A mini break to the Hunter Valley was deemed exactly what personal travel manager Denise Dean needed to celebrate her birthday. After a quick flight from Brisbane to Newcastle, she and her husband were in a hire car, headed for a long, relaxing weekend in the Hunter Valley.
We arrived in the Hunter Valley just 45 minutes after our flight from Brisbane landed: what more could you wish for? I had booked a very comfortable two-bedroom apartment to share with my sister and husband at Grand Mercure The Vintage, a very centrally located property with a Greg Norman-designed championship golf course right on site. The apartment itself had the most modern of fittings and fixtures to make us feel at home, and it would have been so easy to settle in front of the gas fireplace and move no further, but before we knew it, we were being collected for the short journey to nearby Blaxland Inn for dinner.
The Inn is a cosy, casual establishment which had a roaring fireplace, delicious wholesome food, and a nice bottle of Hunter Valley Peterson House Pink Blush Rosé to start the birthday celebrations.
The following morning, we headed to breakfast at the Golf Club House: served buffet style with all the trimmings one could ask for, and with amazing views of the golf course to soak up as we dined. We had to rug up of course, as the morning temperature hit minus two on this frosty July morning.
At 9 am, we were picked up by Hunter Valley Tours to begin our morning of wine tasting and cheese sampling. There are many companies which offer these services, priced at around $60- $65 per person for a half day of touring. Our first stop was Blueberry Hill, a lovely family-owned establishment that has been under new ownership for the last 18 months. Their tasting room was small but we had very knowledgeable member of staff who really knew her wine to firstly show us how to hold our glasses, and then allow us to sample their wines: I particularly liked their Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé.
The next winery on our tour was Tulloch’s: an upmarket winery with an impressive cellar door. The vineyard dates back to 1895, and its history is documented on the walls with photographs of the family. We were taken to the Boardroom for a tasting and to learn about the history of the winery, and while I would recommend their Rosé and Shiraz, I also enjoyed their Verscato, a sparkling Rosé that was both memorable and lower in calories!
While the Hunter Valley is known for producing world-class Semillon white wines, the area is also known for producing Australia’s first Chardonnays in the 1970s, and the popular single varietal wine, Verhelho, has been planted here for over 100 years. As well as great quality wines, the Hunter has also has a vibrant gourmet food culture, so on our third winery visit, we tasted McGuigan’s wines before popping next door to an amazing cheese factory: oh, the choices! We snapped up several hard and soft cheeses, a gorgeous ginger jam, fresh bread and pate, and just like that, lunch was ready! Yum.
Our visit was timed to coincide with mid-winter Christmas celebrations throughout the valley: we chose Calais Estate for ours. This is a family-run winery which is home to one of the largest boutique wine lists in the Hunter Valley. Their evening of delicious food and matching wines that were served to the table was amazing, giving me the best birthday a girl could wish for. Set in a barn with towering wine barrels all around, we were treated to a memorable evening which ended with a cheese board and mulled wine.
The next day we took ourselves to visit Hungerford Hill Winery, Tyrrells and Petersons House, which specialises in producing premium sparkling wines along with all the merchandise to match: sparkling wine stoppers, hot pink bottle covers and even aprons. We stopped here for a delightful lunch of fresh oysters, antipasto and their refreshing Blush sparkling wine.
Our day out also included a stop at the Hunter Valley Gardens village with its quaint gift shops and cafes, and concluded with dinner at Harrigan’s Irish Pub: the boys wanted hearty meals and a pint of Guinness, while my sister Paula and I chose a local Shiraz to go with our meals.
We couldn’t leave the Hunter Valley without having enjoyed a meal at Café Enzo, which is set in a Tuscan-inspired village amid the sandstone buildings of Peppers Creek. On our last day we enjoyed our first coffee for the day here, followed by one of the best breakfasts I have ever experienced: everyone should have Enzo on their wish list.
After this wonderful start to our day, we continued exploring the Pokolbin area and came across Estate Tuscany and an inviting restaurant called The Brokenback Bar. The head chef presents a wonderful cafe-style menu and tapas: who could pass up sitting in front of a fireplace, sampling the region’s finest flavours. Between the delicious savoury treats and the sweets, I thought I had died and gone to heaven very happy.
After all that eating and drinking, you would be forgiven for thinking that our appetites were sated at this point; did I mention we stopped at a few chocolate shops along the way to sample the locally-produced, delicately-designed, hand-made chocolates? We purchased several boxes to bring home, purely as gifts of course.
At last it was time to farewell this premier food and wine destination, which is home to some of Australia’s most outstanding wines, winemakers, restaurants and chefs. If you’re planning to follow in our footsteps, you will find that you are spoilt for choice so be sure to allow at least a weekend to explore all that it has to offer. You just might see me there.
For more Hunter Valley inspiration you can contact personal travel manager Denise Dean here.