Hunter Valley in numbers*
- Elevation: 50–220 metres above sea level:
- Annual rainfall: 470 mm
- Mean temperature (Jan): 22.3°C
- Area under vine: 2,324 hectares
- White grapes: 53%
- Red grapes: 47%
- Average yield: 2.1 t/ha
The Hunter Valley is Australia’s oldest wine region, shading Western Australia’s Swan Valley by a bit less than a decade. Those first plantings were somewhat furtive, with 8 hectares in the ground by 1823 on the banks of the Hunter River in what is now the Dalwood/Gresford area, between Maitland and Singleton.
When James Busby imported his collection of over 400 vine types in the 1830s, he planted cuttings in the Sydney Botanic Gardens as well as many of the same varieties, though perhaps not all, at his brother-in-law’s Hunter property, Kirkton. This was also around the time that plantings took off in earnest, with the land under vine rapidly swelling to over 200 hectares by 1840.
In the latter half of the 19th century, some the Hunter’s most famous names – Wilkinson, Lindeman, Tulloch, Tyrrell, Drayton – established their holdings, while a vineyard in Pokolbin planted by Charles King in 1880 would later form the core of the estate of one of this country’s greatest vignerons and visionaries. That site is the Old Hill Vineyard and it was bought in 1921 by Leontine O’Shea, along with an abutting parcel, at the urging of her 24-year-old son, Maurice.
There is no doubt that Maurice O’Shea’s tenure at Mount Pleasant represents one of the most significant episodes in Australian wine, and the ripples are felt even now. O’Shea championed table wines when fortified wines were king. He carefully blended across varieties – including his iconic blending of pinot noir and shiraz – to make wines of a desired weight and aromatic detail, rather than lumping varieties in together indiscriminately. He even blended across white and red varieties, but never arbitrarily, and he focused on the differences that his sites afforded him. O’Shea also planted the Hunter’s most iconic semillon vineyard, Lovedale, in 1946.
Some of these ideas may seem commonplace now, but that’s how a legacy works. As said, the ripples are felt today. Although few examples exist today, the quality of O’Shea’s wines was borne out by their longevity, and not just as survivors, but wines that blossomed in the cellar, wines that were enhanced by time. And throughout his career – which was tragically cut short by his death at age 59 in 1958 – O’Shea never worked with modern equipment, and, in fact, never even had the luxury of electricity.
While many varieties were planted in the Hunter in the early days, the kingship of shiraz and semillon was soon established. Having said that, the varieties remained buried under confusing nomenclature for some time. Lindeman’s famously employed the term ‘Hunter River Burgundy’ for their shiraz, while they used ‘Hunter River White Burgundy’, ‘Hunter River Chablis’ and ‘Hunter River Riesling’ for their semillons. These were attempts at communicating style, with the semillon tags reflecting different levels of fruit weight in the bottled wines.
Although the Hunter never suffered the humiliations of the Yarra Valley and the like, whose vines were wiped out, it did suffer a decline in the early and mid-20th century – despite the best efforts of O’Shea – with a revival gaining pace in the 60s, coinciding with a slowly tightening embrace of table wines. Dr Max Lake, one of the Hunter’s great modern champions and characters (as well as being a prolific author), is thought to have planted the first vineyard in the Hunter since the 19th century, some 60-odd years after the turn of the century.
Lake was drawn to the area after being intrigued by an especially good bottle of Hunter Valley cabernet, hardly a regional strong suit, then or now. Lake was the leading hand surgeon at the time – another in the great tradition of medical professionals founding vineyards in the latter mid-20th century – and no doubt a very busy man, but the wine intrigued him enough to conduct soil tests to find a vineyard site to match and eventually exceed the wine that had so intrigued him.
Settling on a site on Broke Road in Pokolbin, opposite Mount Pleasant’s Rosehill Vineyard, Lake planted cabernet in 1963, then chardonnay in 1969, both of which were considered a ‘folly’ at the time. His wines were to become ground-breaking examples and were responsible for not just a boost to the Hunter, but also to the cause of Australian fine wine in general.
The epiphany that pushed Lake headlong into his ‘folly’ was a 1930 Dalwood cabernet blend, and he proclaimed it as the best wine he had ever tasted. It was made under the ownership of the then family-owned Penfolds, who had bought it from the pioneering Wyndham family.
The McGuigan family subsequently bought Dalwood in the 60s, renamed it Wyndham Estate and turned it into one of Australia’s biggest brands. They also equipped the headquarters to be the Hunter’s largest destination for dining, major events and the like, before being shuttered by Pernod Ricard many years later after their acquisition of the brand and its eventual decline. It has since been purchased and relaunched as Dalwood Estate once more – a little bit of history returning.
