Hunter Valley Overview
- Vine-lined hills
- Country life
- Semillon, shiraz and sauvignon – sublime
One of the global capitals of New World wine making, Australia’s green and glorious Hunter Valley is the ideal destination for antipodean explorers looking to combine the palatable with the picturesque.
When 18th-century settlers first landed in New South Wales, they made sure they brought some grape vines with them. Thanks to such forethought, the Hunter Valley is now Australia’s most famous viticultural centre, with more than 120 wineries producing dozens of varieties – with semillon taking the starring role. Just two hours’ drive from Sydney, the slopes of the Lower Hunter are home to the highest concentration of vineyards and are peppered with dinky market towns such as Branxton and Lovedale, and quaint rural idylls such as Wollombi, which, with its colonial architecture and welcoming 1930s ethos, is like stepping into a postcard from the past. As you’d expect from a celebrated wine region, the quality of the food has developed to match the drink, and you’ll find some very fine dining indeed in the Hunter Valley’s smattering of elegant restaurants.
Highly Hunter ValleyThe highlight of the Hunter Valley calendar is the annual Lovedale Long Lunch held on the third weekend of May. This popular event brings local restaurants and winemakers together to host a progressive lunch, so you wine and dine your way around seven vineyards throughout the weekend. Visit: www.lovedalelonglunch.com.au.
- It’s a rural region and distances can be on the big side, so cabs aren’t the most cost-effective means of getting around – most will charge for the trip out to pick you up as well as the trip itself.
- Tipping culture
- As with the rest of Oz, tips aren’t expected anywhere – but 10 per cent is always appreciated in upmarket bars and restaurants.
- Siesta and fiesta
- Wineries generally open between 10am and 5pm, although some remain open until 8 or 9pm. The shops in the Hunter Valley’s towns keep standard 9am–5pm hours.
- Packing tips
- A pad for your tasting notes, a comprehensive wine guide, and a picnic blanket for impromptu alfresco snack stops.
- Recommended reads
- James Halliday is Australia’s most respected wine writer – his classic oenophile’s bible The Art and Science of Wine is an essential for anyone who takes their shiraz seriously.
- Regional specialities
- Semillon and shiraz are the region’s most toasted wine varieties, and most vineyards produce one or both wines. To accompany your tipple, pick up something special from the Hunter Valley Cheese Company in Pokolbin (+ 61 (0)2 4998 7744; www.huntervalleycheese.com.au). The Branxton brie with fig mostarda is divine, and we’re still raving about the grapevine-ashed brie on walnut bread. Olives are also grown in the valley, meaning that there is excellent olive oil to be had, and duck is farmed locally, too.
- Australian dollar (AU$)
- Time zone
- GMT + 10
- Dialling codes
- Country code: +61; New South Wales: (0)2.
- Do go/don't go
- The grape harvest kicks off early in the Hunter Valley, with the first semillon fruit picked in January, and then runs through to April. Summer can be piping hot, but from April onwards, things mellow and the days become cool and calm. Winter is the perfect time to sip the Hunter's famed shiraz.
Don't go home without...
seeing the Valley from above. Book a Champagne Tour with Balloon Aloft (+61 (0)2 4991 1955; www.balloonaloft.com) for one-hour scenic flight followed by a gourmet, bubble-fuelled breakfast at Cuvee Restaurant in Peterson's Champagne House, from AU$299 a person.