The Mistletoe Story
When we are conducting tastings, whether it be in our cellar door or at any of the many various offsite promotions we participate in each year, the same question is invariably raised by a considerable number of consumers.
It is this!
Why, or how, did you come to be involved in the wine industry?
Our path to the Hunter Valley and the establishment of Mistletoe Wines is a story that can trace its beginnings back to 1954 when I was but 8 years old. I spent the first 9 years of my life growing up on my Grandfather’s farm at Wentworthville in the Western suburbs of Sydney.
This area saw the arrival of the first wave of post WWII migration from primarily Mediterranean countries. The classes I attended at the local school were truly international classes. There were kids there whose families had come to Australia from such far flung places as Malta, Greece, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and even France.
I can still recall vividly my first taste of wine.
My family were typical white Anglo Saxons; the men drank beer while the women had an occasional sherry. Wine, as was chicken in those days, was considered a luxury.
Through school, my sister and I became friends with some newly arrived Maltese kids, the Zarbs, who lived about 4 doors away from our home. On Christmas Eve 1954 the Zarb family invited our family to their home for pre Christmas drinks and some food. Mr. Zarb offered my mother a glass of wine. I was curious about this and asked what it was. As it was the Maltese custom to allow the kids to taste a little wine I received the same treat. And what a treat it was! My mother enquired as to what we had been given to drink and the bottle was produced. The wine was Woodley’s Est.
Walter James in his book, Wine in Australia, first published in 1952, writes about this wine saying…
“A light sweet wine made from the Muscat grape.The baumé is about five degrees and the strength never over 25 degrees proof; a sort of sauternes with a Muscat overtone”
From my memory of that wine,and subsequent research,I believe it to be very similar in style to our Mistletoe Petite Muscat which is based on the French style Muscat Beaumes de Venise.
In high school I became very friendly with a couple of Italian brothers of my own age. They lived on a farm not far from the school and it wasn’t long until I was invited to visit. What a revelation! In our house the diet was typically Australian, 3 vegetables, meat of some sort, and lumpy gravy-sorry Mum!
At my friends home I was confronted with foods the likes of which I had never seen before. Salamis, odd looking misshapen loaves of bread that tasted fantastic, platters of spaghetti served with home made sugo, giardiniera, olives, preserved fish and of course, wine. Not just any wine, but wine and Grappa, made by my friends’ Dad.
The conviviality of their family and their obvious enjoyment of food and wine struck a sympathetic chord with me that lingers to this very day.
It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I realised the effect these early encounters were to have on me. All my mates were into beer but by this time I had become intrigued by wine and started to drink, appreciate and collect it.
My first trip to the Hunter was in 1965.
I had been encouraged to visit by the writings of Len Evans, and Johnnie Walker of the Angus Steak cave. I started to cook seriously about the same time subscribing to the Epicurean and following the antics of “The Galloping Gourmets “ Len Evans and Graham Kerr.
Max Lake, his writings and his wine also played a part in my interest in wine and vineyards. I also met Murray Tyrrell on that first Hunter trip and Jim Roberts of Belbourie.
The seed was sown and wine from that day became a quest for me. Through Johnnie Walker I started to bring wine in bulk from Kay Bros. in McLaren Vale and held numerous bottling parties throughout the sixties and seventies.
In the mid seventies, together with a close friend Michael Watt who lived in nearby Kenthurst, we started to buy grapes from the Hunter to make wine. The grapes we purchased came from Remo’s vineyard on Allandale Road; it is now known as Adina.
Our winery was an annexe to Michael’s egg production farm at the rear of his home. We usually crushed about 12 – 15 tonne each year and at the 1978 Mudgee Wine Show our wines were awarded 3 bronze medals. One each for a Shiraz, a Cabernet and a Cabernet Shiraz blend.
My wife Gwen and I did flirt with the idea of buying a property in the Hunter in the 1970’s but, with 3 small children and a new home, the security aspect prevailed.
The early 1980’s saw us working to establish a new business in Gosford,but by 1987 we were back to the Hunter on a regular basis. We commenced looking around and eventually bought our Hermitage Road property in 1989.
Since then it has been a wonderful journey. A lot of hard work tempered with a lot of happiness.
We thoroughly enjoy the area,the change of seasons, and the fellowship,and friendship, of the many people we have come to know.
The successes we have enjoyed are very satisfying, are very much appreciated, and are not taken for granted.
Ken and Gwen Sloan
POSTSCRIPT 2018 : Ken and Gwen have just returned from a 6 week trip to Italy with Ken’s old schoolmates