That association with big brands become a Hunter strength, and also its great burden. Scientific advancements in winemaking meant producing the “bottled sunshine” that Australia was to become famous for became a reliable proposition, and it was possible on a vast scale. Brands like Lindeman’s, Rosemount and Wyndham Estate become monolithic, but they were brands largely untethered from their regional origins, and eventually much of the excitement dissipated – well, from a quality perspective at least.
And while this corporatisation was diluting the real message, the Hunter was also rich with larger than life figures and regional champions, from Lake, to a young James Halliday co-founding Brokenwood, to the incomparable Len Evans. Helming the bullish growth of Rothbury Estate (which originally celebrated the Hunter in all its nuances), Evans exited after a hostile takeover and established Tower Estate, which became as famous for its wines as it did its five-star accommodation and restaurant.
Evans is one of the most celebrated advocates of Australian wine, and of Hunter Valley wine. Today, an invitation to the Len Evans Tutorial is one of the industry’s most prized tickets, with a wealth of extraordinary bottles opened and tasted under rigorous scrutiny from leading industry lights. It was founded by Evans as a means of training prospective wine show judges, and it has continued in this spirit after his death in 2006, slumped over the steering wheel of his car in the carpark of the Newcastle Hospital.
Today, the Hunter has fought to rebuild itself, and do so on largely classical lines. The great estates of Mount Pleasant and Tyrrell’s are making semillon, shiraz and chardonnay of supremely high quality, from everyday bottlings to refined classics, while there is a new guard both fine-tuning and innovating. Additionally, a history smudged somewhat by corporate winemaking and brand building is being restored. The old Ben Ean winery has been reinvigorated by the McGuigan and Peterson families, Tulloch Wines is back in family hands and the historic Dalwood has both had its name restored and is undergoing replanting to restore Spanish and Portuguese varieties that were part of the original estate. Indeed, the Hunter is as strong as ever, if not more so.
Although often classed as having a Mediterranean climate, the Hunter is really more sub-tropical, with cooling ocean breezes providing welcome moderation. The Hunter is a warm region, hot even, and it’s a humid one. Both of these factors can make viticulture a challenge, with heat endangering the development of ripe tannins and fresh flavours, while sugars (and therefore alcohol) skyrocket.
And then there’s the humidity, with sometimes ample rains in the growing season. Humidity is a bit promoter of fungal diseases in grapevines, so can present many challenges, especially when coupled with a little incubating warmth. But Hunter wines are not typically characterised by either of these things, with both purity and a degree of restraint being hallmarks.
The Hunter is unusual in that the warm days and relatively warm nights mean that the tannins in red grapes can ripen at night while the sugars haven’t reached high levels during the daytime, resulting in physiologically ripe grapes early in the season. This quirk, coupled with an adaptive approach from the early days and a lot of modern research in how to manage viticulture to suit the conditions, means that what could be seen as obstacles are in fact integral components of the Hunter signature.
The early adaption saw the birth of the styles that the Hunter is famous for, with semillon picked ultra-early, and shiraz also harvested before many other regions. The challenge with shiraz, however, is to build flavour and get those tannins ripe early enough. This has typically been managed with low yields, allowing grapes to ripen flavours and tannins early in the season and at low potential alcohol. In fact, many of the yields per hectare from quality growers would make many a pinot noir grower blush.
The range of altitude varies significantly in the Hunter region, but viticulture is contained in a relatively narrow and low-ish band, so it is not a major factor influencing style, but the soil variation in those different areas is. The alluvial flats with sandy soils are traditionally said to favour semillon, while the loam and red duplex soils up from the flats are generally thought of as shiraz territory. In the Upper Hunter, black loam soils predominate, and strips of volcanic basalt feature in the Brokenback hills. It is a region that is hard to generalise about, though, with both the variety of soil types and climate impacts dictated by sea breezes and proximity to the Hunter River having a meaningful impact on grape growing.
The Hunter climate may be an unusual one for quality wine grapes, but the results are indisputable. And that the climate typically produces shiraz of medium weight with a distinctly savoury cast provides a style signature of grape to region that is utterly unique. Perhaps most unique, and that word is not used lightly, is the specialisation in semillon, and in a style that is seen nowhere else in the world, except perhaps in imitation.
Semillon is most famously used as a blending component (along with sauvignon blanc and Muscadelle) of the aromatic and textural dry wines of Bordeaux and their sweet counterparts, most famously from the appellations of Sauternes and Barsac, where the grapes become a vehicle for the expression of botrytis.
