Taking you in and around Brisbane (and sometimes beyond)
Published June 5th 2014
Ready, Set, Sip
This is not a trip for those watching their waistlines, but is a particularly decadent experience for wine and foodies alike.
The stunning Hunter Valley, Australia's oldest wine region, has blossomed into a food and wine gourmet paradise.
Nestled in the beautiful beachside city of Newcastle, the aptly called Hunter Valley Wine Country, is one of Australia's most frequented wine regions. A simple two-hours drive north from Sydney this picturesque regions boasts a rich history and culture that is centred around a love of great food, terrific wine, and good fashioned service.
Attracting visitors from all over the globe, people are spilling into this old-world region on a search for regional wines, local produce, fresh country air and to experience the Australian country lifestyle.
The first vines in the Hunter Valley were planted by families in the 1820s, making the Hunter Valley the oldest wine region in Australia.
The Hunter Valley is famous for it's semillon, but also produces an amazing array of fine fruity grapes including shiraz, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and verdelho.
With over 150 wineries to choose from, here are my Top Six Must-Do's while in the Hunter:
1. Be selective with your visits
Unless you have a long holiday planned, I suggest you be strategic and well planned in your trip. After all 150 wineries, and many more food places and sights to see, you can not see them all. Also, beware, some Cellar Doors are not selling wines from the Hunter Valley Region.
We decided to limit our Cellar Door experiences to a) true Hunter wines, b) wineries that we have some experience or knowledge of their wine c) recommendations from our wine-friends.
You could also do some good research before you leave - and map out a decent plan ahead of time. I will give you my top picks in another post.
The staff in the Hunter Region have customer service skills that I have not seen for some time. They are genuinely nice, helpful, and keen for a chat. You are a guest visiting in their area of expertise, ask lots of questions, learn as much as you can and keep an open mind.
By getting to know the locals you open doors, get great recommendations on where to go for coffee, dinner, breakfast etc. We may have been invited to park our campervan in one of our favourite wineries overnight! (True Story!) We also came across this little gem (a recommendation from one of the staff at Tulloch Cellar Door): Simply D'Vine : a little garden centre in Cessnock that has a hidden cafe inside. It makes amazing coffee, and has AMAZING all-day breakfasts.
D'Vine Coffee and Cuisine
3. Try something different
My drink of choice is a white. Preferable something that isn't too sweet. So the thought of a Semillon was not high on my list of priorities. While some of the Semillons I tried were, indeed, too sweet for my palette, we got to try some aged semillon and it was to-die-for!
A recommendation here is Petersons Champagne House. While a little naughty because they actually produce Aussie Bubbles (they sell champagne in the restaurant), there bubbles did not disappoint, and we brought home some 1992 Semillon bubbles. YUM!
There are many ways to explore the beauty of the Hunter Valley. Here are a few to consider:
- Hire a car - book some lovely accommodation in the Hunter and drive around by day seeing and tasting all that is on offer. Just be mindful, that while the tasting are small in size, the volume will quickly add up if you are visiting multiple wineries. So a designated driver is essential.
- Book into a tour group. There are many businesses that offer a touring experience. That means you don't have to worry about the designated driver, or where to go. They will plan it all for you.
- Campervan fun - hire a campervan and drive around all day (mindful of how much you drink) and camp in a different place each night. You can book into holiday parks, or look for free parks such as MacNamara Park in Broke (right near Margan wines).
Here is the inside of our campervan: a really fun way to travel!
The Hunter is of course famous for it's stunning wines But there is much more to do on your Hunter getaway.
This place is a foodie haven. That's right they have lots of delicious olives, olive oils, chocolates, cheeses, pickles and other gourmet foods are on offer for sample. Drop into the Smelly Cheese Shop for some delicious nibbles.
There are also some terrific walks and country-side to admire. This place really is quite magically-special. And, very romantic to-boot. Have a look at The Great North Walk to see the sights by foot.
6. Take notes
I don't know about you, but after a few different wines, my palette (or brain) goes a little numb. And I have trouble remembering which, of the many, I preferred. So, take notes. Cellar doors will give you a price list or tasting list when you arrive, so scribble notes. Either comments, or a scoring system - based on taste and value for money. There are many wines and wineries to choose from, so this way, at the end of your day you will remember what tickled your tastebuds.
The Hunter Valley's main wineries are around Pokolbin, Broke, Cessnock and Wollombi Valley. Pokolbin is thought to be the centre of this magnificent wine country and the main location of tourist accommodation.
To get to Pokolbin - you head about 160km North of Sydney (roughly a 2 hour trip), or around 63km from Newcastle airport around one hour drive). And while you are on-route to your wine destination, why not drop into some of the quaint little towns, do some op-shopping, grab a pie, and do a little window shopping.
And, if you are still looking for something to do, park yourself in a secluded spot come sunset and do a little star gazing. It's pretty special.