Regional Discovery: Explore Hunter Valley

Written by
Vintage Cellars
May 13, 2019
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Iconic wineries, picturesque cellar doors and world-class dining options are just three good reasons to explore this historic NSW wine region.

Read time: 5 minutes

Only a two-hour drive north-west of Sydney, the Hunter Valley is Australia’s oldest and perhaps best-known wine region. Its proximity to the city makes it the ideal wine lover’s destination, whether for an impromptu day trip or a more leisurely visit, and easily plays a romantic backdrop for a getaway for two.

The Hunter River was named for Captain John Hunter, the governor of the British colony when it was first discovered by European settlers in the 1790s. The region’s rich coal seams and vast timber forests soon became a valuable resource for the building and powering of steamships plying the coast between Sydney and Newcastle.

It wasn’t until the early 1820s that significant acreage of vines were planted by pioneers George Wyndham, James King and William Kelman, whose brother-in-law, viticulturist James Busby (considered to be Australia’s founding father of wine), returned to Australia with some 500 vine cuttings garnered from across Europe and South Africa.

Kelman planted offshoots from these original cuttings at Busby’s former property, Kirkton, along the Hunter River. By 1840, a wine region was born, with more than 200 hectares of vineyards established.

Today, many of the pioneering, family-owned wineries are still operating, including Tyrrell’s, Lindeman’s, Tulloch and Wyndham. Relative "newcomer" Lake’s Folly, founded in 1963 by Dr Max Lake, is considered the first "boutique" winery in Australia and was the first to be planted in the 1900s.

The Hunter region’s climate is generally warm and humid, unique in Australia’s winemaking areas. It comprises three official subregions — Broke Fordwich, Pokolbin (or Lower Hunter Valley) and Upper Hunter — and boasts more cellar doors than anywhere else in the country.

There, you’ll be able to sample everything from the Hunter’s signature aged semillon — regarded worldwide as the benchmark of this style — and earthy, "sweatysaddle" shiraz, to the emerging European varieties including barbera, tempranillo, fiano and touriga produced by innovative young winemakers. Among those is a movement increasingly embracing sustainable or organic and biodynamic practices, led by such wineries as Margan and Krinklewood.

Add a wealth of accommodation options, a vibrant calendar of events, including the Hunter Valley Wine & Food Festival (which runs from May to June), vineyard concerts, produce markets, brewery tours, as well as spectacular national parks, and you might need to plan a longer stay.

Where to stay

Little Orchard Cottage

This characterful self-contained cottage is owned by Hunter Valley legends Sally and
Robert Molines. Set on the hillside in Tallavera Grove vineyard, with unmatched vistas of Mount View Valley, this chic, cosy cottage offers every creature comfort — and is only steps away from chef Robert’s delightful hatted Bistro Molines.

Chateau Elan

Wake up to kangaroos grazing on the Greg Norman-designed fairways at this golf resort. Chateau Elan’s stylish accommodation — from spa suites to self-catering villas and apartments
is further enhanced by the luxe day spa, pool and lodge-style hospitality at The Legends Grill, Legends Bar, and Wine Lounge celebrating local drops.

Bimbadgen Estate

With glorious views across the vines to Barrington Tops, this winery offers three luxuriously furnished properties — on site, the two-bedroom Cottage and four-bedroom Homestead and, down the road, the four-bedroom Palmers Lane Guesthouse; each further enhanced by its proximity to the acclaimed Esca restaurant.

Where to eat

Margan Restaurant

Dine where your wine and produce, including chooks, lamb and bees, flourish at this multi-award-winning Tuscan-style property. The inventive menus, with each dish optionally matched to a Margan wine, showcase owners Andrew and Lisa Margan’s "estate grown, estate made" philosophy; an ode to seasonality, sustainability and regionality.

Muse Restaurant and Muse Kitchen

Highly regarded chef and owner Troy Rhoades-Brown brings a sophisticated approach to his stylish two-hatted fine-diner at the Hungerford Hill winery. Its seasonally changing menus focus on regional produce prepared with impressive technique and respect, while the restaurant’s more casual sibling, Muse Kitchen, makes for an ideal daytime stopover.

Lovedale Smokehouse Café

Relax over a rustic lunch in a courtyard bordering the vines. Chef and co-owner Ben Sales' menu and smokehouse-deli shelves are brimming with local produce. Enjoy a house-smoked charcuterie platter, or perhaps grapevine-smoked pulled pork, and take your pick from the expansive — occasionally quirky — drinks list.

Wineries to visit

Scarborough Wine Co

This much-loved winery boasts two welcoming tasting rooms — Gillards Road and Hermitage
Road, both affording glorious views of the Brokenback range and surrounding vineyards. Settle in here to savour the quintessential Hunter chardonnay style that put Scarborough
on the map.

Star wine: Scarborough Yellow Label Chardonnay.

De luliis

Anna and Joss De Iuliis first planted grapes to supply some of the region’s top labels. Now, son Michael makes acclaimed wines at a facility designed by Powerhouse Museum architect
Lionel Glendenning – who’s also responsible for the spectacular contemporary cellar door,
complete with a viewing tower.

Star wine: De Iuliis Shiraz.

Tyrrell’s

Founded in 1858, Tyrrell’s is an icon of Hunter Valley winemaking history, now led by fourth generation family member Bruce Tyrrell. A tasting tour through its historic red cellar and the original ironbark homestead of founder Edward Tyrrell add an extra dimension to this landmark property.

Star wine: Tyrrell's Vat 1 Semillon.