Hunter Valley semillon, on the other hand, is all about nervy tension and purity. They are classically picked early, typically in January, with a potential alcohol typically hovering just above 10 per cent. They ripple with acidity, are light bodied, achingly dry and have aromas of lemon and cut herbs. And then they age.
A quality Hunter semillon, with a good cork or ideally a screw cap, will cellar for many decades, making it one of the world’s longest ageing white wines. Over time, it will pick up toasty, honeyed and lemon curd notes and build texture in the palate. It was always said that the impression of oak, which was rarely a factor in traditional winemaking (neutral large-format oak, yes, but not oak flavour), was something that mature semillon developed, with some even comparing the wines to aged Burgundy.
It’s perhaps surprising, then, that chardonnay eclipses semillon for plantings, with it creeping up on shiraz as the most dominant variety. Chardonnay has a noble history in the Hunter, with James Busby (the great importer of vine cuttings in the 1830s) planting it both in the Sydney Botanic Gardens and the Hunter Valley. Anecdotally, cuttings ended up in nearby Mudgee, which were identified in the late 60s and saw Mudgee become the cradle of Chardonnay in this country – if we have now somewhat moved on. But it is perhaps Tyrrell’s famous ‘Vat 47’, launched in 1971, that advanced the chardonnay cause more than any other – though it was erroneously labelled ‘Pinot Chardonnay’ for many decades.
It’s also worth noting that the Hunter is the home of pinot noir in this country, with Australia’s most prolific and famous clone, MV6, originally sourced from vine material at Mount Pleasant. Hunter pinot is unlike what you might expect from somewhere like Mornington, with a savoury and structured profile, making clearer sense of O’Shea’s thinking when he decided to blend it with shiraz in the 40s.
The Hunter has also historically had a large array of grape varieties planted, and it is still a place where French vignerons come to source pre-phylloxera vine material for their own vineyards. Today, many varieties are returning, and many more are being planted for the first time. Iberian varieties like tempranillo and touriga are finding success, and so too are Italian ones, like vermentino and fiano. Gamay is also making some gentle waves (it was actually first planted here in the 70s by Len Evans, and Tyrrell’s make a wine from those vines) as is pinot meunier, which was widely planted in the 19th century. The future is bright both for the stalwarts and the newcomers, with there being little doubt that many Mediterranean varieties will eventually excel in the Hunter.
One of the Hunter’s most famous names, Brokenwood is a mere pup when compared to Tyrrell’s, Lindeman’s and the like. The first sod was turned in 1970 in the foothills of the Brokenback Ranges, with the first harvest coming in 1970. Of the trio of solicitors that founded Brokenwood, the name James Halliday would stand out most prominently. If the photo record is representative, it took quite a bit of beer to get the vineyard and winery up and running, and as legend has it, the grapes from that first harvest were transported to the rudimentary winery in the back of Len Evans’ Bentley. Different times. Iain Riggs was engaged in 1982 as the winemaker, and he took them to the very elite ranks of Australian wine as their managing Director. The ‘Graveyard Vineyard’ Shiraz and ‘ILR’ Semillon have become icons of Australian wine, but Brokenwood’s scope has been broad, with notable and sustained forays into Beechworth and McLaren Vale, too.
A: 401-427 McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4998 7559
The Hunter is the cradle of wine history, both for early pioneers and the renaissance makers of the latter half of the 20th century. Dr Max lake is preeminent amongst them, and his ‘folly’ of focusing on cabernet and chardonnay has proven to be the work of a visionary. Lake’s Folly is one of Australia’s greatest wineries, today owned by the Fogarty family, who are primarily based in Western Australia, owning Deep Woods, Millbrook and Evans & Tate, as well as Victorian icon Dalwhinnie. Inspired by a 1930 cabernet blend, Lake planted a greenfield site opposite Mount Pleasant’s Rosehill property in Pokolbin. And though Lake passed away in 2009, and the estate was sold, not much has changed at Lake’s Folly. The estate still produces just two wines, a cabernets blend and a chardonnay, and both are fashioned by Chief Winemaker Rodney Kempe (since 2000) and Assistant Winemaker Peter Payard (since 1984) with a faithfulness to the philosophies of Lake.
