This region is located on the traditional lands of the Wonnarua Peoples. They are the traditional custodians of the land. Groups living near the Wonnarua include the Darkinjung and the Wiradjuri peoples.
A Snapshot of the Hunter Valley Wine Region
Australia's oldest wine region
The Hunter Valley is 19,578 km² in size and has 2,605 hectares of grape varieties planted. It's Australia's oldest wine region and by 1820 it already had some 20 acres of vineyards. Only some 20 years later, this area had increased to over 500 acres.
James Busby is a critical figure in the early days of the entire Australian wine industry. He was a viticulturist who travelled throughout Europe collecting cuttings and accumulating information on the ancient and sophisticated process of viticulture. By the time he arrived in New South Wales, in 1824, he had both the resources and knowledge to tremendously assist the development of the fledgling wine business.
Tyrrells planted their first grapes in 1858 (five generations of winemaking)
These days, famous label names such as Lindemans, Dalwood Estate, Kirkton Estate, Wyndam Estate and others can directly trace their lineage back to the earliest days of colonial settlement and some of the grape stomping that happens today is using fruit with a rich history indeed.
Nowadays, the Hunter Region boasts some of the best wineries in the southern hemisphere and is a fabulous holiday destination in its own right - even if for some strange reason you're visiting this page without being a wine enthusiast. There's a ton of local produce, chocolate tasting, horse riding, historic villages with rustic charm and some of the best Hunter Valley experiences you can have won't even cost you a cent.
Hunter Valley wine country
The whole area is right next to the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area and many Hunter Valley wineries are located on the foothills of the Brokenback mountain ranges. Many a cellar door of the Hunter Valley wine overlooks these Brokenback mountain ranges and a flight in a hot air balloon will give you a spectacular view of the Hunter River carving its way through Australia's ancient landscape in amongst the lush green of the best Hunter Valley wineries.
You're only a stone's throw from three national parks here - Barrington Tops, Wollemi and Yengo.
Historic towns more your thing? Murrurundi, Wollombi, Aberdeen and others have colonial buildings, historic walks, museums and lovely parks.
After a wine tasting experience? Carry on down the page dear reader.
Take Me There!
How to get to the Hunter Valley and Pokolbin Wineries
If you're looking for some lovely Hunter Valley wine country, the best way to get there is to fly into Newcastle Airport. It's a small regional airport located only minutes from the heart of Newcastle City - the perfect place to start your Hunter Valley explorations.
Explore Hunter Valley Daily flights to Newcastle from Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Ballina/Byron Bay, Canberra and Sydney
You can also fly into Sydney Airport and make the drive - it's about a three hour drive north... Just make sure you avoid Sydney peak hour traffic!
By bus or rail is also a popular option with many companies servicing the area from both Sydney and Newcastle.
Once you're in the Hunter Valley, there are plenty of options for getting around. You can hire a car, take a bus tour, fly over in a hot air balloon, go on a wine tasting tour or even hire a bike!
What are Hunter Valley wines like?
An overview of Hunter Valley wines
Seeing as the Hunter Valley is Australia's oldest wine region, it stands to reason that there is the greatest accumulation of experience and observation of local conditions between the various wineries in the Hunter.
One of the really difficult tasks for Hunter Valley's wineries will be managing the impact of climate change and how this will change the choice of grape varieties, the management of irrigation, the harvest season and many other factors. Traditionally, Hunter Valley winemakers began the harvest on Australia Day, but drought has pushed this date forward over the past decade. It's already a warm region and it's getting warmer.
This leads in turn to vintage compression where the winemaker has the early maturing grapes like chardonnay, and the later grapes like cabernet sauvignon all become ready around the same time. A typical Hunter Valley vineyard has to juggle the beginning of harvest, sun protection, irrigation and grape selection to a very high standard in order to get the best harvest.
What do Hunter Valley wines taste like?
The wine made here is usually full-bodied and fruity. The climate is warm and dry, which helps the grapes to ripen fully. The most popular types of wine made in the Hunter Valley include shiraz, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, verdelho and semillon.
Given these environmental conditions and the varietals mostly grown here, it's not surprising that some of the top 10 wineries Hunter Valley produce excellent fortified wines as well. You can't legally label your product port in Australia, but if that's the kind of sweet, aged, rich liqueur you fancy, keep your eye out for 'fortified' or 'tawny' on the label. There's also a plethora of Muscat - a very sweet and rich dessert wine, or Madeira - a fortified verdelho named after the Portuguese island.
Tulloch Wines offer examples of all these fortified wines, with the Tulloch Wines Muscat Limited Release NV actually being sourced from Rutherglen - one of the wine regions most acclaimed in Australia for fortified wine.
DeBortoli has probably the best known cellar door in Australia for a dessert wine tasting. It's botrytis infected semillon, known as the Noble One, has 505 gold medals globally and the Noble One was also nominated as The Sweet Wine Producer of the Year at the 2021 IWSC Awards.
Terroir - Soil and Climate
How do the soil and climate affect wine flavour in Hunter Valley?
