The appeal of the Hunter Valley is broad, says Mike Bennie, who picks some of the top wineries to visit...
Hunter Valley wineries to visit
More than 150 wineries and inviting cellar doors punctuate meandering country drives, offering a broad spectrum from cosy boutique tasting rooms to state-of-the-art facilities.
Alongside the wine offering, there are world-class golf courses, varied dining opportunities, pastoral drives, hiking, cheese and chocolate tastings, breweries, distilleries and adventure activities.
Travel distances are typically short drives – manageable by bicycle in some cases.
Getting there: The Hunter Valley is a 2.5-hour drive from Sydney airport; otherwise, Pokolbin is an hour’s drive from Newcastle airport.
No visit to the Hunter Valley should exclude a visit to Tyrrell’s. Here, living history is writ large from the first breach of the driveway. The bitumen road to the cellar door is flanked by some of the Hunter Valley’s oldest vines – the landmark wines 4 Acres and Vat 9 find their genesis in these storied vineyards. The 140-plus-year-old plots are an easy stroll from the winery car park, and a must-see for wine enthusiasts.
Tyrrell’s conducts a cellar tour and tasting, which is also not to be missed – visitors are able to tread the dirt floors that six generations of the family have walked, and visit the old, large-format barrel cellar that houses Tyrrell’s flagship wines for maturation.
A visit to the charming Mount Pleasant cellar door makes for a neat pairing in the historical stakes. The McWilliam family is custodian of this great estate, which was home to arguably Australia’s most significant winemaker, Maurice O’Shea. He established Mount Pleasant in 1921, partnering with the McWilliams in the 1930s to expand vineyard holdings.
O’Shea’s wines are still renowned for their longevity, with wines from the 1940s and early 1950s considered some of Australia’s greatest and most sought-after. The current suite of wines from Mount Pleasant, under the guidance of the multi-awarded winemaker Jim Chatto, are heading on a similar trajectory.
Andrew Thomas of the eponymous Thomas Wines dazzled the Australian wine community with his pristine Semillons and inky Shiraz releases from single vineyards.
His departure in style, and yet myopic adherence to the Hunter Valley’s calling-card grape varieties, is one of the great stories of the Hunter’s recent wine history.
Thommo, as he’s known, is often found outside his sleek cellar door, cigarette and beer in hand, ready for a chat about his wines.
He’s one of the great winemakers, and characters, of the Hunter Valley.
Nearby you’ll find his contemporary, Mike De Iuliis, a second-generation wine-grower of Italian background; his De Iuliis’ cellar door blends modern styling and rustic charm.
The architect-designed tasting room is bathed in natural light, with a backdrop of native fauna framing the space. Wines here follow both the cutting-edge and more traditional line, with tannin-driven Nebbiolo and crunchy blends of Shiraz and Touriga Nacional sitting alongside the regional stalwarts of single-vineyard Shiraz and fine-boned Semillon.
Tastings here are completed with a visit to the intriguingly named Two Fat Blokes Gourmet Kitchen, which specialises in cheese and charcuterie.
Rod and Pete Windrim are a father-son wine-growing operation, and the region’s leading biodynamic farmers. Their homely cellar door is a neat counterpoint to much of the Hunter’s rising architectural glamour.
Go for a late-afternoon appointment at Brokenwood, which has a compelling offering in both local wines and those from elsewhere in Australia.
Alternatively, call in to the neighbouring collective of wine producers at Small Winemakers Centre , which gives voice to those without resource for a cellar-door operation of their own.
Innovative, new-to-Hunter Valley grape varieties, expressive blends and a youthful enthusiasm are driving a new generation of Hunter Valley wine producers.
The Hunter Valley offers something for every globetrotting wine lover: the luxurious and the homely; the historic and modern; and, above all, truly world-class wines.
Originally published in the January 2018 issue of Decanter. Edited for Decanter.com by Ellie Douglas.
Mike Bennie is a wine writer, editor-at-large of Australian reviews site www.winefront.com.au, and co-founder of Sydney’s Rootstock festival.