New South Wales – Hunter Valley – The best of wine country
By Mark Smith
Visitors have been heading to Hunter Valley vineyards since the late 1840s. Back then, the valley’s wineries and vineyards lined the dusty road that stretched from Maitland to Singleton. The region’s pioneering vignerons did not work the red earth around Cessnock and Pokolbin until the 1860s.
Today, the land that gave rise to the great wine names of Lindemans, Tyrrell’s, Draytons and Tulloch is home to more than 120 vineyards. And with a vast range of accommodation, tours and attractions to explore, the two-hour drive from Sydney offers barely enough time to plan your first call. If communing with nature is more on your mind, it’s three hours to Barrington Tops.
The Hunter boasts two regional centres of wine-growing activity - Lower and Upper Hunter? Often within view of the gently meandering Hunter River, they’re connected by a network of roads and highways, and almost 200 years of human history.
The secret lives of Hunter Semillon and Shiraz make vineyard visits a breeze. Many operators have two styles to share. With patient cellaring, wispy young Semillons mature into rich and toasty special occasion whites. Even workhorse Shiraz can take on thoroughbred status with a decade under the bed.
The successful Hunter gatherer can take home any number of special bottlings and single vineyard wines.
- Cessnock and Maitland are gateways to the Lower Hunter. You can survey its wine country from the basket of a hot air balloon. Head out at sunrise before the heat of the day. Your landing will be as soft as the crema on your latté.
- Take your mate to Maitland. Our convict ancestors found its gaol a captivating place. You can do time in Porridge Café or hunker down with an eiderdown. Guided tours and unguarded sleepovers operate seven days a week. Locals around here say there’s no place like home. Maitland’s market has it all when it comes to home-grown, home-made and home-baked.
- Cheese or chocolate? You’ll be among good company on a trip to Pokolbin’s two tastiest wine-free destinations. Take a horse and carriage ride through the vineyards first. Then visit the popular Hunter Valley Cheese Factory and Chocolate and Fudge Shop. The Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard dates back to 1866 and is widely known as the oldest in Pokolbin.
- Golf is a more recent arrival in the Lower Hunter. With four championship courses available, you’ll have no reason to get teed off with second-rate greens and over-grown fairways. But remember. Playing eighteen holes can be a thirsty business. Be sure to drop by Bluetongue Brewery at Hunter Resort. You’ll find just a clear glass wall to separate its state of the art brew house from you at the bar.
- From Singleton, you can wend your way to the Upper Hunter along Golden Highway 84. Experience wind in the face touring aboard a big Harley cruiser. The pastures and stables around Jerry’s Plains on the way are world renowned for their broodmares and blood stock.
- Denman is home to an array of fine food festivals as well as a sizeable proportion of the Upper Hunter’s viticultural activity. In these parts, benchmark Semillon and Shiraz are joined by whites from Chardonnay and Verdelho, and a smattering of reds led by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The best way to visit the region’s two dozen or more wineries is by following the Upper Hunter Wine Trail.
- Fancy a little splendid isolation? Travel via Muswellbrook along the Barrington Tops Forest Drive between Scone and Gloucester. Pause a while to take in the awe-inspiring stature of a 2000-year-old beech forest. Hire a canoe and paddle your way along the river or cast a line to a slow-rising trout.
- And finally, you'll never forget Scone. It’s more famous for horses and farm-stays than jam and whipped cream.
- Hunter Valley (NSW)
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