Hunter Valley, Australia

 

 

Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard
Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard has a lovely verandah with views over the valley.



 

Australia’s Hunter Valley, about two hours’ drive north of Sydney, is the country’s most popular wine region with about 140 vineyards. Most wineries are family-owned and their bottles are only available at the cellar door or through wine clubs.The Valley, which is the oldest continually producing wine region in Australia, makes for a terrific day trip or weekend getaway.

 

ADVISOR INSIGHT:

Kerrie Strumolo, a Premier Aussie Specialist with KS Travel & Tours in New Jersey, recommends the Wyndham Estate as a must-visit while in the Hunter Valley. “It’s set on the banks of the Hunter River and it’s lush and green year round,” she says. “Even though it’s a large organization, it has a small, intimate feel. Wyndham Estate is also known as the birthplace of Shiraz in Australia. It holds an annual Opera in the Vineyard concert as well as other performances like jazz concerts...Its Olive Tree Restaurant (only opened late last year) serves fresh local food but is a little ‘quirky’ in that none of the cutlery or crockery is matching. It’s all antique, and different sets were picked up from antiques stores, garage sales and the like.”

As for where to stay, she recommends the Chateau Elan at The Vintage. “It is a five-star property and the newest in the Hunter Valley—mid-size, approximately 100 rooms. It overlooks The Vintage Greg Norman golf course. All the rooms have views over the fairways. There are three styles of rooms: Spa King, Spa Suite and One-Bedroom Spa Suite. I love this property because of the location and the fact that all the rooms in the main building were named after different cities in the world—and tastefully themed, accordingly. They have the same decor, but the France room will have some French books or DVDs, etc. The on-site spa has 17 treatment rooms, and premium local produce, beef and seafood meals are served at The Legends Grill. It’s perfect for a honeymoon or anniversary.”

 

 

Luxury Travel Advisor toured Hunter Valley with Steve Thomas of Boutique Tours Australia. Our first stop was Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard, which dates to 1866 and has excellent views of the countryside. Peter Woods, operations manager of the winery, let us sample several bottles while we enjoyed an alfresco lunch from the nearby Smelly Cheese Shop. (If you can get some real honeycomb, try it on a cracker with a tangy blue cheese. Bliss.)

Good to know: The Hunter Valley is famous for its Semillon wines, so be sure to try some vertical tastings of different vintages, or to compare (for example) a Semillon, a Chardonnay and a Pinot Gris. Also, be aware that most wines in Australia are now bottled with a screw cap top rather than a cork. It looks decidedly less elegant, but the winemakers insist that it preserves the wine much better than the natural option—and, really, taste is what matters.

From Audrey Wilkinson, we drove down the road to Tyrrell’s Wines, another historical vineyard in the Valley, where we tasted a 1999 Semillon that they have recently age-released. Some nice details at the winery include the original buildings from the 1860s that make a powerful, if silent, statement about how rough early life in the Valley was and how strong those early developers had to be.

 

Hunter Resort Wine Tasting Room
Hunter Resort Wine Tasting Room is a dedicated classroom for learning about wine.

For pre-dinner drinks, we stopped by Tempus Two, a post-modern strip-mall-esque collection of high-end dining and drinking options. (Yes, we just used the words “high-end” and “strip-mall” in the same sentence.) The Goldfish Bar has a lot of funky cocktails and a great wine selection, as well as outdoor seating for alfresco dining. For dinner, we went to Bistro Molines, a hilltop restaurant with killer views of the Valley—and an amazing wine selection. (The labels on the bottles are made of pewter or copper, and are objets d’art in their own right.)

The next morning, we started out at Hunter Resort, a winery that doubles as a brewery and holds classes as well as wine and beer tastings. (The Bluetongue ginger beer is really delicious.) The classes are impressively in-depth and a great way for burgeoning oenophiles to learn about getting the most from their glass of wine. (First Lesson: Smell everything, so that your nose is trained to detect distinct or even faint aromas in the wines.) Outside, guests can sit at picnic tables and snack or drink in the fresh air. Note: If you’re getting “wined out” at this point, the resort is where you should head for a casual and relaxing break. Sit in the sunshine, enjoy a cold locally brewed beer and just unwind.

 

Where to Stay

During our visit to the wineries in the area, we also toured Tower Lodge, a 12-room Relais & Chateaux property that must be seen to be believed. General Manager Andreas Breitfuss took us down to the hotel’s subterranean restaurant, Nine, which is only open on weekends, for a dedicated degustation menu. Nice Touch: While the restaurant is open to locals, several seats are set aside for last-minute guest dining. Breitfuss said that the hotel will be doubling in size in the next few years but will stop at 24 rooms (guaranteeing that there are never more than 50 guests who need his attention).

 

Tower Lodge
Tower Lodge suites are at once elegant and homey.

Luxury travel advisors can reach out to Breitfuss at [email protected]; 011-612-4998-7022.

 

 

The Wyndham Estate is the Valley’s oldest working winery, dating to 1831. It offers several notable vintages as well as some nice historical aspects. (The ruins of George Wyndham’s old house are at once beautiful and heartbreaking, but Operations Manager Stephen Guilbaud-Oulton said that funds are being raised for a restoration.) The Estate is also working to repair the Hunter River, which has been severely damaged by deforestation and other environmental problems. The hillside leading down to the mostly dry river is dotted with new saplings that, with luck, will bring the water back to its former state—in about 100 years or so. The Estate is a popular choice for outdoor weddings—we saw chairs all set up overlooking the Valley, and it’s hard to imagine a prettier spot for tying the knot. Be sure to sample the Bin 555 Shiraz—one of the vineyard’s most popular options, and rightly so, we say. (Note: Bin 555 is also one of the few Hunter Valley wines we tried that is available for purchase in U.S. stores.)

We stayed at the Estate for lunch and sampled Chef Andy Wright’s cuisine at Olive Tree Restaurant. The menu is deceptively simple, with no more than three ingredients per dish, but the food is fresh, locally sourced where possible and absolutely delicious. (The steak, served rare with herbed butter, was especially rich, but the chicken and chorizo is also a wonderful option.)

Taking a break from wine, we spent a nice hour wandering around the Hunter Valley Gardens, a collection of themed gardens that are ideal for weddings or for family outings. While the elaborate Victorian rose garden was gorgeous and the Formal Garden was very impressive, we were utterly charmed by the Storybook Garden, which has sculptures of fairy tale characters for children to examine. This is a great option for families and a good way to take a break from wine for a few hours.

For dinner, we went for tapas at Verandah Restaurant, where groups can pick out several options and sample each. (There were many seafood options, and the pork belly was decadent). Be sure to save room for dessert: The chocolate-and-chili soufflé was divine—the perfect mix of sweet and spicy.

 

Wyndham Estate
The Wyndham Estate is the oldest working winery in Hunter Valley, and its historical structures will be restored in coming years.

A stop at Brokenwood Wines gave us the chance to tour its bottling operations and to enjoy a private wine tasting with Operations Manager Grant Radford. If you are truly dedicated oenophile, we encourage you to shell out for the 2007 Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz—it’s not light on the wallet, but it was one of the best wines we tried all weekend.

Our final stop brought us to the Tuscany Wine Estate Resort, a newer property with great views over the neighboring vineyards and a casual pet policy. We lunched at the hotel’s Mill Restaurant, with some wonderful seafood creations and a delicious Sangiovese.

It was a marathon of wining and dining, but for oenophiles and gourmands, the Hunter Valley is a must-visit.

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