acid to reduce acidity, and create a softer, creamier texture in the wine.

We use Chardonnay in a variety of different ways and it’s present in quite a few of our wines. We enjoy blending Chardonnay with Semillon and have produced both a Sparkling wine and a still white wine using this blend. We have a few straight Chardonnays that are all produced using different techniques and oak profiles (a must try is the Hungarian Oak Chardonnay). We’re also experimenting this vintage (2024) with a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blend that we barrel fermented and put through malolactic fermentation. Look out for the release of that wine in late 2024.

How long have you been making Wine?

I first began drinking wine on a wine tour in the Hunter Valley at the beginning of 1994. That sparked my love of wine and the start of my journey.

I began offering to help people in wineries and cellar doors voluntarily in 2007, just to get some experience and exposure to the industry. I loved it and out of interest decided to study winemaking at Kurri Kurri Tafe in 2013.

I transitioned full time in the industry in 2016 when I took a role managing a boutique vineyard in Pokolbin.  In 2020 we took the plunge to do it ourselves and we established Hunter Wine Lab on Hermitage Road. Four vintages in, and while it’s a tough industry to be in, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

Where do you make wine?

All the wine we produce is made at our onsite winery on Hermitage Rd Pokolbin, where we also reside. Our cellar door is located on site, so visitor’s not only get to taste the wine, but they get to see where it’s made, how it’s made, and speak to the people who make it.  We are in the process of planting a 4-acre vineyard at the front of the property, so we grow, make, bottle, and pour all from our Hermitage Road location.

And if you’re wondering what we’re planting, Chardonnay of course, along with Barbera! I love Barbera (Italian red grape) and have always wanted to make one. But the fruit is hard to come by so we will need to grow it ourselves.

How are your methods different?

At the forefront of our mind is our philosophy of tradition meets innovation.

We focus on minimal intervention winemaking, meaning we aim to make wine that represents what is naturally occurring in a grape, that is flavour, tannin, acid, colour, aroma, sweetness etc, without adding anything artificial to achieve those characters.

We utilize naturally occurring yeasts (known as wild fermentation), but we also experiment with complimentary yeasts for the particular grape and wine style. This is where we truly combine science with art.

We avoid additions to our wine where possible, and focus on minimal fining, filtering, and racking. We don’t rush the process so often will extended the maturation of white wines and use cooling for natural settling and precipitation.  We love to experiment with the use of different oak barrels from France, America, and in particular Hungarian oak. We use different size formats of oak barrel from 225 litre barriques to 500 litre puncheons. We choose different levels of toasting, grain structures, and seasoning of our barrels, along with utilising different cooperages from around the world.

By concentrating as much of the process as possible to our location on Hermitage Road, we are in full control of the winemaking process. We love being able to make wine in a way that truly reflects who we are and enjoy a unique freedom in creating our wines and experimenting our way.

We also love sharing such a unique experience with visitors so to find out more come and visit us!