The Hunter Valley has long been established as a firm favourite for a weekend away. Alex Conomos takes you on a tour of the best spots.
The combination of great wine, myriad cellar doors, smelly cheese and a country pace draws crowds purposely to the Hunter throughout the year. There are dozens of ways you can map out your trip and plenty of local providers ready to assist but here are some suggestions to help heighten your Hunter experience.
You’ll firstly need accomodation that is smack bang in the middle of the viticultural action. At the same time you want some space from your neighbours. And the option of a frolick through your own private vineyard is never a bad thing. So what about a private villa complete with pool and wrap-around verandah set in lush surrounds where you can see the grapes and Barrington Mountain Ranges from the day bed? Milla's Vineyard is such a haven and while there are plenty of options, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more central and well-equipped retreat in the area. Sleeping 8-10 it has all the creature comforts of a home with a complimentary bottle of local wine thrown in for good measure.
Once you’ve had a peaceful night’s rest it will be time to explore the vineyards that have made the area so famous. With 150 or so to choose from you’ll need an expert eye to select the best route. That’s exactly what Deb at Hunter Valley Cadillacs will do, and she doesn’t do it alone. Ensconsed in her vintage 1958 stretch Cadillac she’ll whisk you from one cellar door to the next as you sip local bubbly in one of the world’s rarest cars. You’ll never look at a mini bus in the same way again.
There are a few wineries specialising in sparkling in the region but extensive tastings (hic!) reveal the smoothest bubbles and purest fruit flavours are to be found at Gartelmann Wines. Jorg Gartelmann is a true négociant, sourcing top quality fruit from the best vineyards to produce his benchmark 2011 Sparkling White. This sits beautifully alongside the rich, complex fruit and subtle cedar and vanilla notes of its sister, the 2007 Sparkling Shiraz.
If red is your vino of choice then pay a visit to Hope Estate. Although the region is traditionally not as highly regarded for its reds as whites and sparklings, there are some who won’t visit the Hunter without returning with a case full of the signature ‘Cracker’ cabernet merlot.
Those with a sweet tooth will be well sated at the various chocolate stops peppered through the Hunter. But for a true sweet kick you’ll want to get stuck into the local sticky’s, which are exceptional. The botrytis semillon at Tempus Two is powerfully rich and opulent while the Late Picked Gewurztraminer 'Moon Dance' at Ernest Hill Wines will have you convinced there’s a Turkish Delight convention having a party with your taste buds.
In between these delightful distractions its wise to snack on the local produce you encounter. Slivers of triple cream brie at Tempus Two’s Smelly Cheese Shop or snippets of bread soaked in Caramelised Balsamic Vinegar at Ballabourneen will make sure you stay upright. And when you’re ready for a full assult of local produce you can’t go past a hearty dinner at Majors Lane Restaurant, which will entertain yout taste buds on the plate and keep your eyes occupied with the array of local artwork along each wall.
Days of drinking and dining can really take it out of you so to make sure you’re refreshed and rejuvenated for what lies ahead, you’d be wise to get in touch with Working Hands so they can arrange for a massage therapist to come out to you and work on those tired muscles.
Then the only question that remains is whether you should crack open a new bottle of sparkling now or wait for dinner. We say now….