After roughing it in a swag and hostel in the middle of the Australian desert for a few nights, I felt like I was due for a little luxury. So, just two short weeks after returning from Northern Territory, my mate Jonathan and I hit the road for a long weekend in the Hunter Valley. It was Bank Holiday – which is a holiday where the banks close. Just the banks. Schools and stores and businesses and government are still open, but all banks are closed and all bank employees get the day off. Jonathan works for a bank, and I work for an insurance company which is a financial institution and therefore close enough to a bank to get a day off every first Monday of August. Woohoo!!! I love Australia.
The Hunter Valley is about 2.5 hours north of Sydney. I had been to the Hunter once before – in May 2010 – on a day trip from Sydney with Oscar, Karen, and a few others. The bus picked us up at 7am, drove two hours, took us to four wineries, and brought us back by 6pm. We visited Tempus Two (big and corporate), Blueberry Hill (small and adorable), IronBark Hill (not my favourite), and Tintilla Estate (pretty good). After visiting the Barossa Valley region in South Australia earlier this year, the Hunter Valley faded to the back of my mind, but I was excited to hit up a bunch of new wineries this time to see how they compete with the Barossa, and with three whole days to do it, it was going to be much less hectic than the first time around.
Jonathan and I slept in a little and he picked me up mid-morning on the Saturday. We drove up and checked into our fancy schmancy two-bedroom, two-bathroom villa at the Cypress Lakes Resort (oh yes, we went all out!) After we grabbed some lunch, we headed to an area known as Lovedale to check out five wineries: Capercaillie, Allandale, Tatler, Adina, and Gartelmann. We were very pleased with these wineries, especially Capercaillie and Allandale… and Adina… and Gartelmann. Tatler was ok, but I’m a little annoyed at them because their bathrooms have windows looking right out to the parking lot. Or rather, their parking lot had windows looking right into the toilets. Who designed this place? Anyway, aside from the restroom issue at Tatler, the wineries were extremely nice. So pleased were we that we ended up purchasing 13 bottles of wine on day 1:
And we lined them up to take a photo because... we're ridiculous people. I’ll confess that ten of those bottles were mine. Only three were Jonathan’s. I’ve obviously earned my wino badge, haven’t I? In addition to copious amounts of wine, we also stopped at a chocolate factory because, you know, we drove by a chocolate factory, and when you drive by a chocolate factory the only moral, ethical, decent thing to do is stop in and make a purchase. Or two. Right?
And of course there was a trip to the Binnorie Dairy to pick up some cheese. You know I love me some cheese.
We had a chicken and spaghetti dinner that night which we cooked in our villa’s full kitchen (we are sooo luxurious) but we started out with a little cheese and cracker plate to sample our purchases from the day.
The next day was our organized wine tour, so Jono and I both got to get tipsy. Woohoo! I was pleasantly surprised to learn that our first stop was none other than my favourite winery from my previous trip: Blueberry Hill! According to the owner, this winery is home to the best Merlot in the world. Also, this winery is home to a man that I have dubbed the Morgan Freeman of wine. Seriously. The Morgan Freeman of wine. The sole proprietor of Blueberry Hill has a voice that belongs narrating some sort of documentary like March of the Penguins. Seriously. This man somehow makes the phrases “This wine is utterly delicious” and “The vines that produced this wine also produced the world’s best Merlot” sound matter-of-fact and strangely modest. Incredible. Oscar, Karen, and I loved this man when we visited last time, so this time, I couldn’t resist. I had to duck behind the bar and grab a photo with the Morgan Freeman of wine. Oscar and Karen: eat your hearts out!
The rest of the day’s wineries were new to me. Now, shall I go left or shall I go right? Can’t I go both ways?
Our next stop was First Creek:
Followed by Lambloch:
Lambloch had a beautiful new tasting room overlooking the vineyards:
Just like on my last trip, we stopped at the Blue Tongue Brewery for some lunch and beer samples. And just like last time, their beer didn’t impress me. But it’s ok. We were already tipsy by that time so I kept a smile on my face!
We headed to a winery called Misty Glen (isn’t that a stripper name?) before our final stop at one of the bigger, more corporate wineries: McGuigan!
I had been to McGuigan’s winery in the Barossa Valley, and just like the one in the Barossa, I really liked McGuigan’s range of Hunter Valley wines. The best part was, however, the lady pouring the wine. While I found my friend in good ole Morgan at Blueberry Hill, Jono found his friend as soon as this little lady starting bringing the sass. Oh she was good – putting Jono right in his place with zinger here and a comeback there. I could totally feel the heat from the sparks!
Our tour ended but it still wasn’t 5pm. Luckily, we were in walking distance of our sixth winery of the day: Brokenwood. I made my final wine purchases here right before closing time, bringing my grand total to 20… for day 2 alone. Oh yes. I came back to Sydney after purchasing 30 bottles of wine across 11 wineries in just two days. I think I need a bigger wino badge.
Overall, my second impression of the Hunter Valley was infinitely better than my first. And I’m sorta tempted to go back again… and again… and maybe again. There are heaps of wineries still to be tried. Until then, I’ll be patiently awaiting the release of March of the Winos on DVD, narrated by none other than the Morgan Freeman of wine.