The humidity of the Hunter Valley is quite high and this can help prevent the grapes from drying out on the vines. It also can lead to problems with powdery mildew. Unlike a cooler climate like the Yarra Valley where most of the rain falls in winter, Hunter Valley wineries get most of their rainfall in summer. The Hunter Valley gets about 750mm a year on average, as compared to the Yarra Valley with about the same amount, or Margaret River where they get 1150mm a year.
So, you've got hot summers and cool winters, reasonable rainfall, a growing area bordered on three sides by mountains and a patchwork of soils. Similar to areas of France, soil type can differ from one neighbouring vineyard to the next.
Duplex soils - volcanic, deep, low in fertility, but with an excellent combination of moisture retention and good drainage - grows many of the Hunter Valley's best shiraz vines. Hunter Valley semillon is often planted on the valley floor where the soils are alluvial - formed by rivers. These are classified as loam/silt or sandy and can produce low yields of intense flavour.
Something out of the box?
Unusual wine varieties in Hunter Valley
Let's have a look at sparkling wine. The Champagne region of France is less than 100 miles east of Paris and is made up of the Aube, Marne, Haute-Marne, and Ardennes departments. If you're not based there, and you're having a champagne celebration, you'd better call it sparkling wine instead!
So, your typical bottle of bubbly is based on a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes. It's most often a cool climate process, and Australia's premier sparkling regions are the Yarra Valley in Victoria (Domaine Chandon are based there) and Piper's Creek, Tasmania (Jansz are based there).
Style wise, you either let the wine ferment in the bottle - the traditional method - or by carbonating the wine - somewhat like making soda. The first is fairly obviously much more expensive and time consuming.
So how does all this relate to the Hunter Valley?
From an international perspective, sparkling shiraz is very much out of the ordinary. It was first made in Australia in the 1880s and has had a resurgence in recent years. The Hunter Valley mostly makes its sparkling shiraz in the méthode traditionelle style - fermented in the bottle - and when the lees (the yeast cells left in the bottle which flavour and add texture to the wine) are removed, the bottle can be topped up with a splash of muscat, port or sherry. Sparkling shiraz is a variety where quality and affordability work as one.
The stars of the show
The top varietals of the Hunter Valley wine region
Barossa Shiraz, Clare Valley Riesling, Hunter Valley semllon. These are well-known relationships between wine regions and their most noteworthy varietals but there's another variety that has put the Hunter wine region on the international map - Semillon.
Semillon is an interesting grape in Australia. It is thin-skinned, fairly adaptable and grown in many regions.
However, the best Hunter Valley wineries have taken this variety, and with a combination of suitable land, climate and winemaking prowess they have elevated it into one of the most internationally known and acclaimed expressions of Australian wine.
Semillon has a bright, floral bouquet, but the palate often has great length and a lingering acidity. Served young it's approachable, clean and light. Cellar it a few years and you have a metamorphosis into something toasty, nutty, and complex yet with that zippy echo of the fruit from its younger days.
While semillon is the Hunter Valley wine that gets the most acclaim and attention over the last decade, the shiraz from these parts is enjoying a renaissance of sorts. Wine styles evolve over time, but so do customer tastes. The big, muscly, jammy Australian shiraz style that burst onto the world stage with a red S on its chest has slowly given ground to more medium bodied styles. There's less tannin, the 'sweaty saddle' element is almost eradicated due to a better understanding of how this troublesome yeast grows and infects wine, and the use of oak is more moderated. However, the potential for ageing well is very much still present in these more medium bodied wines.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay
Hunter Valley cabernet and chardonnay both have their adherents and any must visit winery Hunter Valley will have lovely examples of these varietals. The cabernet has some of the qualities of the shiraz from these parts - medium bodied, eminently drinkable, somewhat earthy and with soft tannins.
Some of the best wineries in the Barossa Valley wine region
Being a three hour drive from Sydney actually works in favour of the Hunter Valley. It's not too bad to get to, but a bit much for a return drive in one day. It also helps that it's the birthplace of the wine industry in Australia and has more than 150 cellar doors. Thus, it's one of the best wine regions to visit in terms of accommodation possibilities, restaurants, events and festivities and also its proximity to historic towns and national parks.
There's at least ten different Hunter Valley wine tours available and if wine tours aren't necessarily your thing, well you could fit in some cheese, chocolate, gin, beer or just general lunching into your companion's wine tasting itinerary.
If you're more about a deep dive into wine, why not try the Brokenwood Wines soil to cellar experience. Tour the vineyards and then have a wine tasting including their Graveyard Block shiraz - as far as single site varietals go, it's often recognised as the best wine Hunter Valley has to offer.
How about some cellar doors? Chic, cosy, avant garde or humble and historic - there's a boutique winery and cellar door to match for almost every type of wine lover in the Hunter Valley. There's a wide range of wine tours - either departing from Sydney, Newcastle or within the valley itself. As befits such an historic wine region with a wide range of vineyard locations, you can observe the winemaking process, enjoy a structured tasting or sit on a picnic blanket in a rose garden.
Running Horse Wines - a cellar door made of six stacked shipping containers and a range of aged wines to choose from.
Peterson House - a cellar door offering more than 40 varieties of sparkling wine, a restaurant and a function centre with a chapel and vineyard marquee.