A: 2320–2416 Broke Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4998 7507
Lindeman’s has changed much over the years, passing through different hands many times, before being bought by Penfolds, which is where it still resides, in the Treasury Wine Estates portfolio. Founded in 1843 by Dr John Lindeman, Lindeman’s is Australia’s oldest continuous wine producer. That continuity is nothing like that of Tyrrell’s, where the family legacy has been passed from generation to generation, rather it is somewhat like the parable of the axe that has had two new handles and two new heads over its life. Is it the same axe? Well, no. Lindeman’s became a brand, with Hunter production becoming a minor part of the operation. It’s important to not forget the history, however, with legendary and long-serving winemaker Karl Stockhausen making some of the Hunter’s greatest wines, including the legendary pair of 1965 shirazes, ‘Bin 3100’ and ‘Bin 3110’. Today, the historic Lindeman’s winery, Ben Ean, is owned by the McGuigan and Peterson families, and the best of Lindeman’s wines (many not from the Hunter, mind you) are still available for tasting and purchase.
A: 119 McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4993 3700
The Tulloch name is a regal one in the Hunter, with generations of the family working in the wine industry. The original Tulloch estate, founded in 1895, has not always been under family control, with it originally sold in 1969 and changing hands a couple of time before ending up in the Southcorp portfolio (now Treasury Wine Estates). Like many iconic brands in corporate clutches, the Tulloch name was tarnished somewhat. Although Jay Tulloch chaired the company for two decades, he resigned in 1996, but then was offered the chance to buy back the family holdings in 2001. The rest as they say… Jay revived the historic ‘Pokolbin Dry Red’ label in 2003 as well as introducing new ones, a statement of intent about both past and future. Today, Italian and Iberian varieties nestle comfortably alongside the Hunter classics.
A: 447 McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4998 4111
There are few more iconic addresses than this in the Hunter. Mount Pleasant is where the great Maurice O’Shea spent his entire career, planting some of the most important vineyards and developing styles that would influence the regions and Australian winemakers for many generations to come. Starting as partners, McWilliams’s Wines assumed full ownership in 1941, but gave O’Shea full rein to develop his table wines, both at odds with the times and McWilliam’s own status as a one of the preeminent makers of fortified wines. Today, Adrian Sparks is the Chief Winemaker, taking over from Jim Chatto, who underlined O’Shea’s legacy by diversifying the offering to mirror the individual sites and wines that he had championed in the early 20th century. That connection to the past is enhanced by traditional winemaking and a preference for old large-format oak. Unsurprisingly, shiraz and semillon are key, though O’Shea’s legendary blend of pinot noir and shiraz, ‘Mount Henry’, has taken its rightful place once again.
A: 401 Marrowbone Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4998 7505
If Mount Pleasant is the talisman for early innovation, Tyrrell’s is the bastion of long-held tradition. Now that’s not to say the Tyrrell’s is inflexible, far from it, with a very progressive approach directed by fifth-generation winemaker Chris Tyrrell. That approach is not about wholesale change, but rather one of informing tradition with modern knowledge, making wines of great purity with minimal intervention in the winery. Oak, when it is used, is almost always of significantly large format, and overwhelmingly neutral.
Tyrrell’s have long been famous for their ‘Vat’ wines, with the ‘Vat 1’ Semillon, ‘Vat 9’ Shiraz and ‘Vat 47’ Chardonnay some of the country’s most famous wines, but Chris Tyrrell has recently championed individual block and vineyard wines. Alongside all the classics, Tyrrell’s now make a dizzying selection of these, which change somewhat from year to year.
A: 1838 Broke Road, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4993 7000
Scott Comyns worked for some of the Hunter’s top makers (including under Jim Chatto at Pepper Tree Wines before taking on the Chief Winemaker’s role) before launching his own label with his wife, Missy. Scott now crafts wines both familiar and unfamiliar, working with shiraz, semillon and chardonnay, as well as making an off-dry riesling, fiano, tempranillo and even a sparkling grüner veltliner. Missy runs the charming cellar door operation, one of the region’s best small facilities.
A: 1946 Broke Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4998 7493
Launched in 2017, Daniel Payne’s Dirt Candy is an outsider brand – a rare thing in the Hunter. Although equipped with a deep respect for the traditions of the region, Payne didn’t want to tread a familiar path. His are wines that ¬– respectfully ¬¬– tilt the norms. He blends classic Hunter varieties with Iberian ones, gives gewürztraminer extended skin contact and makes a varietal vermentino. Hardly Hunter classics. In fact, it has taken him until the 2020 vintage to make a varietal semillon, though it was fermented with indigenous yeasts and bottled un-fined and unfiltered.
Ph: 0412 510 594
Richie Harkham’s heritage in wine is not a local one, rather his family were pioneers of grape growing and winemaking in Israel in the 50s. In 2005, the family bought the old Windarra Estate and Richie has built the Harkham brand on the principles of making wine as naturally as possible. The vineyards are farmed organically, and the winemaking process eschews any additions. As they say its “100% naturally fermented grape juice”. The wines focus on classic Hunter varieties and are pure, vibrant and utterly unique expressions of the region. Harkham also has excellent boutique accommodation and a well-regarded restaurant that features a “Latino street food pop up” every Friday night, accompanied by live music and plenty of natural wine, of course.
