Ballabourneen (pronounced Balla-bour-neen) is a Gaelic name that refers to a town road, as close as we can work out. The original Ballabourneen vineyards were on a property close by The Old North Road of convict built fame, which when subdivided, was simply called "The Ballabourneen".
The winemaker and a very important bloke
Alex Stuart, born in Sydney in 1944 of Scottish and Welsh stock, and Daniel Binet, born in Vanuatu in 1979 of French parents, have taken very different paths to get to the same place — wine guru Len Evan’s former Hunter Valley property, now known as Ballabourneen.
Alex’s great-grandfather, William Stuart, a Scottish stonemason, migrated to Australia in the early 1880s and set up Stuart Bros Pty Ltd, a building company whose credits include Sydney’s Luna Park, Australia’s Wonderland and a considerable chunk of Darling Harbour.
For more than 90 years, the company worked closely with the Fairfax family in Sydney, doing a lot of work on The Sydney Morning Herald’s old downtown headquarters (now the Radisson Renaissance Hotel), building their Broadway conglomerate in 1955, and also constructing the Channel 7 studios at Epping. Alex notes that the Broadway project was signed off on the basis of a three-paragraph letter from Rupert Henderson.
Alex’s maternal grandfather, Welshman Philip Bevan, started McPhersons Hardware and supplied most of the rivets for building the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
When Stuart Bros went public in 2003, Alex “retired” and moved, with his wife Di, to the Hunter Valley, where in 1994 he had established a small vineyard on the corner of Talga Road and The Ballabourneen (Irish for “the town road”), in the district’s Lovedale area. He called his venture Ballabourneen and had his wines made at nearby Capercallie, then owned by the late Alasdair Sutherland.
That’s where he met Daniel Binet, an exciting young winemaker who had a major hand in crafting wines such as Ballabourneen’s 2003 The Stuart Chardonnay, which was awarded the Murray Tyrrell Trophy for Best Chardonnay of show at the 2004 Hunter Valley Wine Show.
Daniel had finished secondary school in Australia and then made an almost obligatory excursion to Europe to explore his French origins. He also fell in love with wine and on his return to Australia enrolled to study oenology.
In 2008, after six years with Capercaillie, Daniel wanted to spread his wings and establish his own brand. He knew Alex Stuart had put the Ballabourneen operation into a holding pattern a couple of years earlier and approached him to see if he could use the label.
Ultimately, they did one better. They decided to relaunch Ballabourneen as a joint venture, buying grapes from the Hunter Valley’s best sources, making their wine at Tatler’s Lovedale Road facility, and leasing the old Evans Family Wines property for their cellar door... at 2347 Broke Road, right on the Hunter’s main artery.
Ballabourneen is now recognized as a five star winery and has been awarded a “dark horse” winery to watch.