Hunter Valley Region—by a wine lover for wine lovers
A popular destination for Indian residents in Australia and equally popular with tourists, most of us know that Hunter Valley Region is the place to go for wine. However many of us—including me—don’t know that Hunter has more than wine to offer.
Recently, I made a quick trip to Hunter to check out a few wineries and have a getaway. It’s only about two hours’ drive from Sydney. Google maps directed me to Pokolbin area, which is the centre of Hunter Valley Region, also known as wine country and is claimed to be the oldest wine region in Australia. It is located between the towns of Cessnock and Branxton, which is approximately 50kms to the west of Newcastle.
Being so close to the commercial capital (Sydney), it has its advantage of trade, investments in wine production and an emerging tourist destination. There are plenty of small and big tour companies which operate bus tours bringing wine enthusiasts and tourists keen in exploring the region. You could enjoy a day of tasting some of the finest Australian wine and food, learn about different kinds of wine and how it’s made. You can also visit breweries and get a taste of fresh beer, most breweries have a sports bar area where you could enjoy couple of beers while watching an interesting game with your mates. Visit boutique wineries for tastings, nibble artisanal cheeses and chocolates, or lunch at the winery.
A bit of history
Pre-Vineyards in Hunter Region: At my trip to Hunter I gathered that in late 1795-1800 the Hunter region was sighted by European settlers near the Hunter River during a search for escaped convicts. Initially, Hunter Region was a source of timber and coal for the steam ships.
Start of Vineyards in Hunter (1820-1900): By the early 1800s approximately 20 acres of vineyards had already been planted on the northern banks of the Hunter River. It all started when a viticulturist by the name of James Busby came to Hunter and brought with him knowledge and techniques of wine growing from Europe. By 1840, the registered vineyard area exceeded to 500 acres in the hunter Region. And in the 19th century four families established vineyards in the area; the Tyrrell, Tulloch, Wilkinson and Drayton families.
Modern Vineyards (1900-1970): The Pokolbin area had built a reputation for quality wine production. A wide number of wine makers from Sydney and Melbourne were then drawn to this region.
Hunter Vineyards today: Hunter Valley is one of Australia’s most well-known wine regions; there are over 150 wineries producing a wide array of exceptional wines reflective of their origin. There are a host of activities, food and festivals that happen round the year to welcome wine enthusiasts to taste and appreciate their selection of some world class wine.
To my surprise I was educated not just about wines but also on few more recreational things to do in the Valley.
Drink and Dine
At Hunter Valley’s Cellar Doors you can taste a wide variety of wines, or join a tasting master class to taste rare vintages. There are a plenty of dining options, including a romantic date night at multi-award-winning restaurant “Muse” where you’ll dine on seasonally driven dishes food paired with Hungerford Hill wines.
My host at the Cellar Door was Rebecca Irvine who showed me around the winery and narrated the history of Hungerford Hill winery established in 1967. She taught me about the different kinds of wine making techniques and how the taste changes with every technique. The type of wines can be categorised into 11 major kinds and each one has between two and six variations to it. This winery is family run, now passed down to the fourth generation. Hungerford Hills winery conducts wine tasting for individuals and groups, also food presentation for couples. A visit to this winery is a must for anyone going to Hunter.
As we know cheese goes the best while sampling the wine, and at the Hunter Valley Cheese Factory you’ll find a fantastic selection of handmade cow and goat milk cheese, available to taste and buy. Order a cheese tasting board to try five cheeses, or book a private cheese appreciation class to learn about cheese varieties and the art of wine matching. You could also go to The Smelly Cheese Shop, very popular for trying a variety of local produce cheese.
Air Ballooning above the Vineyards
Start your day early at Hunter with a 45-minute sunrise hot air balloon ride that takes you above the vineyards of Pokolbin. The view from 2,000 feet is spectacular and totally worth it.
Golf in the Vineyards
Golf is another popular activity. Make a visit to courses such as the Greg Norman-designed The Vintage and enjoy a game of golf in the serene green beauty around you. Followed by a glass of sparkling wine and cheese of course.
Festivals at the Hunter
Plan your trip to Hunter Valley during the next festival. Throughout the year the Hunter Valley presents a diverse calendar of festivals and events at its wineries—the most popular among them being the Spring Festival held in September.
You could also pamper yourself at a day spa, or go for a biking tour in the vineyards, do exclusive winery tours etc.This was my first trip to the Hunter region, and there is a lot more to explore. I know I’ve just begun. Cheers.