Ultimate Winery Experiences Australia

Meet the characters: James Agnew, Audrey Wilkinson

How James Agnew went from being a suited Sydney lawyer to running a historic, rural winery is quite a story. On one of many trips to help out at his father’s thoroughbred stud farm in the Upper Hunter region of New South Wales, a few hours north of Sydney, James and his siblings were given a cryptic request.

“Dad said, ‘I want you to go somewhere for me. It’s this place called Audrey Wilkinson. Give me a call when you arrive’.” With vineyards stretching all around them, they did as he’d asked. Brian Agnew answered the phone and told them, “I’m thinking of buying it.”

That was 16 years ago. Despite “knowing nothing about the wine industry”, the Agnew family has developed a place where proposals of marriage are frequent, cellar sessions are coveted and the property’s rich history is celebrated.

“It turns out Audrey Wilkinson was a man,” says James. Audrey took over aged 15, after his father died. He went on to create new technologies and win revered awards for his winemaking. The Agnews have reinstated on-site winemaking for first time since Audrey’s era, and installed a museum sharing the Wilkinson history, including a family album they unearthed dated 1902–1919.

While the Picnic Among the Vines is the lovers’ pick, the Behind the Scenes Winery Tour is special. Hosted by James – a qualified wine educator – or the Chief Winemaker, guests venture into the barrel room for wine thief tastings (the coveted experience of sampling wine straight from the barrel, as it’s developing). “You can hear the fizz of ferment and the smell is this enveloping, rich, oaky aroma,” says James. “We have a library of ageing wines, so we dig deep and look at stuff that we may not even have enough of to sell, but we can try them on site.”