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The Hunter Valley, Sydney’s Wine and food Mecca June 2020

As NSW is still locked down to travel within the state we are featuring all the great locations within NSW that can be visited, either as a short trip or as an extended stay. The NSW tourism industry has been severely impacted by COVID and we encourage you to explore your state and support all these local businesses. We hope that you enjoy our blogs and they encourage you to go out and explore and enjoy all the venues and locations as much as we have!

It has been a decade since I had visited the Hunter region properly and now that the regional areas were starting to open up post COVID it was time to start exploring the best NSW had to offer again. With crisp winter days and a new company car to put through the paces and tourism regions needing our marketing help , this was the perfect opportunity for work meetings as well as seeing the best of what the region had to offer. With thoughts of windy romantic drives, long lazy lunches overlooking the vineyards with delicious cuisine and a special bottle of wine we headed off on a super crisp and sunny winter morning!

Day 1

Our first stop was the famous Hungerford Hill Winery with my namesake Andre the sommelier starting our first  tasting session for the trip. Hungerford hill is a boutique winery housed in a beautiful modern building with unique architecture and acts as an Iconic gateway to the centre of the Hunter. You can’t help admire its form as you drive past it on your left as you enter the Hunter. Not surprisingly the first best wine of the tasting was a super light and crisp Daleford Semillon, the signature grape of the region and Daleford being the oldest vine in the region. We learnt of how the smoke from the December and January bushfires had destroyed nearly 80% of the region’s grapes but this was one of the lucky Vineyards that managed to remain unscathed and this bottle was from that vine and vintage. It would be one of the few Semillons produced in 2020 from the Hunter.

We then checked into our stay for this trip at Voco Kirkton Park and the first impression was Wow! The drive through the majestic gates and drive down the long driveway lined with red leafed deciduous trees set the tone for the rest of the stunning property.

The rain started to set in just as we checked in so we decided that this was the perfect place to sit by the fire and enjoy lunch at Epoch Lounge  Bar for the afternoon. Lounge, like the rest of the hotel was stunning. Recently refurbished and redesigned by one of my favourite Australian Interior designer’s Greg Natale, the hotel was superbly stylish from top to toe. It was the perfect place for the afternoon, sitting by the fire waiting for the rain to clear.

Our last stop for the day was the super pretty Iron Gate estate with the cellar door housed in a rustic Tuscan farmhouse building with whimsical Spanish Architecture. We learnt that this winery was an indulgence of its former owner, a rich and eccentric Englishman who came out to start his own winery and estate and recreate the feeling of his favourite places in Europe. Forward to 2020 and the winery is stylish and front of house run by the super knowledgeable  Jade & Gavin, who pay attention to every customer and are as passionate about their new ranges of wines from their expert Winemaker Geoff  Broadfield as much as the beautiful architecture and setting they are housed in.

  1. We were happy to settle in for the night in our super stylish and spacious hotel room in the Mansion Wing of the hotel overlooking the misty rolling vineyards and Brokenback ranges with a bottle of local Shiraz. The room is stylishly decorated in the signature Greg Natale style bringing city chic to a conservative heritage style.

Day 2

Day two started in paradise opening the curtains to a wonderful view of a rising sun over the romantically misty valley, with early morning Hot air balloons rising over low mist. It was time to head off to breakfast. We chose to have our delicious breakfast served on the verandah of the dining room overlooking the vineyards, the perfect start to the day. I personally opted for the big breakfast knowing we had a big day ahead.

First stop was the picture perfect Keith Tulloch  winery. This is run by the Iconic Tulloch family of the Hunter Valley. While tasting a selection of their delicious range on a verandah overlooking their Shiraz vines we were told of the rough time all the wineries in the Hunter have had. Firstly a 3 year drought, then followed by severe bushfire smoke that made most of the grapes of the Hunter unusable that year. The Covid lockdown has been the last straw that has made it so hard for all the wineries and businesses in the region. Most of the local businesses are hopeful that the worst has passed and the region will be able to bounce back strongly again now.

The grounds and Cellar door are in picture perfect buildings and also contain the delicious Muse Kitchen for casual dining and Cocoa Nib for coffee and desserts, We wish we had more time to enjoy the estate had to offer but the next stop beckoned!

  1. The next stop on the tour was Leo Gate estate with a welcoming fireplace and cosy cellar door overlooking the beautiful Brokenback ranges. We settled into a chesterfield by the fire and sampled their delicious range of wines alongside a very welcome complementary cheese plate that matched the wines perfectly. Leogate also has a stunning restaurant and wedding function venue perfect for a Hunter wedding.

Our next stop was the famous Tulloch Wines where we sat on the verandah overlooking the falling autumn leaves and vines while we sampled from their vast range of wines. They had grape varieties that were quite unique and not usually seen in the Hunter region.

We saved the best for last and headed up to the peak at Audrey Wilkinson winery perched on an elevated plateau with a jaw dropping bird’s eye view overlooking the rolling vines in the valley below and adjacent brokenback ranges. We were just in time to catch the sublime sunset and stunning views for our last tasting. Audrey Wilkinson had an amazing range of wines and is over 150 years old having started in 1866 at the current cellar door. It is a must visit in the Hunter and part of it’s rich heritage.

Once the sun had set it was time to call it a day and head back to the Voco to relax by the fire with friends. We were happy to start our pre dinner wine cocktails by the fire at Epoch Bar before heading over to the stunning Lavacore restaurant. onsite at the Voco to enjoy an indulgent dinner. It was the perfect setting to enjoy our wagyu steaks & delicious pork ribs by the cosy restaurant fireplace. For desserts we retired back to the fireplace at Epoch bar for drinks and a cheese plate to reflect on a good day out.

Day 3

For our final day we started at the boutique Saddlers Creek cellar door. This slightly out of the way boutique winery is not one of the usual tourist stops on most Hunter tours but well worth the visit. tastings meeting the wine producers. They are owned by a family that supplies many interior design products and the winery interiors reflect this with indulgent chandeliers hanging amongst the oak barrels of ageing wine. After sampling a large range of their wines we stumbled across their hit “Wild white wine”. This was an accidental discovery of ageing mix of white grape varietals that were left with the usual refrigeration off. The vintage it accidentally produced was stunning and never to be created again. This is one boutique winery to visit if you have seen all the others on the well worn track.

To cap our stay off we had saved the best experience for last and headed off to our reservation at the famous Bistro Molines! I had been looking forward to this for a long time as it had been highly recommended as the best restaurant  in the Hunter for setting as well as food. After winding the way up a dirt track to a peak where the restaurant was perched, I wasn’t disappointed. We were shown to our table which was at perched on the ledge overlooking the stunning valley below with winding vines and damns and rolling hills in the background. The food and wine was just as stunning as the views. Comforting yet delicate French Bistro food was perfectly matched with the super light and crisp Cariilion Pinot Grigio from the Carillion winery next door with equally good views. Sally the owner with her husband Robert came out and had a good chat retelling their romantic life story together of nearly 45 years and journey through hospitality which gave the food so much more flavour. The setting, food and views over the rolling vines way down below were the ideal way to enjoy the hunter as we sat in arguably the best seat of any restaurant in Australia. Bistro Molines is another must do lunch when in the region.

After the superb lunch it was time for the drive back to Sydney. We still had so much unseen here and the other places we missed out on will have to be the subject of another visit. The next time we will definitely have more days put aside and also take the time to drive the picturesque and windy Putty Road up instead of the highway. It adds extra time to the drive but the breathtaking scenery is worth it.

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