To Sydneysiders, the words 'winery tour' conjure images of the Hunter Valley. Tastings of deliciously buttery but sadly overpriced chardonnays, served at crowded, touristy cellar doors. TCP Winery Tours has opened my eyes to a burgeoning region much closer to home. The Sydney Basin wineries don't come with the polish of our Hunter Valley neighbors, but nor do they come with the price tag.
The highlight of the tour was undoubtedly the first stop - Vicary's Winery in Luddenham. I imagine a family with kids could happily settle in and spend the whole day there. Parents can indulge in tasting an outstanding range of wines, while kids ride miniature trains, modelled on Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.
Our next stop was the Fussy Grape. Located in a new brick building, right next to the highway, this one isn't much to look at from the outside. But of course, our ever-knowledgeable tour guide hadn't led us astray. Inside, we found top quality reds, for a cheap and cheerful price that belied their standard - all served with a smile by our friendly wine maker, who was happy to answer questions on any and every topic.
Lunch at family-friendly Trattoria La Vigna was pretty standard Italian fare. Pizzas, pastas, risottos and the like. Prices here were pushing the friendship, but serving sizes were generous. Best of all, after lunch we got to enjoy a tasting of wines from the restaurant's partner winery, served by a friendly and knowledgeable waitress.
After lunch we strayed a bit from the traditional winery tour activities. Ever seeking a bargain for her customers, our guide took us to a locally-famous cleanskin warehouse, where all manner of fermented-grape beverages are sold by the flagon. Quality is hit-and-miss at best, but you're protected by the fact that everything is open for tasting. Guests serve themselves from rows and rows of bottles, into thimble-sized plastic cups.
We finished the day at a fresh fig wholesaler, where one could purchase any number of fig-related products, including fresh figs covered in chocolate. Delicious.
If you're new to the world of wine tasting, this is definitely the tour for you. Prices are reasonable, no-one stands on ceremony, and there's a wide variety of styles to try.
As with all TCP tours, Nyla is a friendly and knowledgeable tour guide, who will be flexible around your preferences, can fill you in on all the local knowledge, and doesn't mind a bit that she's the designated driver while her passengers get progressively tipsier.