A: 266 De Beyers Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4998 7648
Shaun and Liz Silkman launched their own label from the 2013 harvest while they also held down major jobs at Shaun’s father’s business, First Creek Wines. Liz is still the Chief Winemaker and Shaun the Chief Operating Officer, producing the estate wines as well as running the sizable contract business. And though they sound busy enough day jobs, the duo have built Silkman Wines into one of the Hunter’s most dynamic. With a rare insight into the mosaic of Hunter vineyards, the pair focus on working with distinguished sites of great character. The regional classics take the stage, with shiraz, semillon and chardonnay leading the way, and a pinot noir and shiraz blend, a tribute to Maurice O’Shea, gets the reserve treatment.
A: 426 McDonalds Road, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4998 7668
Andrew Thomas is an interloper of sorts, a McLaren Vale lad who has made the Hunter home. Thomas fell into vintage work at Tyrrell’s while studying winemaking at Roseworthy. He was no stranger to the processes, with his father, Wayne Thomas, a distinguished McLaren Vale maker, and he duly impressed Murray Tyrrell at the time. An assistant winemaking role followed in 1987, as did 13 years there. His eponymous label was born in 1997, and he has focused primarily on distinguished sites and subtly evolving the Hunter style. His wines are arguably the benchmark for the modern Hunter maker.
A: Hermitage Rd & Mistletoe Ln, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4998 7134
Angus Vinden is the youthful Winemaker and General Manager of his family estate, which was first planted by his father in 1990. Vinden is an innovative maker who also works hand in glove with tradition. He believes those two seeming opposites are actually closely aligned. Vinden works his vineyards using organic principles, much as the older generations would have. He uses minimal intervention methods and minimal new oak, much as they would have, too. And he has made a significant push into planting a panoply of varieties, much as the Hunter had back in the 19th century. Vinden makes classic expressions under the estate label, while he pushes boundaries under his Headcase imprint.
A: 138 Gillards Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: 0488 777 493
That name would be well known to several generations and entirely foreign to several more. Ben Ean is the old Lindeman’s winery, and the name was used to flog millions of litres of ‘Ben Ean Moselle’, which was an anonymous white blend with a decent dose of sugar. It was quite the thing back in the day, and subsequently a cause for much mockery. The original Ben Ean was an estate bought by the Lindeman family in 1912, with the first vines planted back in 1870. And though the name has become somewhat notorious, Brian McGuigan and Colin Peterson were intent on restoring its historical significance, buying the site from Treasury wine Estates in 2017. With the winery came the old vineyards, though the Ben Ean name can’t be used on a wine label – which was probably not a major concern given the history. After extensive renovations, Ben Ean now houses a distillery, several specialty food shops, a restaurant, Baumé, as well as acting as a cellar door for Lindeman’s, Lisa McGuigan Wines and Somm, as well as Savannah Estate in Mudgee and the very much not local wines of Penfolds.
A: 119 McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4993 3700
One of the Hunter’s finest modern producers, Brokenwood have recently upgraded their cellar door to arguably be the best in the region. Brokenwood caters for all levels of interest: pull up a stool at one of the several wine “pods” or be taken on a full tour of the winery with a structured tasting in a private room. If you’re less concerned with the details, grab a snack from Cru Bar & Pantry and take your wine on the deck, or settle into a more refined lunch at the acclaimed The Wood Restaurant. A day passes by quickly here.
A: 401-427 McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4998 7559
Hungerford Hill was one of the leaders in the Hunter’s 20th century renaissance, trailing Lake’s Folly by only four years. The cellar door has long been regarded as one of the best, with both casual and structured group tastings offered. Hungerford Hill is also home to highly regarded Muse Restaurant, one of the region’s finest. If you want to make the most of both, an “Epic Tasting Experience” is offered, matching small plates with estate wines. A “Rare Wine Tasting” is also available, with wines from the extensive cellar chosen to show less-known expressions, as well as showcasing just how well Hunter wines age.
A: 2450 Broke Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4998 7666
In a region known for its humidity, running a biodynamic vineyard certainly has its challenges, especially in managing disease pressure, but the Windrim family have been successfully farming that way for nearly two decades. Set in “Provencal gardens”, the charmingly rural cellar door is draped in ivy and the metal French café chairs and tables arrayed across the gravel courtyard are shaded by plane trees. Peacocks pick their way around regally, while Limousin cattle graze nearby. It’s a transportive place, and the perfect spot for a cheese plate and a glass or two of the excellent estate wines.
