The first sighting of European settlers in the Hunter Valley was in 1798 when a lieutenant drifted into the Hunter River in search of escaped convicts.
While it is said that the region was named after Captain John Hunter, I’d say there’s a good chance the colonists chose the name for how well it reflected their motives in the valley.
Regardless, the region continues to attract hunters from around the world searching for some its finest fruity intoxicants.
Today’s tour took us to four cellar doors in the Hunter Valley and one chocolatier.
With pickup scheduled at 6:55 near Sydney Central Station and some road closures due to a gas leak in the city, we were on our way to Pokolbin around 7:30 and arrived at our first stop twenty minutes later than the planned 10 am arrival.
I’ve seen the sunset over the Harbour Bridge numerous times but catching its rise this morning already made the day worth getting up for–that early, I mean.
The two-to-three-hour drive up to Hunter Valley was both scenic and informative, with our driver and tour guide occasionally popping up with interesting facts about the area.
For example, as we crossed the Hawkesbury River on the Pacific Highway, he explained that the area was named Brooklyn because a New-York based company won the bid to build the bridge with their then-leading underwater welding technology.
More interesting still is how the bridge divides the fresh water of the river on one side from the salt water bay on the other–a perfect environment for bull shark, apparently.
Having arrived in Hunter Valley, we received more information about the winemaking region itself. For example, we were told that the area was home first to a penal colony and only to vineyards after the penitentiary was relocated to Port Macquarie.
Another change in the Hunter region with an equally monumental impact on its winemaking history was a Sydney hand surgeon’s decision to buy up over two dozen hectares of vine territory.
As winemaking in the valley had begun to whither, Dr. Max Lake’s brassy purchase brought new life to the region when the first boutique vineyard was planted in 1963.
Though the land changed hands at the turn of the century, this gutsy buy is reflected ironically on its wine label. Lake’s Folly is now one of 150 wineries peppering the Hunter hills.
On to our first tasting stop:
Although McGuigan only planted its first vineyards in 1992, it is now Australia’s largest wine producer and four-time international winemaker of the year.
If you are a lover of full-bodied white wines, a trip to Hunter Valley won’t disappoint. As the Bordeaux region is to its wine, so Hunter Valley is becoming to Semillon.
Though this French grape hails from Bordeaux, it is McGuigan Wines that has produced the best Semillon in the world for seven years straight. You’ll indubitably get a taste of their Semillon on your Hunter Valley wine tasting tour, along with sips of Portuguese Verdelho and German Gewürztraminer whites.
Tastings flow from whites–and sometimes roses–to reds and end with tawny-colored dessert wines.
Our wine of the day–since we’re both red drinkers–was McGuigan’s 2015 The Farms Shiraz, a limited new release provided for tasting at the cellar door.
Besides pouring the first glasses to quell the thirst of our drive from Sydney, the McGuigan tasting also provided some curious information on such things as Australian wine regions, the difference between American and French oak barrels, and the impact on local wines.
At the Hunter Valley Resort, our wines were paired with cheese. At such occasions, one is reminded never to venture to the moon without crackers. Additionally, a Pinot Gris might not be a bad addition.
At the cellar door, we tried a pleasant variety of wines, each paired with a different cheese–from labna to feta and cheddar to brie.
These tasty bites of milk and yogurt curds certainly whet our appetites for lunch, which was also served at the Hunter Valley Resort.
The meal was enjoyed by a blazing fireplace and the warmth was a more than welcome respite from chilling winds.
After lunch and a cup of tea, we were ready to resume the sampling of inebriants.
Next on the tasting tour was Hunter’s Dream, a small vineyard now owned by Nature’s Care–a manufacturer of health food and skin care products.
This gorgeous, small-scale winery had a wonderful appeal to it but unfortunately its bottled goods were somewhat lacking compared to earlier tastings.
Our last wine stop on the tour was a true Aussie-family-owned vineyard with a defiant and somewhat loud overture into the winemaking world.
Mistletoe was certainly the most generous of the wineries, providing nearly a dozen wines for tasting. In addition to whites, reds, and tawnys, Mistletoe offered us our first and only rosé of the day.
As the third-generation daughter of this family-owned estate prepared tables for the tasting, her grandmother explained considered rosé to be old-fashioned. However, her husband–in his seemingly stubborn nature–chose to make it regardless.
I’m not sure where this idea comes from, by the way, but back in Europe, we love our rosés–especially on a picnic or a midday terrace stop.
My only complaint about the Mistletoe experience was that is was very text heavy, with signs, posters, and pamphlets filled corner-to-corner with black ink. It’s not that I don’t respect the choice to use refrain from the environmentally unsustainable use of cork or to give your Muscat the Aussie “Mozcato” twang, but why not let the wine speak for itself?
After drinking our fill of Hunter Valley wines, a chocolate stop was well in order.
At the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company, Peter the chocolatier gave us a sampling of the fine Belgian chocolates used to make their tasty treats and we had a few bites of their fudge as well.
Remarkably, in the last moments of the day, as we stood near the van waiting for our return to Sydney, rain began to fall from a sky that had been otherwise perfectly blue since sunrise.
Just as all the members of our group were fastened in and the driver revved us on our way, the downpour began and we fell into a blissfully inebriated sleep.
Just after sunset, we found ourselves back in the center of Sydney.
In all honesty, after an entire day tasting wine, my man and I were ready for a beer. Having been dropped off on the outskirts of Chinatown just after 7 pm, we were minutes away from Chinese Noodle House–a favorite stop for dumplings.
The cold, crisp brew we picked up along the way paired fantastically with dumplings, braised eggplant, mapo tofu, and more.
So yet another beautiful day was concluded.
Signing off, with gratitude.