Hunter Valley: Sydney’s winelands wander

November 12, 2006

On Sunday, I did my first day-trip out into the Australia wine country-side. My new mate, Russ, invited me along with a group of his friends to head out into Sydney’s answer to Stellenbosch.

It all started with a very crack of dawn start (7:30am). After a late Sat night, I must admit I was a little bleary-eyed…but hey, a couple of glasses of wine could only perk me up. So we (Russ, Rob & Lior were in the car) headed up North, passing the very South African spot of St Ives, Gosford and about 2 hours later arrived in Cessnock. This town marks the start of the Hunter Valley and is actually where my Contiki mate, Kate grew up in.

Sadly, on an overcast Sunday morning, the streets were a bit ghost-town-ish and the couple of shops that had yawned open seemed stuck in a time warp. Kate has promised to take me back and show me the wild-side of Cessnock – so I’ll reserve final judgement until then 🙂
We did stop in a cafe which made a massive (and very yummy) hot choc.

The Hunter Valley Mates
Click on the pic on the right to enlarge it
Right, on we go…into the heart of the winelands. And here, I discovered a region which I know I will be visiting often. I always loved going into wine country back in Cape Town. And I felt the same appeal for Hunters – the fertile vineyards, the fresh air, the magnificent wine estates.

The best thing here, is that the wine estates are so close together. So when my sister mentioned that she and Richard would visit up to 10 wineries in one day, I was somewhat dubious. But now, I can see why this feat is possible.

Tasting is free at all the estates so you simply enter the tasting room, taste the wines you want (you can sample them all if you’re not driving 🙂 ), buy whichever suits your palate and move on to the next-door estate. Quite a few of the wineries also offer lunch options in immaculate landscaped environments.

As I’m writing, I am chiding myself for not paying more attention to the names of the estates we visited. All I remember, is that each one was unique in architecture – we visited one that looked like space station, another that looked like a sports stadium and one that was very rustic and country-fied. My favourite was Tempus Two which was elegantly modern in dark woods and shiny travertine floors. The wine here was lovely and I bought a bottle of the slightly fizzy and juicy Moscato (it seriously tastes like sophisticated juice – yum). I also bought their boytritis (a fungus which grows on the grapes which make them sweet and raisin-like) desert wine.

Price-wise, you’re looking at on average about $20 per bottle (just over R100). I gather you can get much cheaper bottles at your local but I guess you’re also paying for the experience and quality of wine.

I also bought a fine bottle of merlot from Cockfighters Ghost wine estate and tasted the famous Cricket Pitch wines at Brokenwood. There was a handful of other wineries we popped into before settling down for a scrumptious lunch at Cafe Enzo. There were 12 of us in the group and with no reservation, the waitron staff very obligingly set us up in a table inside (outside was way too humid). I munched on a spinach salad with fresh fig, butternut and parmesan – delicious.

Our last stop was the Hunter Valley Gardens Village Centre which had a chocolate shoppe, beautiful gardens, a deli and some art galleries.

Russ and Rob wanted to make quick stops at 2 more wineries before we headed back into Sydney – the boot filled with an assortment of wine and chocolate.

All in all, a fabulous intro to the Hunter Valley. Next time, it’ll definitely be a weekend.
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