A: 712 Wollombi Rd, Broke NSW 2330
Ph: (02) 6579 1322
This is not the flashiest or the most glamorous cellar door, and you’ll have to grab lunch elsewhere, but to properly soak up the history, a visit to Tyrrell’s is a must. Taste through the range, but make sure you book in for a winery tour, where you’ll get to see the large old barrels, the original ironbark hut built by Edward Tyrrell in 1858 and get to walk across the same compacted dirt floors that have witnessed 160 years of winemaking history.
A: 1838 Broke Road, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4993 7000
To get a taste for the Hunter seen anew, Usher Tinkler’s cellar door is the place to be. Tinkler is a third-generation Hunter grower and maker, sourcing fruit from his family’s vineyards, which employ sustainable and biodynamic practices. He makes the Tinklers wines, too, which plough a classic furrow, while his own label takes Hunter classics and twists them a little, or sometimes a lot. The cellar door is situated in the old Pokolbin church, a charming timber building lovingly restored and converted by Usher and his wife, Ebony. It’s one of the most amiable cellar door experiences, and is always accompanied by a generous selection of excellent salumi.
A: 97 McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4998 7069
A cherished local institution, Amanda’s on the Edge has been feeding locals and visitors for over two decades. A family affair that spills into the sumptuous garden in summer and retreats into the cosy dining room with roaring fire in winter, Amanda’s offers refined modern bistro fare with a strong list of local wines. And if lunch ends up being longer than anticipated, you can book one of the three cottages and stay the night as well.
A: 1039 McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4998 7900
Robert and Sally Molines are Hunter Valley legends. Literally. Such has their contribution been to the Hunter’s gastronomic culture that they were inducted as Hunter Valley Living Legends in 2018. Robert is originally from the South of France but has lived in Australia since 1968, and in the Hunter from 1973. Bistro Molines is one of the Hunter’s most highly regarded restaurants, and it has one of the valley’s most spectacular views across the vines at Tallavera Grove. The food is refined but unfussy, with inspiration from Robert’s homeland and spectacular local produce on equal footing.
A: 749 Mount View Rd, Mount View NSW 2325
Ph: (02) 4990 9553
Located in Spicers Guesthouse, Éremo is Executive Chef Cameron Matthews’ contemporary take on Italian cuisine. The menu is compact, offering seasonal antipasti, hand-made pasta and pizza, with meat and fish from the chargrill. A degustation option will cover most options. The wine list is also of special interest, with depth of both producers and vintages from the Hunter and other key wine regions of Australia and Europe.
A: 57 Ekerts Rd, Pokolbin Hunter Valley NSW 2320
Ph: 1300 590 075
Bimbadgen winery’s striking 1960s bell tower is one of the Hunter’s most recognisable modern landmarks. Situated on a hill that makes for spectacular views (Bimbadgen is said to mean “place of good view” in the local first nations language) from their acclaimed Esca restaurant, the focus here is on local produce, with a reasonably priced five-course degustation menu, and matching estate wines only costing an extra $30. There is no à la carte option in the dining room, but wood-fired pizzas are available for lunch in the courtyard and hampers can be purchased for a leisurely picnic.
A: 790 McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4998 4666
The first solo venture for local chef Frank Fawkner, EXP. was launched in 2015 after he had worked in kitchens from the age of 15, including a stint in London with Michelin starred chef Tom Aikens. Fawkner’s food is very much cutting-edge modern Australian fare, dabbling with fermentation, native ingredients and cross-cultural influences. This is one of the Hunter’s best-loved and most exciting restaurants, and you can even take a perch at the bar and watch all the kitchen action. Next door is Fawkner’s café, Fawk Foods, where you’ll find the same level of care taken with the more everyday offerings, plus a range of excellent sourdough and pastries to take away.
A: 2188 Broke Road, Pokolbin 2320 NSW
Ph: (02) 4998 6585
Laguna is described as the gateway to the Hunter. Well, that’s if you’re coming from Sydney, but it’s also worth a detour if you’re heading down from up north. The Great Northern Trading Post is a legendary café/restaurant/bar/store and has one of the few petrol bowsers for miles (it also has Tesla chargers). The café is open every day and dinner is served on Friday and Saturday nights. While much of the Hunter is about conspicuous glamour, the GNTP is all about rustic charm, and it has charm to spare. The food is some of the best in the region, and there are no formalities in the corrugated iron shack that also hosts live music regularly. If Rod Stewart’s your thing, then it’s off to Roche Estate, but if Casey Chambers or Harry Hook are more your speed, then GNTP is the place to be.
