Hunting Vino in the Hunter Valley
Classic wine country charm with heaps to do and see in the Hunter Valley.
Hot Take: You don’t have to be a wine lover to appreciate a day or two in the lovely Hunter Valley, they have microbreweries and cideries as well as scenery is worth the trip all by itself. (4.0 stars)
Pro Tip: Watch your consumption if you self-drive…these wineries pride themselves on generous pours and heaps of wines to try (we split a tasting at every stop and it was plenty of booze).
As our favorite trip from Sydney (other than the beaches), we highly recommend a trip to the Hunter Valley (an overnight is best) if you have the time in your schedule and want to get out of the concrete of Sydney.
About 5 years ago, we realized that we always had such a good time in whatever wine area we traveled to, that we began to add ‘wine country trip’ to our international travels. We know that makes us sound like alcoholics, but for us the booze is secondary as we have found that the rural landscapes, culinary options, and meeting the locals (in the form of the wine makers) creates for an amazing day or two…simply put, for us it is vacationing at its best. Since our eureka moment, we have gone wine tasting in France, New Zealand, Peru, and Mexico so when we saw we were less than 2 hours from Sydney’s ‘local’ wine area, we knew we had to go.
Any time we are in wine country, we do not over-indulge (it is far cheaper to get drunk at home) so we usually like the flexibility of driving ourselves (so we can be spontaneous). We didn’t see a single police officer in the entire Hunter Valley, but remember that the legal limit here is 0.05…so take the time to walk through the vines at each vineyard rather then just rushing to the next.
No surprise that wineries are at the top of this list, since that is what put the Hunter Valley on the map. In today’s global economy, we are blessed to be able to enjoy wines from all over the world. We feel that wine (maybe more so than other food) have a way of transporting us to wherever they were made…so we will now be able to Hunter Valley wine at home and come back to the Hunter Valley in our mind’s eye. Rather than provide a laundry list of the best wineries (which will vary from person to person…but they were all good to great), we will tell you how the tasting rooms (aka the ‘cellar doors’) work in Hunter Valley. At about a third of the wineries, the tastings are completely free (and we were never pressured to buy anything, though some people say they feel guilty if they don’t). At the other two-thirds, there was a $5 per fee per person (though it was always rolled in to the purchase price of a bottle). Most wineries had 5 to 20 different wines to sample (with some having a set tasting menu and others asking your preferences and tailoring the tasting to you. While we only met a few of the winemakers, the cellar door staffs were very knowledgeable about their wines and we never felt like we were at a shot bar. Many of the wineries also had cheese or meat platters that you could purchase (though the prices were pretty high). Best of all, the views at the wineries were first class!
More than Just Wine
On our trip we visited a brewery (there are at least 4 in Hunter Valley) as well as a cidery (at Lambloch Estate). The beers (like virtually all beers in Australia) were a bit boring (like U.S. beers in the 1990s), but the ciders (with both apple and pear bases) were quite exceptional. We also stumbled upon a small sign for a man selling honey out of his home. He sold us a huge chunk of honeycomb (one of Matt’s favorite foods) for just $4 (this is normally more like $20). There were also cheese places and other gastronomic delights (so go where your stomach leads you). Some of the wineries also have on sight restaurants. While we are sure the quality was high, the prices certainly were…so one place we would recommend was the Pokolbin Village. The Pokolbin Village is most akin to a high-end strip center with a number of more reasonably priced food options (the sandwiches we got at the Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop were amazing and the wedge of cheese we bought paired well later that night with some sparkling wine).
The rolling hillsides of the Hunter Valley are worth the trip alone. Seeing the endless fields of grapes stretched out before you while you sip the fruit of the vine is an incredible experience. However, the Hunter Valley is also home to numerous species of Australia’s native icons…especially kangaroos. Just before sunset (while leaving our Hope Brewhouse), we came upon a family of kangaroos (including 2 joeys in their mothers’ pockets) and were treated to about 10 minutes of interaction before they hopped off.