If your idea of a wine tasting is a room full of highbrow wine connoisseurs boring you with tales to demonstrate how much they know about wine then the Next Generation Hunter Valley, Caravan of Courage Pop Up Wine Bar may be just the thing to change your outlook. The pop-up wine bar is a grape guerilla offensive from David Hook (David Hook Wines), Andrew Thomas (Thomas Wines), Rhys Eather (Meerea Park Wines), Nick Paterson (Mistletoe Wines), Mike De Iuliis (De Iuliis Wines), and Andrew Margan (Margan). These six Hunter Valley winemakers are putting the wow into wine-tasting with their travelling wine show and their wines certainly pack a tasty punch.
The boys are steadily making their way down the east coast with stops in Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. I was lucky enough to attend the first of this year's pop-ups in Brisbane with my husband, Comedy Relief, and can give you an insider's view of what to expect in your city.
A mixed crowd of about 180 people invaded the urban chic of Loft West End on Friday 3 May. Upon entry we received a friendly greeting and were given our tasting glass, an information booklet with room for tasting notes, and a $10 discount card for wine orders of six bottles or more with your favourite winemaker made on the night.
It was a relaxed, casual, friendly, albeit a little crowded, evening with a happy vibe. Wine novices mixed it with oenophiles and those with an amateur interest in wines. Tables from each of the six wineries were laid out around the room and a central table tempted patrons with an array of delectable cheeses from Binnorie Dairy. We were free to follow our noses and tastebuds on a journey of wine discovery, with each winery offering two whites and two reds for tasting.
They may not be big but these Hunter Vallery wineries have well-founded reputations for producing excellent, award-winning wines. There's nothing pretentious about these blokes or their wines. It's all about the quality, so there's no need for in-your-face, look-at-me marketing. Instead the wines and the winemakers speak for themselves as you make your way around their tables. There are opportunities aplenty for chatting with the winemakers about varieties, vintages, history and interesting wine names e.g. De Iuliis LDR Vineyard Shiraz is so named for Lovedale Road, the region of the Lower Hunter Valley where Mike De Iuliis' parents first planted grapes.
Comedy Relief and I shared our tasting so we could sample as many wines as possible, and it was a good strategy. I am no dedicated wine connoisseur but I have to say that while I preferred some wines to others, there was not a single wine that I did not enjoy. Wines ranged in price from $18 to $75, which is typical for wines of this quality and varieties included Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz.
It was obvious that other patrons were enjoying the evening. I spoke to a group of work friends who share an interest in wine and were glad they had come to taste the solid wines on offer. Brendan singled out De Iuliis, the Italian style blends of David Hook, and Margan Wines' Chardonnay for particular praise.
Happy wine drinkers. From Left: Kelly, Rachel, Brendan, Rikki and Michael.
The only downside at our event were a couple of inveterate wine spitters who always seemed to be at whatever table we were at throughout the evening, happily emptying the contents of their mouths into the receptacles provided. Okay, I know it's the done thing, but amongst a big, close crowd a little more discretion would be appreciated.
I recommend you get along to the Caravan of Courage in your city. If you can't make it to the pop-up wine bars then check out the wineries on their clickable links above.