A: 3718 Great North Road, Laguna NSW 2325
Ph: (02) 4998 8244
Harrigan’s is a sprawling hotel in Pokolbin, with 48 simple but well-appointed rooms. It also houses most other things one may expect from a large country pub, with a sports bar, beer garden and bottle shop. It also offers two food options, the more dining-focused bistro, with a roll call of pub classics, and the burger bar, which serves a wider selection of food than the name suggests. Flights of craft beer are also available for those who can’t choose from the large selection of local brews on offer.
A: 2090 Broke Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: 1800 800 522
There are two Muse restaurants, Muse Kitchen at Keith Tulloch Winery and Muse Restaurant at Hungerford Hill winery. Muse Kitchen is the less elaborate of the pair, described as a “European bistro style restaurant”, with a set three-course menu, but with à la carte choices and sides and starters as optional extras. Muse Dining ups it to four courses, with oysters and cheese (not together) as optional extras. Fine dining is the order of the day, and the compact wine list of the sister is swapped out for a longer and more broad ranging selection. Local produce drives both menus.
Botanica let’s Spicers’ Executive Chef Cameron Matthews flex his fine-dining muscles. While the food at Éremo (at Spicers Guesthouse) talks in a modern Italian accent, Botanica, as the name suggests, is built around produce, and produce that was “picked fresh that morning” no less. The restaurant only seats 25 with a three-course minimum but offers à la carte options for each course. Vegetarian and vegan options are available. While similar in structure, the wine list at Éremo curiously delivers more variety.
A: 2090 Broke Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: 1800 800 522
A premier producer of soft cheeses, Binnorie dairy is open seven days a week for retail sales and tastings or just drop in for a coffee.
A: 25 Lodge Road, Lovedale NSW 2325
Ph: (02) 4998 6660
If you have a sweet tooth, drop into the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company or Cocoa Nib for a chocolate fix, or expand your options at Sabor Dessert Bar for an extensive range of other treats.
On Broke Road in the heart of Pokolbin, Fawk Foods is a top spot for coffee and exemplary café fare from the team behind EXP. Restaurant (next door), but it’s particularly regarded for house-made pastries and sourdough bread to go.
A: 2188 Broke Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4998 6585
The Hunter Valley is particularly well-supplied with golf courses, The Vintage Golf Course (pictured), Crowne Plaza Golf, Hunter Valley Golf and Cypress Lakes Golf & Country Club all offer 18-hole courses, while Aqua Golf & Putt Putt provides a more casual and economical experience, including launching balls in the lake for cash prizes, as well as a more leisurely 18-hole putt putt course – no cart required.
The cellar door at Hope Estate offers the estate’s wine, naturally, though many visitors come for the dozen or so house-made craft beers and ciders, or for the crammed calendar of events. With significant catering facilities, Hope Estate is host to all manner of food, wine and music festivals and events, with picnic hampers available to pre-purchase.
A: 2213 Broke Road, Pokolbin 2320 NSW
Ph: (02) 4993 3555
It would seem remiss to go to the Hunter and not assess its glory from the vantage point of a hot air balloon. And there’s no shortage of options, try Balloon Aloft, Beyond Ballooning, Wine Country Ballooning or Adrenaline.
Founded in 1937, Hungerford’s Butchery and Smokehouse was run by the same family for over 60 years. In 2016, Michael Robinson took over the business after having run the kitchen at Margan for several years. Robinson is a chef with a glittering resumé, having worked in London and Los Angeles, as well as heading up Justin North’s Becasse as co-head chef. Robinson works closely with local farmers, makes his own comprehensive range of smallgoods and smoked meats, and dry ages his beef. He champions ethical farming and has a nose to tail philosophy.
A: 47 Maitland Street Branxton NSW
Ph: (02) 4938 1435
With kids in tow, spending all your days tasting wine and extending lunch through a lazy afternoon is an unlikely scenario. Luckily, the Hunter is well equipped with family activities, including an impressive zoo. The Hunter Valley Zoo prides itself on housing all its animals in “a safe, caring and natural environment” and offers a range of experiences from quiet observation to getting up close with meerkats, tamarins and marmosets, as well as feeding kangaroos and birds in one of the interactive yards. There are no elephants or gorillas here, but you’ll find African lions, some of the more compact primates, as well as many Australian mammals and birds.
