NSW – Hunter Valley – The Hunter offers a range of new attractions

By Winsor Dobbin
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Ballabourneen, Hunter Valley

Ballabourneen, Hunter Valley

Molly's Cradle cellar door, Hunter Valley
Goldfish at Tempus Two, Hunter Valley
Icon Lounge at the Small Winemakers Centre, Hunter Valley
Nine restaurant, Tower Lodge, Hunter Valley


The Hunter Valley is one of Australia's oldest wine growing regions – vines were first planted here in the 1830s – and one of the most visited. That's no surprise as Hunter Wine Country lies just a two-hour drive north of Sydney.

The Hunter is known for its semillons, which are regarded among the best in the world, and for medium-bodied shirazes.

There is no shortage of choice for visitors with over 60 restaurants, more than 100 cellar doors and a range of accommodation options.

The Hunter offers artisan food produced locally, including cheese, beef and olives, and several world-class golf courses and spas.

It hosts regular festivals, including Semillon and Seafood and the Lovedale Long Lunch and is constantly evolving. This itinerary takes in some of the Hunter’s newest attractions, including cellar doors, restaurants, bars and spas.

Stop 1 – Winery tour at Leogate Estate Wines

Former Briar Ridge winemaker Mark Woods has taken over as chief winemaker for this new operation, which is based at the Tempus Two complex while its own winery and cellar door are under construction. Owners Bill and Vicki Widin have purchased the famous Brokenback vineyard and are working on releasing Tamed, Australia’s first premium low-alcohol label, as one of four ranges.

You must taste: The 2010 semillon is outstanding and the 2010 Tamed white (a blend of semillon and chardonnay) a revelation.

Open for tours: Thursday-Saturday from 11am
Cnr Broke and McDonalds Roads, Pokolbin
Phone (02) 4998 7499


Stop 2 – Tasting at the Icon Lounge

The revamped facilities at the Small Winemakers Centre include the Icon Lounge, where visitors have the chance to sample the region’s iconic wines – including Brokenwood Graveyard, Thomas Kiss and McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea in a funky lounge atmosphere. The Icon Lounge uses the Enomatic dispensing system to showcase 16 shirazes and eight semillons in a range of tasting sizes. The Lounge is the initiative of Ian and Suzanne Little, who run the Little Wine Company, which focuses on “alternative” grape varieties, and the Small Winemakers Centre, a facility that is shared with Margan, Andrew Thomas and Keith Tulloch.

You must taste: The Thomas Braemore Semillon, Margan Barbera and Little Wine Company Tempranillo.

Open: Daily 10am-5pm
426 McDonalds Road, Pokolbin
Phone (02) 4998 7668


Stop 3 – Tasting at Ballabourneen

The former Evans Family cellar door is now the home of the reinvigorated Ballabourneen label, where ex Capercaillie winemaker Daniel Binet has taken over. This relaxed cellar door is the ideal place to enjoy a picnic, or regional platter, taking in vineyard views.

You must taste: The 2007 shiraz has lovely balance, while the B Sparkling Moscato Blush will appeal to those with sweet palates.

Open: Daily 10am-5pm
2347 Broke Rd, Pokolbin
Phone (02) 4998 6505


Stop 4 – Lunch at Muse

The restaurant at Hungerford Hill has gone through several names and guises but is now Muse, which recently picked up its first hat in the Sydney Morning Herald 2011 Good Food Guide. Chef Troy Rhoades-Brown and his wife Megan offer a stylish dining experience with modern Australian dishes like Atlantic Sea scallops with sweet corn cream, green beans, eschalot, roasted almonds and herb oil, or confit duck leg with a salad of rocket, hazelnut and cherry dressing.

You must try: The stunning 2009 Hungerford Hill Tumbarumba Chardonnay, while wines under the Fishcage label offer great value.

Open: Cafe – Daily 10am to 5pm. Dinner – Wednesday to Saturday from 6pm
1 Broke Road, Pokolbin
Phone (02) 4998 6777


Stop 5 – Tasting at De Iuliis Wines

Michael de Iuliis is one of the most exciting young winemaking talents in the Hunter with an excellent range of semillons and shirazes. Combine a tasting with a visit to the Butterflies Gallery to enjoy local arts and crafts, or a meal at Cracked Pepper cafe.

You must taste: The crisp De Iuliis 2010 Semillon and 2009 Show Reserve Shiraz

Open: Daily
21 Broke Road, Pokolbin
Phone (02) 4993 8000


Stop 6 – Pre-dinner drinks at Goldfish

The Hunter Valley has a new cocktail and wine lounge in Goldfish, which opened in August in the Tempus Two complex and is a sister business to Goldfish in Kings Cross.Located in the Tempus Two pavilion, Goldfish is a bar, cocktail lounge and restaurant in one with flowing internal and external spaces overlooking the vines. There’s a wide range of wines and share plates available. The betel leaves with sweet plum and mandarin crispy pork hock are stunning.

Open: Midday until late, seven days a week
Cnr Broke and McDonalds Road, Pokolbin
Phone (02) 4998 7688


Stop 7 – Treatment at Chateau Elan

Chateau Elan at The Vintage is Australia's newest golf and spa resort. It is located in the heart of the Hunter Valley and is surrounded by vineyards. There are 17 treatment rooms and two treatment ranges to choose from and there is also an on-site hair and beauty salon. The $30m development is the latest venture by the US-based Château Élan brand.

Open: Daily
Vintage Drive, Rothbury
Phone (02) 4998 2500


Stop 8 – Dinner at Nine, Tower Estate

Nine is the exclusive new restaurant at Relais & Chateaux resort Tower Lodge, named because it is situated in a cellar nine feet below ground. It offers nine seasonal degustation menus to a maximum of 12 guests each night, so it pays to book well in advance. Dishes include the likes of escabeche of Hawkesbury River prawns and fillet of milk fed veal with a herb crust and wines range from Taittinger Brut Rose to Andrew Thomas Braemore Semillon and Tower Estate Moscato, served with a warm brioche pain perdu.

Open: Friday-Saturday from 6.30pm, bookings essential
Tower Lodge, 6 Halls Road, Pokolbin
Phone (02) 4998 4900

Stop 9 – Overnight at Chateau Elan

Chateau Elan has built a formidable reputation for quality service and offers three styles of rooms with inclusions like coffee machines, spa baths and in-house movies.Twenty luxury spa suites are located within the spa complex and offer Ergomotion beds which vibrate. The spa villas, meanwhile, all have balconies or terraces overlooking The Vintage golf course fairways.

Open: Daily
Vintage Drive, Rothbury
Phone (02) 4998 2500


Don’t miss:

  • A bespoke tour of the Hunter’s leading attractions with new tour company Heidi’s Hunter Valley, which tailors tours to each guest’s interests.
  • Trying the new pizzas and juices at Tilly’s Gourmet Pizza Cafe, part of the Emma’s Cottage complex at Lovedale.
  • Sampling the new-release semillons at Hunter Semillon and Seafood, which is held each October.
  • A tasting at Molly’s Cradle, one the Hunter’s newest cellar door complexes, which offers regular live entertainment at North Rothbury.
  • A light meal at Briar Grillade, the restaurant at Briar Ridge winery.
  • Visiting small family wineries like Tintilla, Mistletoe and DenMar Estate.
  • Sampling new chef Ebonnie Newby’s menus at long-time favourite Esca Bimbadgen.
  • Trying the new Log Press Cafe at family-owned Drayton’s winery. 



  • Lower Hunter (NSW)
  • Hunter Valley (NSW)

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October 05th, 2010
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