The history of the Geoff Merrill Mount Hurtle winemaking operations begins over 100 years ago when the site was built by a young Englishman, Mostyn Owen, who purchased 200 acres of prime Reynella hillside and built a winery in 1897. Set in the Hurtle Vale Ward just behind Reynella (Hurtle Vale was named after Sir James Hurtle Fisher, the first Mayor of Adelaide). Of these 200 acres, 150 were planted with vines. Mostyn Owen ran the winery and vineyards until he passed away in the mid 1940s. Mount Hurtle was innovative for its time, using the principles of gravity to feed wine throughout the cellars. Because of this the building is now state heritage listed.
Geoff Merrill was raised on a sheep station in the far north of South Australia until he was 11 years old. The Merrill family then moved to the Barossa Valley where Geoff's first links with the wine industry were formed. His formal education was gained at local Barossa Valley Schools and the Institute of Technology in Adelaide.
From 1970 to 1973 Geoff undertook a winemaking traineeship at B Seppelt & Son. A position as Experimental Winemaker with Stellenbosch Farmers Winery lured him to South Africa for a year in 1974, after which he travelled through Europe. By the end of 1975 Geoff was back in Australia and had joined Chateau Reynella as Assistant Winemaker. In 1977 he was promoted to Senior Winemaker, a position he held until 1985. Whilst working a Chateau Reynella Geoff also managed to find the time to make wines under his own Geoff Merrill label. These were first released in 1983 with the 1980 Cabernet and 1981 Semillon.
Geoff Merrill established Stratmer Vineyards in 1980. It is under this company that the Geoff Merrill, Owens Estate and Mount Hurtle wines are made. During the company's establishing years the Geoff Merrill Wines were made at various locations, including Chateau Reynella, Pirramimma (McLaren Vale) and Peter Lehmann Wines (Barossa Valley).
Great wine is a matter of balance, Geoff Merrill's passion for subtle, elegant and harmonious flavours in wine, is well documented. The individual growing conditions of each site affords the unique opportunity of being able to blend wines highlighting the best of what each region has to offer. In 1984, Geoff Merrill built a modern processing plant at McLaren Flat in a joint venture with winemaker, Goe DiFabio. In 1992 Alister Purbrick, of Chateau Tahbilk, took on a 50% stake in Stratmer Vineyards which he retained until 2005. Geoff is now the sole owner.
When Thomas Hardy & Sons purchased Chateau Reynella in 1982 Geoff stayed on, continuing to make the Chateau Reynella wines. By 1985 he had become a Consultant Winemaker for Hardy and Chateau Reynella's red wines. At the same time he was on the lookout for a winery where he could base his own operations. He found the beautiful, but run-down, Mount Hurtle Winery in 1985, a derelict building, run down and dilapidated, it had been used as a stable for many years. It required two years of love, hard work and a special vision by Geoff and his supporters to restore the winery to its former glory. Today, Mount Hurtle Winery is an oasis among suburbia. Nestled in four acres of vineyards and landscaped gardens.
Since 1988 Geoff has concentrated on the winery and his wines. He has continued to gain national and international recognition for his distinctive style of winemaking and his zest for life. While retaining an almost Tuscan charm, the original winery and the 1500 square metre barrel maturation cellar, completed in 1998, now perfectly copes with the rigors of modern day winemaking. A large family of geese and ducks also inhabit the winery grounds and dam near the front entrance to the estate.
Having gained a reputation as a maker of innovative and elegant wines Geoff has achieved significant success in both Australian and International wine shows. As a leading personality in the Australian wine industry, Geoff also established a high profile internationally, as a wine judge, and as a consultant in Italy making wines for the UK market.