A: 138 Lomas Lane, Nulkaba NSW 2325
Ph: (02) 4990 7714
Potter’s Hotel offers simple motel-style accommodation, which is also reasonably priced and well maintained, but it’s the onsite brewery that captures our interest. The Foghorn Brewery is very much in the vein of most modern brewery bars, with gleaming brewing kit looming next to high tables and stools in a converted factory setting. Burgers, pizzas, steaks, live music and tap after tap of small-batch beer complete the picture.
A: Wine Country Drive, Nulkaba NSW 2325
Ph: (02) 4991 7922
The McGuigan family’s Tempus Two winery at Roche Estate opened with much fanfare, and now makes a significant amount of wine, much of it for export. Their strikingly angular cellar door is also home to Oishii Japanese restaurant, The Goldfish Cocktail Lounge, the frankly titled Smelly Cheese Shop and Meerea Park’s cellar door. It’s also the venue for many of the Hunter’s major music events – think Rod Stewart, Neil Diamond, Lionel Ritchie… you get the picture.
A: Cnr. Broke Rd & McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4993 3999
For some spectacular views of the valley, walk up the Pokolbin Mountains Road walking track to the Mt Bright Lookout, or take in the Hunter from the Len Evans Memorial Lookout at Constable Estate. If you’re willing to brave a dirt road, drive up the road to Amelies on Pokolbin Mountain; the views are the best in the region and it’s a spectacular place to watch the sun set. You can stay at Amelies, too, which is out of the main Hunter action, but it’s a stunningly serene place to be, and the walking and nature watching opportunities on the private property are unrivalled.
You could spend a lot of time at Wine House. Acting as a tasting facility for many small wineries, Wine House conducts structured tastings on a theme, or you can choose your own adventure with the guidance of a local expert. There is also a range of ever-changing premium wines delivered via Enomatic wine serving systems. All of this can be accompanied with food to graze on, or more substantial food and wine matches can be tailored to suit the individual.
A: 426 McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4998 7899
One of the Hunter Valley’s most distinctive places to stay, Casa La Vina comprises a series of luxury villas built in a “New Mexican adobe” style. There’s a rustic ‘Spaghetti Western’ feel here, with rammed earth, terracotta roofs, abandoned wagon wheels and the like, but the villas are pure luxury. Ponchos optional.
A: 657 McDonalds Road, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: 0406 770 294
Jessica and Surahn Sidhu’s sustainably managed farm is centred around an almond orchard, in Willunga. She’s an accomplished landscape designer, while he’s a musician, having played with Empire of The Sun, The Swiss and Flight Facilities over the years. The farm also runs sheep and cattle, and grows plenty of fresh produce. An almond ‘cellar door’ is nearly complete, and the lodge is a one-bedroom affair for two guests. You can pick your own veggies and the beach and wineries are only a five-minute drive away.
A: Vintage Dr, Rothbury NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4998 2500
This has all the facilities you would expect from an international hotel chain, and it is conveniently located. It is also well-priced. It’s a practical and well-appointed option, though it naturally has a little less charm than some of the more bespoke options. If you’re a golfer, however, its 18-hole championship course is one of the best in the region.
A: 430 Wine Country Dr, Lovedale NSW 2325
Ph: (02) 4991 0000
Well-priced, four-star resort-style accommodation is the theme at Cypress Lakes. All rooms are suites, with the largest sleeping up to seven adults, and includes three bathrooms. One of the country’s premier resort golf courses is on the doorstep, there are a “variety of swimming pools” and tennis courts, and wellness packages are also available in conjunction with Elysia, in Pokolbin.
A: Cnr. McDonalds & Thompsons Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4993 1555
Located next to Bimbadgen winery in Pokolbin, the H Hotel offers 35 semi-self-contained villas, with the option to book out a four-bedroom homestead. You’ll just need to make sure you have enough mobile data, as internet facilities are not available in the rooms.
A: 770 McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4998 6969
If you want to get a bit closer to the vines, Hermitage Lodge’s verandah – which all 20 rooms open on to – overlooks the property’s own shiraz vineyard. Separate two-bedroom and studio suites, also overlooking the vines, offer a little more privacy.
A: 609 McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: (02) 4998 7639
To really get in the thick of things, the luxurious Homestead at Vinden Estate puts you right in the middle of the action at one of the Hunter’s most dynamic wineries. The house has a French provincial feel, sleeps up to 12 people, and it is fully appointed, including a vast country kitchen equipped with copper pans, stacks of crockery and an impressive gas and wood-burning stove. There’s even a swimming pool, and the cellar door is one of the Hunter’s finest.
A: 138 Gillards Road, Pokolbin NSW 2320
Ph: 0488 777 493