The Outer Limits: Broke Fordwich

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Broke Fordwich. I don’t even know what to ask. Is it an animal, a vegetable, or a mineral? Is it a person, a place or a thing? God forbid it should ever show up on a wine exam, and yet there it is, staring at me from page 243 of the CSW Study Guide. Damn.

Before we go any further, here is the truth: Broke Fordwich is a place. It’s a wine region in Australia; actually, it is a subregion of the Hunter Valley Zone (and the Hunter Region) in New South Wales. The name is derived from two small towns: Broke (population 636) and Fordwich (just to the north of Broke, and apparently with an even smaller population).

Despite its homespun name, Broke Fordwich is not to be shunned as a wine region. It is a bit off-the-beaten-path, but in Winespeak we often refer to that as “authentic” or “less touristy.” The area itself uses the phrase “the tranquil side of the Hunter Valley.”

As for the location, it is important to first remember that Australian Geographical Indications range from largest to smallest as follows: State > Zone > Region > Subregion. Following along, we can find the Broke Fordwich Subregion within the State of New South Wales, the Hunter Valley Zone, and the Hunter Region (simplified as such: New South Wales > Hunter Valley > Hunter > Broke Fordwich.) The Hunter Region has two other Subregions, Pokolbin and the Upper Hunter Valley.

Photo of the Yellow Rock Escarpment by Sardaka, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of the Yellow Rock Escarpment by Sardaka, via Wikimedia Commons

The website of Broke Fordwich (which is quite nice, and will make you want to plan a visit right now) describes the area’s location as “in the southwest corner of the mid Hunter Valley”. The area is quite beautiful, surrounded as it is by the Brokenback Mountain Range (part of the Great Dividing Range and NOT to be confused with Brokeback Mountain, which was supposedly in Wyoming). Local scenery includes views of Yellow Rock (a gorgeous escarpment) and the Wollemi Foothills.

The Broke Fordwich Subregion is tucked between the Upper Hunter Valley to the northwest and Pokolbin to the east. It geographic boundaries follow the catchment of Wollombi Brook (a tributary of the Hunter River), which flows from its source in the Brokenback Mountains/Great Dividing Range north through the towns of Broke and Fordwich.

Broke Fordwich became an official Geographical Indication in 1997. The basis for the boundaries include its unique soil, the climate-calming effects of the Wollombi Brook, and the rain shadow provided by the Brokenback Mountain Range which hugs (and partially encircles) the area to the west and south.

The Fordwich Sill, a stretch of red weathered volcanic clay running through the area, is one of the unique soil features of Broke Fordwich. This basalt- and iron-rich soil absorbs moisture quickly and releases it slowly; an excellent feature for this dry area that sits at a balmy 32.5 degrees south latitude. The red soils of the Fordwich Sill are ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and tend to produce grapes that are made into rich, soft-style wines. Other soils in the area include free-draining alluvial soils (heavy on the sand), which is widely planted to the area’s well-known Semillon and other white grapes.

Map of New South Wales via Wine Australia

Map of New South Wales via Wine Australia

Broke Fordwich is responsible for about 14% of the total wine production of the Hunter Valley Zone. Not surprisingly, the most widely planted grape of the area – responsible for at least 30% of vineyard acreage – is Semillon. Semillon is followed by Shiraz, Verdelho, Chardonnay, and Merlot. A smattering of other grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, and Pinot Noir, among others, are also grown.

About that name: The town of Broke was founded in 1830 by Major Thomas Mitchell. Mitchell named the town in honor of his fellow Napoleonic War Veteran, Sir Charles Broke-Vere.

Confusion Corner: The terms “Hunter” and “Hunter Valley” are often used somewhat interchangeably, although technically the Hunter Valley is the larger zone which encompasses the Hunter Region. No one quite knows why the original decision was made to refer to the zone as “Hunter Valley” and the smaller region as “Hunter,” and it might not really matter: there’s very little difference between the outline of the Hunter Region and the only slightly larger Hunter Valley Zone. The region just shaves a little bit off of the edges on the western and northern boundaries, and excludes the area around the city of Newcastle on the coast.

References/for further information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

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