Smoking Ceremony Embraces Hunter Harvest

Hunter Valley Wine Tourism Association held a Hunter Valley Vintage Smoking Ceremony at Audrey Wilkinson vineyard in 2023.  It was the first Vintage Smoking Ceremony in Australia.  Since then the concept has taken off and wine regions across Australia have now introduced the practice.

Last week the 2024 vintage received this traditional blessing with the ceremony conducted by Wonnarua Elder Warren Taggart at Tyrrells Wines.

Tyrrells Wines CEO and president of the Hunter Valley Wine Tourism Association Chris Tyrrell was delighted to host the ceremony attended by local wine producers and grape growers.

While it is a little early to forecast the 2024 harvest, Chris said he feels like quantity will be down this year.

“The vines seem a little light, I would think maybe 30 per cent down but it is early days yet,” Chris told The Hunter River Times.

All eyes are on the skies now as they are on the vines themselves with producers playing a wait and see game before bringing in the full 2024 harvest.

Ancient Rituals Meet Vintage Vines

By Nerrin Warr

At the heart of the Hunter Valley, Tyrrells Winery standing proudly on Wonnarua land, recently welcomed a 60,000-year-old timeless ceremony. Led by Wonnarua Elder Uncle Warren Taggart, the annual Hunter Valley Vintage Smoking Ceremony was a picturesque blend of ancient rituals and winemaking heritage.

This rite, deeply anchored in Aboriginal culture, was held to cleanse the land of negative energies and bless the 2024 vintage with abundance.

The ceremony, initiated by Chris Tyrrell, CEO of Tyrrells Wines and President of the Hunter Valley Wine Tourism Association, was attended by over 100 people, including local winemakers, business leaders, members of Cessnock Council, and representatives from Hunter Valley Wine Tourism.

In a two-part ritual, Eucalyptus leaves were smouldered in a Coolamon, a traditional shallow vessel, to create smoke believed to cleanse and ward off bad spirits. Participants first passed through this purifying smoke for spiritual and environmental cleansing. Then, Uncle Warren blessed the vineyard, walking among the vines with the smoke, symbolising the infusion of energy and prosperity for the upcoming 2024 harvest.

Amid the majestic Brokenback Range, both Uncle Warren and Chris Tyrrell played pivotal roles in the ceremony, each highlighting different aspects of its significance.

Uncle Warren emphasised the cultural richness of the ranges, home to more than 200 Aboriginal sites. His insights offered a window into the profound ancestral connections of the land.

Chris Tyrrell, complementing Uncle Warren’s perspective, focused on the educational aspect of the ceremony. He expressed a genuine desire to delve deeper into the land’s history, viewing the ceremony as an ongoing journey of discovery and understanding.

The Hunter Valley Vintage Smoking Ceremony, initiated by James Agnew in 2023, was held for the first time in Australia at the Audrey Wilkinson vineyard in Pokolbin. Local winemakers, in collaboration with the Hunter Valley Tourism Association, are dedicated to making this an annual event. The ceremony will rotate among different Hunter Valley vineyards each year. This ongoing commitment reflects a shared desire to honour Aboriginal traditions and promote collective responsibility for the land and to celebrate future harvests and their abundance.