There’s something so awesome about a weekend away in a wine region, don’t you think?
After my trip to Sydney, the husband and I were lucky enough to be treated to a weekend in a wine region we hadn’t had a chance to visit before – the Hunter Valley.
Truth be told, I didn’t know much about the region before we got there. All I really knew was that it was home to Semillon and it was a few hours drive from Sydney. That’s it! Boy was I pleasantly surprised – not only about the wine, but also the food, the scenery and the people. It really is a special place to visit.
Here’s what we got up to (and what I’d recommend) when visiting the Hunter Valley…
We stayed in a 2 bedroom villa at the Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley, located in Lovedale.
It literally is a resort that has it all – beautiful and peaceful location, different types of accommodation options, pool, gym, day spa and golf course that had the husband wishing he’d brought his clubs. There’s even a kids club to keep the little ones entertained.
A highlight was breakfast – yes, really. It seriously was one of the best buffet breakfasts we’ve ever had. Special mention to the baristas who made perfect coffees to order and to the chefs who would whip up anything your heart desired, from eggs benedict to an omelette with the lot.
The staff were super friendly and super helpful and we’d have no hesitation recommending the Crowne Plaza to anyone staying in the Hunter Valley.
The Lovedale Long Lunch
Well, this was quite the exuberant introduction to the Hunter Valley!
The Lovedale Long Lunch is a progressive-style event where you can catch a shuttle bus amongst seven wineries over the third weekend in May each year.
These Lovedale wineries team up with local Hunter Valley restaurants for a full on weekend of wine tasting, great food and live entertainment. People really get into the event and some even get dressed up in costumes – we saw 80s brides, ducks, Buzz Lightyear, tigers, pirates and mimes. It was quite the sight!
It’s a huge scale event and not something we’d ever experienced before. We overheard several people saying that the event started out as a small, low-key weekend and I suppose, as with all good things, word spreads and the crowds build. At the end of the day, it’s great exposure for the region and for the wineries involved.
But our highlight of the day? Well, that was something a little unexpected…
We escaped the rain (and the crowds) for a moment and had an interesting chat about the region with Alex Stuart OAM, Director of Ballabourneen as we sampled some incredible chilli sauces, pastes and dipping sauces from The Chilli Hunter.
We loved these sauces so much but only had room for one in our luggage, so we went with the Chilli Lime Dipping Sauce.
We were lucky enough to have dinner on Saturday evening at a brand new addition to the Hunter Valley dining scene – EXP. Restaurant.
Seated at the bar, we had front row seats to witness head chef and owner, Frank Fawkner and chef Casey Parsons in action.
With a wry smile, Frank kicked off the night by handing us what looked like a science experiment but was actually the most interesting and interactive way of serving bread and herbed butter we’d ever seen…
We then had a chat with Danielle Doffay, the super friendly and knowledgeable restaurant manager, about what we might like to eat and drink.
We decided to eliminate the decision making process and allow the experts to guide us and so we chose The Tasting EXP.erience – a 7 course degustation with matching wines from Oakvale Wines, which is located adjacent to the restaurant.
Course after course, we were blown away by not only the fantastic local produce but also by the technique and attention to detail. Each course was served on a plate in a colour to match its theme: earth, sea, land and sky, and sweets.
As we finished our last glass of wine and waited for our ride, we chatted with Frank, Danielle and Casey like old friends.
EXP. Restaurant is truly a brilliant experience.
First Creek Wines
A 9.30am call time at First Creek Wines was a tough ask after a big day, but it was well worth the initial struggle!
We were greeted by Jim Smith, cellar door manager and fountain of wine knowledge… oh, and some lovely fresh oysters and a glass of First Creek Cuvee, thank you very much.
It was then time for the tour. Jim’s enthusiasm echoed through the rows and rows of stainless steel vats and wooden barrels as he explained to us the intricate and extensive process involved in creating wine – from grape to bottle. I was blown away by the sheer magnitude of the place and the number of steps (and staff) involved. I’ll definitely never look at a bottle of wine the same way again.
We wrapped up the tour with a tasting accompanied by a fantastic local cheese platter. It was hard to choose a favourite wine, but we went with what Jim called his ‘Friday Night Wine’ – the one you enjoy on the couch with a pizza and the footy – the Barbera. Light, berry driven and easy drinking. Kicking goals!
Bonus tip: If you’re heading to the Hunter Valley in June, there’s a fantastic event Jim recommends called Eat, Drink, Run – a progressive lunch event which includes a 4-course lunch with matching wines at 4 different wineries (plus transport). It’s held every Saturday and Sunday throughout June and you can find out more here.
Our final meal in the Hunter Valley had us thinking we’d gotten lost along the way and ended up in the south of France.
Bistro Molines is decorated with wrought iron chairs and candelabras, painted cupboards and rustic flower arrangements, and features a paved courtyard overlooking vines that stretch almost as far as the eye can see.
The equally extensive French-influenced menu proved difficult for us to choose from, and while we tried to decide on what to order, we were treated to some gorgeous starters including the housemade duck liver pate, which was simply magnifique. We eventually made our decisions, which we washed down with a bottle of 2010 Molines et Fils Chardonnay.
Bistro Molines is one of those special restaurants you go to when you want to celebrate a milestone birthday, propose to a loved one or enjoy a meal to remember.
It’s certainly all about that joie de vivre!
We thought our time in the Hunter Valley had come to an end, but before departing for the airport, we were told to pay a visit to some neighbours down the road…
As we drove up to an unassuming little brick building, we got out of the car and turned around to take in the view.
Petersons Wines is a family owned winery situated on a small hill surrounded by vineyards and uninterrupted views of Mount Sugarloaf and the Watagan Mountains.
We made our way inside and were cheerfully greeted by Michael, Maree and John the Pom – the type of people you would love to work alongside because your days would be full of laughter. And sure enough, we spent just under an hour laughing our way through a tasting of fantastic wines, including some that weren’t even on the list.
We felt like we were just getting into the swing and the spirit of the Hunter Valley, but sadly the clock had other ideas for us and it was time to head on home.
So we bid our new friends from Petersons Wines goodbye and hit the highway.
Until the next time, Hunter Valley…
A final thank you or two
A massive thank you to Destination NSW for organising our itinerary and arranging our accommodation and dining. We had a brilliant time!
A huge thanks also to Qantas for not only flying me to and from Sydney, but also for the upgrades to Business Class and access to the Business Class Lounge. I’m not sure how I’ll ever make it past row 1 now… Just kidding! I’ll find a way. I think.
Special mention to the crew on flight QF743 from Sydney to Adelaide – Michelle, Alison, Heather, Patrece and Silvia – super professional, kind and lovely.
Have you ever been to the Hunter Valley?
Where are your favourite places to stay, eat and drink?
Our weekend in the Hunter Valley was all thanks to Destination NSW. While our experience may have been paid for, this post certainly was not. All opinions are 100% our own and I’ve chosen to write about them. Now, get yourself to the Hunter Valley… and book me a return trip while you’re at it!