Hunter Valley surely needs no introduction. For years now it has been one of the major holiday destinations around Sydney. As lonely planet
puts it, it's "one big gorge fest: fine wine, boutique beer, chocolate, cheese, olives, you name it
..." However, therein lies the problem too. With such a destination, there are just too many options of vineyards to visit, wines to taste, holiday houses to stay at. All of them more beautiful and elegant than the previous ones. Where do we begin?
Which vineyard in Hunter Valley to visit? (Photo by Eko Julianto)
We happened to begin at Hanging Tree Wines
when we last visited Hunter Valley. The first thing that attracted us to this place was its famous old-world charm. Every website that lists them would mention their antique cellar-door and rustic cottages around it, so we felt that we had to go see for ourselves. We thought that if we didn't like the wines, at least we'd have gotten ourselves plenty of photo opportunities (judging from the amazing photos I saw when googling "Hanging Tree Wines weddings"). And lucky for us, it's recently reopened after a short spell of inactivity due to change of ownership.
We duly drove north on M1 Pacific Motorway from Sydney one autumn morning and two hours later found ourselves travelling on the country road in Pokolbin area just outside Cessnock. Luckily the unsealed road did not go for very far before we saw their sign and turned into their driveway. Near the parking area, their namesake, the "Hanging Tree", stands tall–a bit too tall for hanging purposes, I thought. Perhaps it's grown since it was supposedly used to hang slaughtered animals (and bushrangers?) by the first settlers in the area.
In the view department, Hanging Tree Wines certainly does not disappoint. The property itself is located on a ridge, allowing uninterrupted view of the Brokenback Mountain Range (not to be confused with the Brokeback Mountain
). And to supplement that, all the claims about rustic surroundings happen to be true too.
The cellar door itself is a converted cow shed, filled with antique furniture and bric-a-brac including an old piano (sadly out of tune), dark wood floor, an antique-looking chandelier (not an expert here, so don't ask about what period etc), old-fashioned sofas, ancient wine bottles, drinking paraphernalia, and other old-timey items that might or might not be related to wines. Unlike other cellar doors where you generally just stand at the counter and taste the wines on offer, here you want to walk around the room, look at everything displayed, and imagine how long ago a particular item might have been in use.
Outside, we visited all those locations we saw on the wedding photos. On the bridge, in front of the homestead ruin, sitting on one of the antique seats laying around, in front of the horse whispering lodge (sans horse whisperer), by the pond. The rose garden is unfortunately overrun with weeds and restoring it is certainly going to be another homework for the new owner.
A gazillion photos later, we were ready to taste the wines while the kids occupied themselves with the friendly resident labrador named Vodka. I read somewhere that Hunter Valley is most famous for its Semillon
, however I found that I like their Verdelho and Chardonnay better. Each to their own? If there's one thing most visitors to the Hanging Tree Wines seem to agree though, it's that their Sparkling Moscato is certainly a hit. It's one of their best sellers and I'm not surprised. It's bubbly, sweetish, pinkish, and yummy. Not expert words in describing a wine, but hey, I'm just a lay person here. Their aged Reserve Shiraz is supposedly excellent too, but I'm not a good enough wine connoisseur to justify spending $50 or more on a bottle of wine, so I passed.
Chatting away with the owner, we found out that they have a plan to restart the homestead business too. Apparently it used to be one of the most popular wedding venues in the Hunter Valley area. However, after taking over, they haven't touched that side of the business. I certainly can understand the appeal of the location: the view, the wide open spaces, the lawn spreading down from the verandah of the homestead straight into the vineyard. And after the reception, the wedding couple could just step into the homestead (not that old in reality but purpose-built and furnished to exude old world atmosphere), straight into their honeymoon suite to wind down with a couple of glasses of fortified wine perhaps, no more costume changing or travelling required.
Well, it's too late for us. We had signed our lives away already a long time ago, with two little monsters as evidence. Sigh. But we were reassured that when there are no weddings, the homestead would be open for booking just like any holiday house. We probably wouldn't be able to afford it. Yet with four bedrooms in the homestead, perhaps I could convince someone to share the cost? Anyone?