How long since you’ve been to the Hunter?

A few months? Last year? Years ago? Never?

We can understand if you don’t live in Sydney. Although you may be surprised by the numbers of visitors from the USA, Europe and Asia who consider it one of the must-go-to destinations in their brief holiday schedules in Australia.

But I’m not interested in wine, you say.

True, that is a major drawcard. But just a couple of hours drive from Sydney could see you filling in a very full few days, passing by but not calling in at a tasting room.

Hunter Valley This Magnificent Life
Courtesy Destination NSW; Murray Vanderveer

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You could be ballooning, trail bike riding, on a bicycling tour, golfing, getting married, getting spa pampered, Segway touring, go-karting, attending a concert of world-class rock and roll or opera, horse-riding, shopping for antiques, visiting art galleries and craft displays, cheese tasting, attending cooking school, heli-touring, craft beer tasting, sampling small distilleries, exploring magnificent gardens, glamour camping or eating some of the most delicious fresh food you’ll find in a day’s drive.

Of course that last option would be much improved with a glass of wine.

This is after all Australia’s senior wine district.

Wines the world acknowledges.

The first vines were planted in the young colony of Port Jackson in 1788 but the big push came in the 1830s when James Busby planted cuttings he had collected from some of Europe’s finest vineyards on his property Kirkton between Branxton and Singleton.

Since then the expansion of vines has been dramatic.

Hunter Valley This Magnificent Life
Mike Newling; Courtesy Destination NSW

Curiously, the climate and soil of much of the Hunter Valley is not considered perfect, or helpful, for the production of great wine. But over the years, careful site and variety selection means that, subject to the whims of nature, this district now produces some of the most spectacular wines in Australia. Two grape varieties stand above the rest, one red, one white. Shiraz and semillon.

Hunter shiraz tends to be medium bodied, lower in alcohol, conceding robust power to the fabled wines of the Rhone or South Australia. But the flavours from a good year are exquisite.

Some of the vines are over 100 years old and their wines can be delightfully long lived. Many don’t reach their peak until they are 10-30 years old and beyond. Today, bottles of shiraz from the great year of 1965 are much prized by connoisseurs and still drinking superbly. The wines from 2014 only recently bottled are now spoken of in the same breath. That vintage is being snapped up by those in the know, for their children and grandchildren.

Hunter Valley This Magnificent Life
Sally Mayman; Courtesy Destination NSW

The white grape, semillon is grown in France and many other areas of Australia, but Hunter semillon is unique. The best are often made without any oak influence and can be shy, dry and delicate when young, but given bottle age they turn golden and develop buttery, toasty, honey characters you will not find in any other wine in the world.

Interested? Maybe gather some mates together and bid at auction for a bottle from the 1970s. It will not be cheap, but you should see what we mean, and have a memorable experience.

Your love of wine might not extend that far, but you do enjoy a bright and fresh glass or two. Your choice across the district is mouthwatering. The Hunter Valley Magazine currently lists over 70 cellar doors for you to try. Some of the oldest names in the Valley boast some of the world oldest producing vines: Audrey Wilkinson, Lindemans, Tullochs, Tyrrells, McWilliams Mt Pleasant, Draytons and Oakvale. And of course the newer (well, less than a century old) faces adding wonderfully to the Hunter’s reputation: Brokenwood, Petersons, Scarborough, de Iuliis, Margan, First Creek, Bimbadgen, Meerea Park, Briar Ridge, First Creek and Andrew Thomas.

Where to rest your head

The Magazine lists 14 Resorts/Hotels and around 50 Self Contained venues plus guesthouses, motels, a B&B and a caravan park. Golfers will head straight to one of three magnificent championship layouts.

Hunter Valley This Magnificent Life
The essential Magazine. Flick through online and grab one when you get there

Golfers will head straight to one of three magnificent championship layouts.

The luxurious Vintage with its Greg Norman designed course ( www.thevintage.com.au), Cypress Lakes with a choice of 1 -4 bedroom villas (www.cypresslakes.com.au) and the modern and relaxed Crowne Plaza where the course surrounds the hotel (www.crowneplazahuntervalley.com.au)

The other resorts offer a choice of luxury inclusions covering various price ranges from Grand to Boutique.

Across the wide Valley area there are also more than 40 eating establishments to sit yourself down, tuck in your napkin, and enjoy the local produce beside a glass of the local wine. These range from expensive fine dining to cheerful cafes.

The White House can be yours
Hunter Valley This Magnificent Life
Follow the sign for a special stay in the Valley

It was very tempting to headline this paragraph with some wordplay on the residence of the President of the United States.

“Beat Hilary/Donald to the White House!”

OK we didn’t go there, but you can go to a place that will give you many more restful and enjoyable hours than the next incumbent of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave is likely to have.

Hunter Valley This Magnificent Life
Here’s your bed …

This verandah-edged Federation-era weatherboard cottage was the original home of the Tulloch family and now sits beside the Cockfighter’s Ghost winery.

Hunter Valley This Magnificent Life
…here’s your kitchen. Please observe the sign

It has three double bedrooms, two bathrooms, a fire-warmed snug near the well-equipped kitchen, a separate dining room and a huge lounge.

Hunter Valley this Magnificent Life
Heaven, surrounded by gardens and endless vines

Your view just past the surrounding lawns and gardens is the Post Office Block, perfect rows of vines, some over a hundred years old, topped by the Brokenback Mountain range.

Hunter Valley This Magnificent Life
Not your usual high-rise hotel room

Not as ritzy as your resort hotels but a centrally located and comfortable base with an authentic bucolic ambience for three couples to explore the satisfying pleasures of the Hunter.

Check it out at www.cockfightersghost.com.au/our-accommodation

For more information, and to flick through the Magazine to see all your modern day options in this historic valley go straight to www.winecountry.com.au

There’s never been a better time to head to the Hunter – The Hunter Valley Wine and Food Festival is on until the end of June: https://www.winecountry.com.au/events/wine-and-food-festival

 

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Ian MacTavish

Mr MacTavish is a celebrated writer and one of Australia's more respected Wine reviewers, appearing regularly in national magazines, in print and on line. So far, he has never been heard to say 'no' to a wee dram.

1 Comment
  1. Nice read. We’re regulars to the Hunter Valley & love this region! Stayed at The White House recently, which was perfect for our family ahead of wedding celebrations. Nothing beats staying on a vineyard.

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