Wine tasting in the Hunter Valley is incredible! It’s Australia’s oldest wine region and is known for Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz.
The Hunter Valley wine region started from the cuttings of 500 vines that James Busby collected from various vineyards across Europe and was established by four families, all of which still have a presence in the region: Tulloch, Tyrrell, Drayton and Wilkinson.
Ironically, the climate of the Hunter Valley isn’t very conducive to growing wine. The extreme heat, regular humidity and intense storms make the region one of the hottest and wettest. If it weren’t for the Brokenback Range to the west and the Barrington Tops to the north that act like a funnel and pull sea breezes in from the Pacific Ocean, it would make growing grapes almost impossible. The breeze cools down the grapes, but almost more importantly, prevents mould from setting in.
Hunter Valley wine evolved significantly during the 1930s and 1940s thanks to Maurice O’Shea (sometimes referred to as the ‘father’ of Australian table wine). It’s said he had an incredible nose for quality and, equipped with basic tools and an old basket press, he set about crafting table wines never before seen in Australia. By way of comparison, Max Schubert, father of Grange, started his journey in the 1950s, and prior to that, much of the wine made and consumed in Australia was fortified. The blending techniques, sophisticated use of oak and O’Shea’s uncanny ability to pick quality and longevity in table wines (skills he had honed in his studies in France) created new thinking in Australian winemaking. These factors – which O’Shea learned whilst studying in France – eventually led to the first new plantings in the Hunter of the 20th century by Dr Max Lake of Lake’s Folly in 1963.
Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz are arguably the most typical varieties of the region, although Verdelho also has a niche (it is actually well suited to the climate in the Hunter because its thick skin can withstand heat and humidity), and today there is everything from Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc, Fiano, Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Noir and many other small varieties from all over the world. Many wineries also use fruit from regions such as Orange and Cowra to complement their Hunter fruit.
The wine made in the Hunter Valley is great; it proximity to Sydney and international tourism markets makes it the most visited wine region in Australia. The number of restaurants, day spas and tourism-driven attractions has continued to multiply over the years, and today, despite the great wine, people and history of the region, it can often feel more like a tourist destination than a serious wine region.
Fortunately, the majority of the; ‘tourist centre’ is concentrated around the recently built Tempus Two cellar door (corner Broke and McDonalds Roads) that also includes the Smelly Cheese Shop, Goldfish Cocktail Lounge, Oishii Japanese Cuisine, The Barrel Room (for weddings), and Meerea Park wine (great wine, but only venture here if you are happy to feel like you are having a drink at the Opera Bar in Sydney Harbour where everyone is looking at everyone else). The further you get away from this area (what one winemaker referred to as ‘the City’), the fewer people you’ll see and the less it will feel like a tourist centre.
There are six sub-regions of the Hunter Valley including Pokolbin (the biggest and where you’ll find ‘the City’), Lovedale, Broke Fordwich, Mount View, Wollombi Valley and Cessnock. For the purposes of this guide, we divide Pokolbin in half, Hermitage Rd (north) and McDonalds Rd (east).