Denman had strong agricultural beginnings; Sheep and cattle grazing were prominent activities in the settlement of Merton but drought conditions in the mid 1830s led many graziers, including Edward and Frederick Ogilvie away from the district in search of greener pastures. Dairying began in the 1890s and was well established by the early 1900s, peaking in the 1950s and 60s.
During recent years the traditional dairy and hay industries once prevalent in Denman have taken a back seat to coal mining and viticulture. (Muswellbrook Shire Council)
In 2003-04 almost 4,500 hectares of grapevines were planted in the Hunter Valley producing 28,000 tonnes of grapes. Regional wine sales totalled almost $203 million in the same period, of which $38 million were from export. The wine industry and tourism industry that complements it are significant contributors to the regional economy (HEDC, 2004). While the bulk of the wine industry is centred around the lower Hunter Valley near Cessnock, the industry has successfully expanded to other parts of the Hunter further up the valley.
Two Rivers Vineyard is so named because it sits at the confluence of the Hunter and Goulburn Rivers. Brett Keeping is the owner of Two Rivers and has been part of the Hunter's viticulture industry for the past 20 years.
The Hunter River is a critical resource for the vineyard as it provides water for irrigating the vines, but it also enhances the amenity of the vineyard and provides a great backdrop for gatherings and functions.
Brett understands this and has been working to look after the property's Hunter River frontage, planting hundreds of native trees to help stabilise the riverbanks and clearing weeds, including the damaging willows.
Willows were planted extensively in the Hunter Valley following the disastrous 1955 flood to stabilise the heavily eroded riverbanks that had been cleared of vegetation since European settlement. Unfortunately the willows introduced a whole other series of impacts. Being a deciduous tree they drop large volumes of leaves into the river, they are susceptible to borers and other grubs and branches break off easily, causing new trees to sprout up.
Brett recalls when Two Rivers Wines was first established some 20 years ago, the river was in much better shape. The water was cleaner and there were a lot of different types of fish. Much has changed in just two decades and the presence of European carp and muddier water are just two indicators of this. While the Hunter River provides one of the most secure water resources in the state, water quality is equally important, particularly when it is being used to irrigate sensitive grapevines.
Brett spoke to ABC reporter Phil Ashley-Brown in 2003 about what the Hunter River means for Two Rivers Wines. (interview)