If you’re a Sydneysider, a summer trip to the Hunter Valley is a must! Only two hours’ drive, and you are well and truly immersed into the rolling hills of the Broken Back mountain ranges, breathing in the fresh country air and indulging your visual senses. The drive from Sydney to Hunter is enjoyable, with ever-changing scenery of rolling hills and ocean views. As you cross the bridges at Hawkesbury River, the busy city is well left behind, and the picture-perfect landscape is pre-empting a glorious weekend in the wine country. Once off the M1, the scenery changes once more, and you enter the windy road that leads through sections of bush and rainforest, before opening up to beautiful hills and vineyards as you reach Cessnock.
Hunter Valley is the oldest wine region in Australia, with first grapes planted in the early 1830s. It is home to some of the best semillon in the country, closely followed by verdelho, chardonnay and shiraz. Like any wine region, it offers a vast range of altitudes, which, paired with varied soil compositions across the region, provides plenty of vineyard diversity.
If you’re like me and like to start your wine trip with a good view of the surroundings, Audrey Wilkinson is hard to beat. With their cellar door perched right atop a hill or the surrounding Broken Back Ranges it has views in every direction and provides a good outlook of the valley. Their wines are great, offering a great overview of what the region is about and there are ranges to try, depending on your tastes and preferences. Once piece of advice, book ahead, as they do get really busy.
From Audrey’s, I make my way down to Tyrells, which is definitely a must. The Tyrrells family history in the region dates back to the 1800s, and having the luxury of owning several vineyards in the area, Tyrrells provides some great examples of the effects local terroir has on the characteristics of the wines. One of the highlights for me was back to back tasting of semillon and shirazes from vineyards with slightly different soil compositions. For an even greater effect, Tyrrells have collected soils from each vineyard, available to smell alongside the wines, which provides an even more immersive experience and really challenges the senses to deeper understanding of the winemaking craft. Quality wine is made in the vineyard, they say, and it really is evident when you observe the soil characteristics and smells carried forward into your glass of wine.
Once the hunger kicks in, Hunter spoils for choice. There are cafes and restaurants to suit most preferences and budgets. For me, when in a wine region, I look for a winery restaurant, so I can combine the two experiences, wine tasting and dining, into one without having to drive between locations. So with the senses well-tuned, we head over to one of my favourites — Leogate. Not only do they offer award winning wines and sell out of Semillon vintages year after year, it is also a venue with an amazing fine dining experience, courtesy to The Gates restaurant on site. Having developed quite a reputation in the valley and picked up multiple awards, if you’re a foodie, this place is not to be missed. Serving both, lunch and dinner it’s easy to work into any itinerary, either as a stopover in the middle of the day, or a great finale.