A Hunter-Gatherer us a human living in a society in which most or all food is obtained by foraging… And what better place to go foraging for Food, Wine, Craft Beer and Small batch Gin than the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. Territory Taste Publisher Anya Lorimer takes a few days to go exploring for herself.
The Hunter Valley is one of Australia’s famous wine regions. Located only three hours from Sydney it makes for a great weekend foodie destination. It’s also a great place to spend a few days on the way to Byron Bay which is only a further seven hours up the coast.
Lucky, I had my aunt’s birthday to celebrate as a reason to go and the country cousins gathered because they like a good show. The adventure started when I hired a car in Sydney and hit the road with a GPS. The car was situated in a loading bay in Pitt Street, so it was a grab the keys and go situation. And while I was still adjusting seats and mirrors as I was heading north over the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 8 lanes of traffic, I was on my way. Once I relaxed and settled into some tunes, I was happy I chose to drive. I hadn’t driven in Sydney for a few years and it’s something I don’t want to lose the nerve to do.
Heading inland and off the M1 that goes up to Newcastle, you travel through beautiful scenery and into the Hunter Valley that is steeped in pioneer history with impressive front gates, roses and rolling hills of vineyards. For the ultimate weekend like I just had, I recommend finding a great place to stay and park up the car. You can carpool, hire an electric bike or jump on a wine tasting tour to get around and everything is really close. For me, I found my home at the Hunter Valley Resort complete with Hunter wine theatre, wine school and tastings, grape stomping, horse riding, pool, tennis court, and the Matilda Bay Brewhouse. Apparently, winemakers say “It takes a lot of beer to make a quality wine…” So, what better way to finish a hard day of wine tasting in wine country than with a cleansing ale and the alcoholic ginger beer was a stand out for me. We got to experience 12 brews with accompanying tasting notes for each including Lagers, Ales, Stout and Cider. Not only did we work our way through 12 amazing craft brews on tap in the name
of research and development for our readers… we achieved this in the middle of wine country!
As soon as you head out to explore you are met with welcoming cellar doors that line the road one after another for over fifty kilometres. Occasionally you will find a cheese shop, or a fudge factory pop up, as did the Hunter Distillery. It was at this point I was super happy I had convinced my dad to drive and at 10am it was time to kick off the day, tasting gin. The Hunter Distillery is a flash new set up that use premium quality organic raw ingredients to produce an exceptional range of top-shelf spirits. The multi-award-winning spirits include four Gins, eight Vodkas, ten Schnapps and a special Ursula Honey Vodka all made on site.
I’ve never done gin tasting before and at the Hunter Distillery, you sip samples from a test tube straight which is kind of strange because I don’t often drink G’s without the T’s. Being a rebel razor, I chose the purple Mystery Gin to take away purely because I’d not purchased a blue/purple gin before, and it was pretty neat. I have to say it was a great choice because it went from a blue ink to a purple-pink when tonic was added and had all the theatre of a grade 7 science experiment. But I was really in the Hunter to celebrate a birthday and surround myself with exceptional wine and learn a thing or two about the area. Vineyards started to be established on the banks of the Hunter River around the early 1820s. The first pioneers of the Hunter Valley’s long winemaking history were George Wyndham of Dalwood, William Kelman of Kirkton
and James King of Irrawang. It was viticulturalist James Busby who arrived in NSW and bought a collection of 500 vine cuttings drawn from collections and private plantings who we can credit the premium Hunter Wine Region European base stock back to. It was a replica set from these cuttings that were planted at one of the first official land grants at Kirkton on the Hunter River by William Kelman, who was Busby brother in law, that kicked off the region. By 1840 the Hunter Valley’s registered vineyard area exceeded 500 acres In the latter part of the 19th century another four families established significant vineyards in the area; Tyrrell, Tulloch, Wilkinson & Drayton families, alongside the well-known Dr. Henry Lindeman.
You are reminded of the history of the region by a visit to Tyrell Winery. Edward Tyrell took up a selection of 320 acres of prime Hunter Valley limestone country at the foot of the Brokeback Range in 1858. He named the property “Ashman’s” after his maternal grandmother’s ancestral home “Ashmans Hall” in Suffolk, England. It was here they built an iron bark slab hut that is still standing today.The Tyrrell family celebrated their 160th Anniversary in 2018 and are still expanding their operation in the Hunter Valley. They acquired the Old Patch block from Neil and Bernadette Stevens which was a significant move because the region has 11 blocks of vineyard over 100 years old on their own roots, and this purchase gave the Tyrrell family seven of those blocks.
