There’s a point in the Hunter Valley Wine Country, as you take the dirt road up Pokolbin Mountain, where you can look back at the Valley in all its glory. Vines stretch to beyond the horizon and the view looks for all the world like a beautiful picture in a children’s fairytale book.
In spring, when tiny pinheads of grapes burst on the vines, it’s a scene that soothes the city-frazzled mind. Trees, with the first tinge of new-season leaves, sway gently in an occasional breeze, but otherwise there’s a stillness. People have stood here through the ages, yesterday and 1000 years ago, feeling the same way.
There’s a timeless feel to the Hunter Valley, and in the past two decades the Hunter Valley has grown-up. Sydney is just two hours away, and because of this the number of wineries and cellar doors, restaurants and places to stay has rocketed in recent times. The Hunter Valley has become Sydney’s number one playground.
There are about 120 wineries and cellar doors now and no other wine region in Australia comes even remotely close to this. Most of these are boutique operations, producing 500 tonnes or less. There are 70 restaurants and no less than 190 places to stay, ranging from backpacker hostels, pubs, cabins, B&Bs, cottages and hideaways to luxury five-star resorts and lodges. The log cabin pioneers who planted the first vines here in the 1820s would be amazed.
There are approximately 3500ha of vines in the Hunter today and an annual crush of 35,678 tonnes. Built on the solid foundations of semillion and shiraz, the wine range is expanding, with excellent Verdelho and Chardonnay and, more recently, Chambourcin, a variety that has had only a limited following to date. The wines reflect the temperate climate, healthy rains and fertile soils, which are set below the dramatic backdrop of the Brokenback Ranges.
It’s the cellar door experience, of course, that brings people to the Hunter. Part of the fun is discovering an excellent drop that you can’t buy just anywhere. And, with its myriad boutique producers, this is the Hunter’s ace card: there’s nothing like tasting a wine on the site where the wine was made and with the person who made it.
There’s also annual food, wine and music festivals, hot-air ballooning, major concerts, two cheese factories, championship golf courses, galleries, antiques and some spectacular gardens in the attractions that have sprung up in the past decade. And they’ve all helped imprint the Hunter Valley name into the public mind.
Getting around the wine region to the cellar doors and restaurants is easy and can be fun. Horse and carriage rides are popular, while walking tours can help reduce the worry of who’s over the legal limit!
Also available are daily minicoach tours, four-wheel drive mountain and indigenous heritage tours, horse riding, bicycle hire, sunrise champagne hot air balloon flights and tandem skydiving adventures.
To completely relax and enjoy the atmosphere of Hunter Valley Wine Country, visitors usually take two or three nights. Beyond the Valley and its wineries are opportunities to extend a Hunter Break well into a week or more.
Within an hour’s drive, you will find the art and craft village of Morpeth, the beaches, whales and dolphins (seasonal) at Port Stephens, the city hub of Newcastle, Australia’s largest coastal lake – Lake Macquarie, the open countryside and horse studs of the Upper Hunter, and the mountain and rainforests of The Watagan Mountains or Barrington Tops National Park.
Whether you are a first-time visitor or a veteran of the Hunter, a good starting point is the Visitor Information Centre at the entrance to Cessnock Airport. Here you will find helpful staff, the latest Wine Country Visitors Guide, maps of Hunter Valley Wine Country and brochures from the various wineries, accommodation houses, restaurants, events, tours and attractions.
Annual Major Events
LOVEDALE LONG LUNCH
This popular weekend of food, wine and music is each year in May. Music and art add to the total indulgence of the senses as you wine and dine your way along the Lovedale trail. Take all day or all weekend to linger in the beauty of our spectacular vineyards, taste our award winning wines and savour the best of Hunter cuisine. Serious Long Lunchers should perhaps heed the advice of previous survivors – skip breakfast! Contact: (02) 49 900 900.
BIMBADGEN BLUES (September each year) – at Bimbadgen Estate
Relax and enjoy the music in the outside amphitheatre of Bimbadgen estate. Previous artists have included Tim Finn, Kevin Borich and the Express with his tribute to John Lee Hooker, Chain, Mia Dyson, Ash Grunwald, Blue King Brown, The Badloves and Ian Moss. Ph 02 4998 7585.
OPERA IN THE VINEYARDS (2nd last Saturday each year) -– at Wyndham Estate
One of Australia’s hallmark arts events Opera in the Vineyards returns to the historic Wyndham Estate Winery each spring. Previous artists have included Australia’s most adored soprano Yvonne Kenny. A Food and Wine Fair kicks off proceedings from 2pm. Imagine enjoying a fine Hunter red and listening to the beautiful crescendo of a famous aria as it glides across the vineyards. For Further Info: 1800 675 875. Accommodation enquiries 02 4990 0900.
JAZZ IN THE VINES (last Saturday each year) – at Tyrrell’s Vineyards
Jazz in the Vines has been billed as Australia’s most significant outdoor Jazz Event by James Morrison, Australia’s own Jazz virtuoso. Features many of Australia’s top jazz acts, along with Hunter Valley Restaurants providing gourmet food and of course, Hunter Wineries selling wine by the bottle at this picnic style event. Previous artists include James Morrison, Don Burrows, Swing city Big Band, Glenn Shoorock, Mark Sholtez, Janet Seidel, Monica Trapaga, Su Cruikshank. Come prepared with picnic blankets, deck chairs, umbrellas or even your sun shade. NO BYO Alcohol and no marquees or tents. Tickets can be purchased on line at www.jazzinthevines.com.au or Call Event organiser – Sound Addiction on 02 4933 2439. Coach packages on 1800 201 012 or accommodation enquiries on 02 4990 0900.
Other Attractions and Adventures
Please refer to www.winecountry.com.au for a full list of contact details
Ø Regional Foods such as Olives, Stone Fruits, Table Grapes, Honey, Beef
Ø Hunter Valley Cheese Company, Binnorie Dairy and Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop
Ø Wine Schools
Ø Cooking Classes at renown Hunter Valley Restaurants
Ø Hot Air Ballooning
Ø Tours by horse and carriage, bike, mini-coach, 3-wheel trike, plane, helicopter, 4WD or limousine
Ø Championship Golf Courses
Ø Antiques, arts and craft
Ø Horse Riding
When is the Best Time?
Anytime of the year is ideal from a climatic perspective.
· Autumn (March, April, May) brings the warm golden colours and the richness of the annual harvest across the vineyards.
· Winter (June, July, August) mainly features mild sunny days and just the right sort of nights for open fires and romantic nights.
· Spring (September, October, November) sees fresh green returning to the vines and the energy of another vintage permeating the air.
· Summer (December, January, February) is full of expectation and warmth – harvest begins as the sun nurtures the grapes to ripeness. Enjoy air conditioned Hotels & Wineries combined with swimming pools and a chilled Hunter Semillon.