If there’s one word to describe Australia, it is this: vast. There are 60+ recognized wine regions in the country with close to 3000 wineries! Most of these are in the South, which is cooler, and spread across South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland.
We figured it would be appropriate to start our Australian wine tour from its oldest wine growing region – Hunter Valley in New South Wales, which is just a couple of hours drive North from the lovely city of Sydney.
The Hunter Valley is Australia’s oldest wine growing region with more than 150 wineries producing world class wines.
Hunter Valley has just about everything a visitor could ask for. You’ll enjoy gourmet food, art galleries, outdoor entertainment, golf, shopping, spas, cheese shops, dairy, charcuterie, handcrafted chocolates, breads, olive oils straight from the field, wine tasting master classes, beaches, fishing, rainforests, walking trails, food and wine events, opera and live music, and of course, a long list of award winning wines from 150 wineries! That’s right.
Since you’re bound to be distracted a lot, our itinerary includes just five of the must-see vineyards in Hunter Valley. We’d like you to know that it was very hard to pick just 5!
A word about Hunter Valley’s vineyards
As the oldest wine region in Australia, Hunter Valley is one of the most beautiful places with verdant landscapes. Its first vines were planted in the 1820s. The region’s delicious wines are produced from different varieties of grapes comprising the Semillon, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Verdelho. It is most famous for its full-bodied white wines from the Semillon, medium reds and fantastic ports.
Pokolbin, the pretty village in Hunter Valley is a wine enthusiast’s dream come true. It is the preferred weekend destination from Sydney with accommodation to suit every budget and an almost unlimited choice of wineries to visit.
Most of the wineries have a cellar door policy, which means you can practically show up at the door and enjoy a wonderful selection of wines, usually for free, and experience warm and friendly Australian hospitality.
Do please carry your VinGardeValise® because most of the wines are not available in restaurants or shops, so you are definitely going to want to carry back your favorites to savor at home.
Now let’s be off on our Hunter Valley wine trail! If, like us, you are the sort who likes to linger, you can spread this over the weekend.
Audrey Wilkinson winery, Pokolbin
Established in 1866, reconstructed in 1999 and considered the first wine vineyard in Pokolbin, Audrey Wilkinson winery has it all – landscape, architecture, history and spectacular views from its location at the top of a hill. They have a museum where you can see original antique wine making equipment. The wines are incredibly flavorful and include both whites and reds in a wide price range. You’ll love the constant flow of wine from their tasting menu as you relax in the ambiance of their country-house type cellar door. Their Merlot is one of the best you’ll taste. The staff is friendly and ready to share stories and give you an enjoyable visit. Watch out for the “No kissing” signs as you tour the winery…oh yes, they have a sense of humor! Look for their Wrattonbully Cabernet Sauvignon, and their Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz.
Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley winery, Pokolbin
Another of Hunter Valley’s best, Tyrrell’s Wines is one of Australia’s 12 multi-generational First Families of Wine, and has something for every wine lover’s palate. They conduct wine tours at 1.30 pm every day and you can have a picnic lunch in their vineyard. Expect fabulous views and a great tour around the vineyard and winery with more than 150 years of winemaking experience.
During the tour, you’ll see their beautifully maintained ancient oak vats and historic red cellars, along with the original iron bark hut occupied by Edward Tyrrell. Don’t forget to visit the Short Flat Vineyard where Vat 1 Semillon is made. This is Australia’s most acclaimed white wine along with Vat 9 Shiraz, among others. In fact, their 1999 Tyrrels’ Vat 1 made the “1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die” list and they’ve almost lost count of the number of gold medals awarded to their 2005 Tyrrell’s Vat 1.
You might consider signing up for their loyalty program where you get to taste all their premium wines and buy their limited edition wines – what could be better than being rewarded for enjoying the best wines?
Membership also entitles you to events. If you love jazz, you’ll be happy to know that they host the annual Jazz in the Vines jazz day and concerts.
Feed your VinGardeValise by choosing from their reds and whites – Vat 1, Vat 47, Old Patch Shiraz, particularly the Aged Semillon and others they might recommend.
Margan Hunter Valley winery, Broke
Margan Hunter Valley Winery is a first generation winery and known both for its award-winning wine and for its restaurant. You’ll love tasting the latest limited release wines created by Andrew Margan in the beautiful rammed earth cellar door with views of the breathtaking Brokenback mountain range. The staff is very friendly. The restaurant is a must-visit for the ultimate food and wine experience, and their five-course Degustation menu is something else. They carefully match the cuisine with the wine to give their guests an unforgettable visit. Most of their produce is from their own kitchen garden.
Don’t be surprised if you see a wedding party in progress – they are a much sought after venue.
The winery specializes in wines that can be consumed on release and these are often available only at their cellar door. So there is a tip for your VinGardeValise. Check out their standard Margan range as well as the premium White Label. Ask for the white label Semillon and Chardonnay and for the reds, Shirax and Barbera. Yes, they have a membership that gives you two complimentary glasses of Margan bubbles on arrival. You’ll be reluctant to leave as you bask in the superb service and the even better wine!
McWilliams Mount Pleasant winery, Pokolbin
Founded in 1921, by Maurice O’Shea, one of Australia’s greatest winemakers, McWilliams Mount Pleasant is the largest fully Australian-owned family wine company in the country and part of the Australian First Families Wine Group. History abounds in Mount Pleasant, which is the birthplace of Australian fine wine. As you tour the winery, you’ll see 100-year old vines tended by the founder. The staff obviously loves its job and you’ll find them eager to share the history of the winery as you relish their fine wines.
Their Semillons and Shiraz are to die for. The winery is simply beautiful and has the traditional cellar door, tasting room, bar and lounge from where you can get an eyeful of the vineyards beyond. The onsite restaurant, Elizabeth’s Café is really nice and you can eat here any time of the day. Most people love to get here in time for breakfast and follow it up with some leisurely wine tasting. Their 2007 Maurice O’Shea Shiraz is a great favorite and won best Shiraz of that year.
Don’t miss their Elizabeth Semillon and Old Hill Shiraz.
De Iuliis Winery, Pokolbin
No, don’t stress over how to say “Iuliis”. It is enough to know that they make Hunter Valley’s most “divine” red wines - there’s a pun for you! Owned by Mike De Iullis, one of the six Next Generation Winemakers in Hunter Valley, the winery has the best Shiraz vineyard in the area.
De Iullis cellar door is an experience all its own with a great restaurant and if you want to buy keepsakes, there’s a craft shop on the premises too. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to see Michael serving you at the counter alongside his cellar door manager. It is absolutely great service and a tasting not to miss, paired with cheese!
They are one of the top producers of some exquisite and one-of-a-kind award-winning whites and reds, but make sure you carry back some reds with you. The Verdelho Shiraz and Semillion will tickle your taste buds. There’s also a cheese factory next door, which will complement your wine with the perfect cheese.
Best time to plan your Hunter Valley Wine Tour
Plan your trip during spring or fall, which is the most picturesque time of year. Because it is the Southern Hemisphere, remember that spring is September to November and fall is March to May. You’ll also catch the Festival of Flowers in September and an art trail at Sculpture in the Vineyards. In June, Hunter Valley celebrates Wine and Food Month, displaying the region’s varied wine and food culture with themed activities.
What to pack
Pack comfortable walking shoes, sunglasses, sunscreen, a broad-brimmed hat, a light jacket – just in case, your camera and of course, your wine carrier.
Wine tasting is free. Many wineries are open daily and organize scheduled tours at a nominal cost.
So there – we’ve just touched the tip of the Australian wine territory! Have you visited any of these Hunter Valley wineries?