Today, there are over 150 wineries producing a wide array of wines. The combination of cellar doors, exceptional restaurants, craft breweries, olives, cheese, chocolate and fudge producers and a huge selection of accommodation options have long pegged the Hunter Valley as a destination for foodies. Weddings and functions are big business and the picturesque location of rolling vineyards is a photographer’s dream. Establishments such as McGuigan Wines, Pepper Tree, Brokenwood, Thomas Wines,First Creek, Cockfighters Ghost, Briar Ridge,Tintilla, Saddlers Creek, Lynwood Estate, Mount Pleasant Wines, Peter Drayton, Hallandale, De Luis Wines, Petersons, Legate, Mistletoe, Tamburlaine Organic Wines, Oakdale, Hart and Hunter, Ernest Hill only just scratch the surface. There are also heaps of things to do such as segways, horse riding, festivals, and hot air ballooning is incredibly popular. The Hunter Valley is also attracting some of the biggest concerts in the world. Hope Estate just hosted Red Hot Chilli Peppers and have Elton John Farewell tour 11th January 2020. Roundhouse Entertainment are bringing Australian pop princess Kylie Minogue – for the first time ever – playing at “A Day on The Green” at Bimbadgen on Saturday 16 March.
Another place I didn’t expect to find was the Hunter Valley Gardens, its 14 hectares with over 6,000 trees, 600,000 shrubs and 1,000,000 ground covers in what was once horse paddocks. It was built in 2001 by Bill Roche when he retired and sold out of his company called Nutrimetics. The gardens are a network of ten themed garden displays with over eight kilometres of pathways. From oriental to formal, roses to a magical storybook garden. It took over four years to create by a full-time dedicated crew of 40 – 50 landscapers, designers, and engineers. Hunter Valley Gardens also do Christmas light displays, have an amusement rides area complete with a Venetian Carousel, Swing Chair, and Ferris Wheel and if you choose to go in winter time they even do a winter wonderland with a giant ice-skating rink and mega toboggan area in manmade snow.
It’s a good idea to keep an eye on who’s playing and what’s on if you want to combine a concert with a wine experience and also the weather because it is a fair hike for Territorians to travel. The Hunter Valley’s is similar to a Mediterranean climate with balmy days in spring and summer and brisk nights in autumn and winter when wood fires are roaring. In summer the average daily temperature is between 28°-30C and in winter 16-18°C, dipping to lows of 2-4°C overnight. January is the hottest month and July the coldest. Summer can be warm in the Hunter Valley. There are plenty of crisp, cool Hunter Valley whites to enjoy and swimming pools to dive into to make summer a great time for a visit. It is also harvest time and therefore an exciting and vibrant time of year. Harvest starts around the end of January and continues on until March and if you want to give grape stomping a crack there are heaps of places that offer this. As autumn days draw on, many of the vine leaves turn a warm orange-red colour and start dropping off the vines. Autumn is the time to celebrate the year’s harvest with the Hunter Valley Wine & Food Festival held each May and June. Winter in Wine Country is a beautiful time of the year for Territorians looking for a change of climate.
Say hello to crisp, clear blue skies and mild temperatures averaging 18°C during the day but dropping to 4-5°C at night. Combine that with an endless supply of award-winning great red wine, snuggled in front of a cosy fireplace and hearty winter food and you had me at ‘hello’. Spring is when the vines spring to life with delicate foliage and ‘buds burst’ with the hills painted a lush green. Flowers bloom everywhere and the Spring Festival of Flowers held is in September at Hunter Valley Gardens. The Temperatures in Spring sit around the early 20s making it a fantastic setting for outdoor events such as Opera in the Vineyards and the start of the wedding season. As you can see it’s always a great time to travel to the Hunter Valley and every day is a good day to drink wine.
To find out what is on offer in Sydney and NSW visit visitnsw.com
Further information on the Hunter Valley including winery’s, concerts, festivals, activities and accommodation options can be found at winecountry.com.au
To book at Hunter Valley Resort go to hunterresort.com.au
For more information on the Hunter Valley Gardens go to huntervalleygardens.com.au
To get a great deal on an unlimited kilometer car hire from Sydney we chose to travel with avis.com.au