If you’ve been following my travels from the start then you’ll recall a few trips to wine regions around the world: Napa Valley in California and Waiheke in New Zealand. Last weekend I added Hunter Valley, Australia to the list.
5 wines I had never tried before this trip:
- Montepulciano. A red Italian grape which is confusingly not grown in the foodie town of Montepulciano but instead in other parts of Italy. I tried it at the Obsidian vineyard in Waiheke.
- Verdelho. A white Portugese grape from Madeira that I tried at Lucy’s Run vineyard in Hunter Valley.
- Gewurztraminer. A white German grape that I tried at Briar Ridge Estate in Hunter Valley.
- ‘Rutherford Dust’ reds in Napa valley. Not a grape variety but a unique taste as a result of the soil in the area.
- Guatemalan sparkling wine purchased in Antigua and consumed at La Iguana Perdida in Lago D’Atiltlan for my 25th birthday celebrations. Not one to be repeated.
Housemate Toots had booked our tour through groupon, which I am snobbishly always a little suspicious of the quality of the companies on. I was proved completely wrong by our tour company ‘Here to There’ coaches and our lovely and informative guide Adam.
We were picked up in the city centre at the crack of dawn (7am) on Sunday, and we’d had a bit of a late Saturday evening as Toots’ mum and brother were visiting for the weekend, so we stayed up playing complicated Venezuelan card games. A good opportunity for me to practice my numeros in Espanol.
I was dreading that we’d be on a giant coach but to my pleasure we were on a little minivan of about 20 people.
My next snob-factor fear was that we’d be visiting big commercial vineyards whose wine I could buy at the local ‘bottlo’. This was quelled by Adam’s introductory speech telling us that we’d be visiting smaller vineyards, mostly producing wine that was exclusively sold on site.
He then let us snooze for the remainder of the 2 hour drive out to Hunter, which was appreciated, with a brief stop for breakfast, also appreciated.
Toots and I had brought along a little snack-pack of Tequenos – these are little Venezuelan bundles of feta (or other white cheese) wrapped in pastry and fried or oven cooked. We’d made a big batch the night before and consumed most of them during the card game but had a few to tide us over for the journey.
Little did we know that by the end of the day we’d be so full of wine and food that we’d be unable to move and would be resorting to standing in an industrial cheese fridge to cool off (more about that later).
Our first stop was Briar Ridge vineyard, the tasting was a little too formal for me but we tried some good wines – including the Gewürztraminer listed above. Nothing I liked enough to buy though, and there were no nibbles on offer with the wine (always a deal-breaker for me).
Toots waited until we’d just sat down and the first wines were being pour to announce to me “I don’t like white wine” hahaha. This actually worked out well for me as I could have hers for any I loved, and she also discovered some whites she did in face enjoy.
The tasting was down in the tasting room, which was good to keep us out of the rapidly escalating temperatures but also a shame not to make the most of the outdoor tables with views across the valley.
We then drove a short way to our second stop, Savannah Estate which is part of the Peterson House group – known for their sparkling wines. We had a sparkling brut to start the tasting which opened proceedings very nicely – I am a huge fan of the fizz!
The tasting was a little more personal at Savannah, and we were provided with cheese and biscuits 🙂 they also let us try out the port glasses which are funny little contraptions. Apparently they’re designed so that less alcohol vapours are lost to the air.
There were no sparkling reds during the tastings at Hunter, which I wasn’t too devastated about – I’m still getting my head around that concept. There were however a couple of sparkling rose Muscatos (made from the Muscatel grape). I enjoyed these but they were too sweet to have any more than a glass of.
The third stop of the day was by far my favourite, ‘Lucy’s Run’ vineyard. As soon as we pulled onto the long drive up past the olive trees I could tell it was going to be good. Why? KANGAROOOOOOOS! I’d only said to Toots that morning that I wanted to see a Kangaroo.
Now admittedly they were small ones, and admittedly they were about 100m away, AND they weren’t all that visible as they were sheltering in the shade of the olive trees. But they were definitely kangaroos! A mini ‘mob’ of them.
I had to rack my brain to work out whether I’d ever seen a kangaroo before and I don’t think I have. They don’t tend to be in zoos back in the UK – I read that they can get depressed if kept in captivity (unlike other animals who LOVE it!)
It was a strange feeling though…when you’re younger you see things for the first time all the time. Despite the fact that recently I’ve been travelling to so many new places and seeing so many new things, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen something for the first time that I’d heard so much about/read books about/featured in childhood cartoons.
