Pootling around some of Australia’s oldest wineries in the Hunter Valley should be at the top of your must-do trips if you’re anywhere near Sydney during your travels.
But unless you’re a secret sommelier, you should ignore guides telling you which are the ‘best’ wineries in the Hunter.
To any casual lover of a Shiraz or Chardonnay at home, you’re unlikely to taste a bad drop at any of the dozens of cellar doors in this compact and easy to navigate region, so just park up and dive in!
Here’s what we wished we knew before we headed to the Hunter…
1. How to get there?
Renting a car from Sydney is the quickest, easiest way to get around. It’s around two and a half hours. Leave early, arrive by lunch time and get sipping!
2. How long to go for?
One overnight stay is enough to visit 5 or 6 cellar doors in one day without having to consider driving home.
For the uninitiated, a cellar door is a tasting room-cum-shop where wineries allow you to try their wares, usually for free (more later).
Depending on how many red wine hangovers you’re up for (and once you hit 30, those headaches won’t quit), two nights will allow you to explore further afield.
3. Where and when to stay?
The Hunter is pretty small and you’re never far away from some of the good stuff, but Broke Road in Pokolbin is Shiraz central.
We stayed at the Pokolbin Village, which like everywhere else is FAR cheaper midweek.
We got a deal for under $100AUS but expect at least double that from Thursday onwards, when the stags/hens/bucks/bachelor/bachelorette parties roll in to town.
There were half a dozen cellar doors within a couple of kilometres of the Pokolbin Village; good stumbling/tipsy cycling distance.
3. How to get around?
If you’re feeling energetic, you can walk between wineries fairly quickly, but who wants to waste quality quaffing time on foot?
We considered an organised minibus tour but at 60 bucks each for 3-4 hours and as many wineries of their choosing, it felt too rushed and prescribed.
We ended up renting bikes to add to the adventure and save time. We paid $54 for two from our hotel; dedicated rental companies charge more.
It allowed us to get to 5 wineries in less than 4 hours, with a few short schleps in between. The terrain can be pretty undulating so bear that in mind if you have any health problems (and remember you’ll probably have wine weighing you down by the end!)
4. Do you have to buy the wine you taste?
In a word, no. But if you’re as bloody British as we are it can be difficult to leave empty handed from a one-on-one with a wine expert without feeling like you’ve insulted their first born.
Most cellar doors offer free tastings with no obligation; some charge $5/10 per person which is waived if you buy a bottle.
Thankfully the wine is so consistently lovely you’ll probably want to buy some to take home anyway; the good vintages start from $25-30 a bottle but some every day bottles are less than $15.
The bigger winemakers like McGuigan’s felt easier to leave without buying; the smaller family firms you may feel more guilty walking away from.
5. So which wineries shall I go to?
It’s impossible to choose the best of more than 100 wine makers. If you’re a casual wine drinker, you’ll find something amazing wherever you go.
Some are just shop fronts unconnected to the actual vineyards, others are right in amongst the grapes, which adds to the experience.
Meerea Park. Ignore the cellar door set up which looks a bit like a posh motorway service station and just enjoy the amazing wine. Their The Aunts Shiraz was the best we tasted all day, and our host Christine was friendly and a bit sparky, which we enjoyed.
Tyrell’s – one of the oldest in the region and the cellar door is in amongst the vineyards on a picturesque hillside. The best Semillon and Pinot Noir we tasted and a big range of great value everyday wines for less than $15 if you don’t fancy breaking the bank.
First Creek – A newer winery but no less prestigious, it’s got gold medals coming out of its ears. The cellar door is on site with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the oak and steel barrels.