When you think of Australia, you may think of the iconic Opera House or finding Nemo in the Great Barrier Reef or the vast red land of the Outback. You probably think of kangaroos and koalas and dangerous spiders. You may even think of cricket and beaches and hot accents. What I didn’t know about Australia was its history of making ridiculously delicious wines. Since moving here, I’ve been wanting to visit the Hunter Valley, which is one of Australia’s best known wine regions located in New South Wales. Sam’s older brother had gotten married in the Hunter Valley a few years ago, and I’ve been obsessing over how beautiful the pictures looked with the vineyards in the background. Not to mention, I’ve grown a serious affinity towards Australian Shiraz, so I’ve been itching to get up to the valley for a wine tour.
With our time in Australia coming to an end, it was now or never. We booked a tour with Best Tour Hunter Valley and one night stay at the Hermitage Lodge. An early morning wake up call later, and we were off to the Hunter Valley, about a two hour drive northwest of Sydney. We pulled up to our accommodation, where our host, Noreen, so lovingly took our bags as we hopped into our tour bus which was waiting to pick us up. Our driver and guide, Bruce, gave us an outline of the itinerary for the day, a bit of history behind the wineries and some housekeeping rules for the day. It was 9:45 am, and we were ready to taste our first of many, many wines.
We pulled up to the first vineyard, Ernest Hill Wines. Funny story – for seven generations, the family of the vineyard had given all of the boys the middle name of Ernest, and the vineyard is sat up on a hill. Hence – Ernest Hill. Set in a cottage, this boutique winery has an adorable, quaint atmosphere. We sat outside with the rolling hills and vineyards in the background and tasted 12 absolutely stunning wines. My favourites were the Cyril Semillon and Unwooded Chardonnay. Our host, Lindsay, was so kind, funny and truly passionate about the wines she was sharing with us. It was a great start to the day!
I learned the art of tipping out at the second winery, Saddler’s Creek. Now this isn’t because I didn’t absolutely love the wine I was tasting, but it was there I realised that I had about six hours of wine tasting, and I wanted to make it out of the tour bus standing up by the end of it! The winemaker of Saddler’s Creek, Brett, came into the tasting room to teach us more. He was hysterical and had us laughing the whole tasting. I bought a bottle of the very unique Bluegrass Cabernet/Shiraz Blend. At the end of the tasting, Brett walked us through the actual winery, which was cool to see where all of the magic happens!
Bruce then took us to Mount Pleasant Wines, which is a much larger winery compared to the previous two. I loved the long rows of vines, one after the other after the other. I loved looking around in all directions and seeing endless vines, endless greenery. It was so peaceful, despite there being two large tour busses there. I could already tell this would be a different experience. The wines at Mount Pleasant were delicious, with the Singing In The Rain Verdehlo being our favourite. I would say the tasting did feel a bit more rushed than the others, even though we tasted over 15 wines. I guess that’s what you get at a larger winery though.
After tasting and learning and buying, we sat down for a two-course meal with Bruce and Nicole, the other lady on the tour with us. I ordered the beef with mushroom sauce, potatoes and salad, which was very much needed after three straight hours of tasting wine! It was really nice to learn more about Bruce. He had been so kind and knowledgable answering all of our questions throughout the day. I always love learning about our tour guides’ stories and how they start their journeys as a tour guide. For Bruce, he had been an expert paint mixer for many years. As the years went by, he realised his body couldn’t keep up with the labour-intensive work of a paint mixer. So he decided to start his own tour operating company in the Hunter Valley, as he lives a little while away. He genuinely wants to bring unique experiences to his tours, and that’s why he keeps each tour under 15 people, so it’s a more personal experience. He hand picks each winery to taste at, never going to the same 5 wineries each time. To me, that shows he really cares about each and every person that walks onto his tour bus.
After we ate, we went to our fourth cellar door, the McLeish Estate, which is the most award-winning boutique winery in the valley. James Halliday, world renown wine writer and critic, has acclaimed the McLeish Estate with multiple awards over the years. We walked into the bar, and we felt a sense of royalty, with the royal blue hues all around, the old oak and all of the trophies. Our host explained each and every wine as she poured one after the other. She explained that they only have a few bottles left of the original award-winning Semillon and that it’s not up for sale or for tasting, but she managed to find one bottle to let us have a taste! It was an absolutely stunning wine. The owner’s daughter, who also works at the winery, came down from the office and said hello. She was so kind, and we could tell how passionate she was about the success of the winery!
I couldn’t believe the day was actually coming to an end. Bruce told us he saved the last cellar door for us because it would be one we had never been to before! Well, he sure was right. Turns out he has a really close relationship with the owner, and wanted us to end the day with a memorable experience. As soon as we rolled up to the last winery of the day, Harkham Wines made an immediate impression. It certainly wasn’t like any other winery we’d been to.
It had a rustic, indie vibe to it. The inside was all wood, decorated with Native American pieces and accessories. Harkham wines are hand-picked, natural and preservative free. You could seriously see, taste and smell such a difference in the wine, when it is free of all the minerals usually added. They even made the bottles differently, taking the time to cork the bottles and adding the wax to the top, which is so different than the usual. The coolest part about the winery is that a portion of proceeds made from selling the bottles of wine go to a school for girls in Kenya that Richie Harkham, the owner, had built. Sam and I both bought the beautiful Aziza’s Shiraz. All of the wine was so unique and tasted so different than the others we had tried earlier in the day. I was so grateful that Bruce had put in the effort to take us there.
After the final tasting of the day, we visited a cheese shop and a chocolate shop to taste their signatures cheeses and chocolates. Bruce had gone above and beyond the entire day to ensure we were happy, and never did I once feel like we were being rushed along. We spent as much time as we wanted at each winery and shop, and we still managed to keep it within the specified times of the tour, which says a lot about his time management skills. We felt like we had made a new friend that day. While the wine was drool-worthy at each location, Bruce is what really made the day so special.
I’m so happy that I was able to fit in a trip to the Hunter Valley, and I’m even happier that it was such a care-free and lovely day. I’ll be writing on the Hermitage Lodge next week, which is where Sam and I stayed the night in the Hunter Valley – so stay tuned for that!
Best Tour Hunter Valley operates in the Hunter Valley region with tours running daily from 9:45 – 4:30 pm. The tour includes pick up/drop off at your accommodation, wine tasting at five wineries, a 2-course lunch, and a tasting at a cheese shop and chocolate shop all for $110 per person. Contact Bruce today for more info!
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Best Tour Hunter Valley in exchange for this review. My opinions are my own, and I only write honest and truthful reviews.