My mum will probably now correct me that I did in fact see a kangaroo at the local wildlife park when I was little. But that could be like the time she took me to Zippo’s circus and I had my photo taken with the ‘unicorn’. A photo I’d get out and show people for years to come until someone devastatingly pointed out the string holding the horn to the pony’s head… so if I saw a ‘kangaroo’ it was probably just a big dog wearing an apron with a smaller dog in the pocket.
So back to the Hunter Valley. The kangaroos were just the start of the charm of Lucy’s Run; the whole tour there was so personal, with the tasting being conducted by John Mears, one half of the husband and wife team who own and manage the vineyard.
John told us about his background – he was a pilot for all of his pre-wine career; the namesake of the vineyard – their departed dog Lucy; and the history of the vineyard – they’d planned to buy an acre or two and had ended up with 200! They’ve now scaled this down slightly to 80 acres, 70 of which are olive groves and 10 of which are vines.
We tasted a variety of their wines and they were all absolutely delicious. I had to restrain myself and in the end bought just 3 bottles: the verdelho, the still ‘Bejo’s blush’ rose (named after an orangutan that John and his wife adopted in Indonesia), and the 2014 shiraz (2014 was the best year in Hunter for over 50 years apparently)
Since the excesses of Hunter Valley and Jervis I’ve committed myself to a 3 week detox pre-Bali, so the poor wines will sit untouched. Saying that, the Shiraz’ recommended drinking date is over 15 years away, so I’m going to have to extend my willpower a little longer than 3 weeks!
We also tried some of the delicious olive oil. John explained about the pressing process, and how so much of the olive goes to waste in the production of the oil. He was saying that they were dabbling in the idea of some sort of beauty products to make use of the residue, which I think is an excellent idea!
The oil was served with a little lemon, salt and pepper, and dukkah (a middle Eastern blend of herbs, nuts and spices) – it was delicious and we all descended on the bread like gannets, attempting to soak up some of the morning’s wine consumption.
I could have happily stayed longer at Lucy’s Run, but lunch was calling. I think if they could set up some outdoor seating that would be marvellous. Although the simplicity of sitting in a semi-circle around the pressing machines was part of its charm.
We then all tootled off for lunch at Oscar’s Cafe at the Hunter Valley Gardens. Adam said that they purposefully front-load the tastings before lunch, which was definitely a good idea as I could barely move after sharing a wrap and wedges with Toots and the effects of drinking since 10am started to catch up with us. We lost our momentum slightly and to be honest would have gone home content even if that had been the end of the tasting day.
But no…we went to a chocolate shop for a chocolate tasting, including a super spicy chilli chocolate. I think I’d slightly ruined this by eating too much lunch. We then had a further ‘wine and chocolate pairing’ at The Garden Cellars at the Gardens. I think this may have been something we should have done pre-lunch as my palate wasn’t really feeling sophisticated enough to pick up changes to the wine due to the chocolate – it just tasted like I was having wine with chocolate! 🙂
I’d definitely recommend The Garden Cellars to any craft beer lovers as they had a ‘tunnel of beer’ stuffed with hundreds of different varieties.
Finally we headed over to Tempus Two for a final optional tasting – you had to pay additionally for this one if you wanted to do it. I’m not sure if I’d just lost momentum by then but I didn’t love the feel of the place, it was too big and commercial in comparison to the smaller places we’d visited earlier in the day.
It did however have an air-conditioned ‘smelly cheese shop’, completed with the walk in fridge I mentioned earlier. It was a scorching day, the hottest I’ve felt since arriving at around 40 degrees, so Toots and I made a beeline for the fridge and ‘compared notes’ on the cheese for a good 10 minutes. We had a valid conversation about which would be best for making Tequenos.
Finally we left the fridge and sat outside as we waited for the group to gather-up and head back to Sydney. Just as we got up to leave the clouds rolled in and it started drizzling with rain. This developed into a full on storm as we were on the motorway back, and some of the photos of the storm rolling in over Bondi were quite spectacular!
Everyone was a little snoozy on the ride home, and we got back to Sydney at about 6pm. All in all a really fantastic day, definitely exceeded my expectations!
If I did it again, I’d love to make a weekend of it and hire a house up in Hunter with friends. That way you could hire a car to get out there, and then would either need to find a willing tee-total friend (unlikely!) or hire a driver for the day to visit the vineyards. However, for a day trip Here to There were perfect, and they can organise tailored trips to other locations out of Sydney!
For anyone visiting Hunter, Lucy’s Run is a must-visit, both for the charm and the quality wines!
I don’t think I have any more mini-breaks planned until my big trip (3 weeks yesterday!) to Indonesia and Malaysia (Bali, Kuala Lumpar, Lombok and Gili T). We’ve been rather disorganised and are still planning the details but I cannot wait! If anyone has any must-visit recommendations for any of those places I’d love to hear from you!