Oakvale Wines - Oakvale Wines are dog friendly, vegan friendly and have perhaps the widest range of wine grapes in the Hunter Valley. Their cellar door is right at the foot of Brokenback Range and they offer wine tasting seven days a week.
Gartelmann Wines - Gartelmann Wines get their grapes from both the lower and upper Hunter Valley, they're family owned, and they have a cute cellar door that looks like an old-school Aussie farmhouse.
McGuigan Wines - McGuigan Wines are right in the heart of the historic wine industry of the Hunter Valley. Located on McDonalds Road Pokolbin, the McGuigan family have four generations of winemakers and in for some nice synchronicity, in 2019 they won the white winemaker of the year at the International Wine Challenge (IWC) - for the fourth time!
Tulloch Wines - Tulloch Wines is one of the most famous and historic wineries in the Hunter. They source fruit from at least six of the own vineyards and from other wine regions as well. One vineyard, Inglewood, is located right on the banks of the Hunter River. They offer a paid tasting experience of six wines at their cellar door in Pokolbin.
Small Forest Wine - Small Forest Wine is one of the few wineries on this list that is actually located in the Upper Hunter Valley. Also, winemaker Atsuko Radcliffe is the first female winemaker in Japan, and the only Japanese winemaker to establish a wine brand in Australia. One of the most interesting cellar doors on the list in my opinion.
Roche Estate - Roche Estate, on Broke Road Pokolbin, is a major concert venue for local and international artists, has a smelly cheese shop, an award-winning cellar door, two restaurants and accommodation. Their Meerea Park wine label celebrates the heritage of the vineyard which reaches back to the 1850s. M & J Becker wines also operate a cellar door through Roche Estate -
Tyrell's Wines -Tyrell's Wines , another legend out on Broke Road Pokolbin, have more than 160 years of growing chardonnay and pinot noir, and their semillon is Australia's most awarded white wines. Bearing in mind their 2019 semillon made the James Suckling’s Top 100 Wines of 2021 (it's worldwide!) from amongst 25,000 wines, they could be rightly be considered one of the world's best wineries.
Lake's Folly - Lake's Folly promotes itself as Australia's first boutique winery and it certainly sits atop of any given best boutique wineries Hunter Valley list. It was started in 1963 by Doctor Max Emory Lake OAM, considered the father of modern wineries in the Hunter. These guys embrace a sophistication through simplicity philosophy - the grapes are hand picked, red grapes undergo open barrel fermentation, the chardonnay spends time on lees. You end up with a cabernet blend and a chardonnay. That's it. These two table wines keep winning awards, so it's fair to say this vineyard knows exactly what it wants to achieve. The cellar door re-opens April 2022 when the new vintages will be available.
Brokenwood Wines - Brokenwood Wines' Graveyard Shiraz has often been recognized as the best single site shiraz in New South Wales. They have two restaurants, a cellar door with a structured tasting program, and they can hold events of up to 350 people.
Thomas Wines - Thomas Wines are on the corner of Mistletoe Lane and Hemitage Road Pokolbin and you can feel something of the atmosphere just from the names of the streets. They showcase semillon and shiraz and have won a few awards for their 2021 Braemore semillon. The Thomas Wines cellar door is open for tasting everyday and has three levels to choose from. Bookings recommended.
Peppertree Wines - Pepper Tree Wines specialise in single vineyard wines, have properties in Orange, Wrattonbully and Coonawarra, but started here in the Hunter Valley. They have a packed events calendar throughout the year. A tasting at Pepper Tree Wines has six wines for you to sample.
Margan Wines - Margan Wines have an impressive pedigree and they certainly qualify for one of the Best Vineyards Hunter Valley. 2022 marks 25 vintages of Margan and in 2021 Andrew Margan won the Hunter Valley Winemaker of the Year. They mix sustainability and style and they have one of the most innovative cellar doors in the valley. The restaurant grows a lot of the food used on site.
Krinklewood - Krinklewood buck the trend of the Hunter Valley towards Italian inspired grape varietals, architecture and food. It's a French inspired boutique winery with Provencal gardens and lots of birdlife. If you love the idea of drinking a French rosé, or a naturally fermented wine made in a biodynamic style, while sitting in a French styled garden, well this might be your best wine tasting Hunter Valley.
Need a nap after all the fun?
Best accomodation options
If you like the idea of staying at a vineyard - not a bad idea if you've had five or six wines over the afternoon and the tranquil surrounds are making your eyes heavy - the Hunter Valley has plenty to choose from.
Gartelmann Wines has a one bedroom studio for couples and you might see alpacas from your front deck.
Vico Monti is described as a homestead amongst the vines, and it sleeps up to 13 people if you're celebrating a wedding, going to see a concert in the valley, or you just have a rather large family. The best wineries of the area are accessible on the Hermitage Road cycleway which passes right by the property.
For a 4.5 star fancy experience, just down the road from Brokenwood Wines, try staying at the Mercure Resort Hunter Valley Gardens.
Another 4 star resort in the area is the Hunter Valley Resort, a stone's throw from Thomas Wines. They have their own vineyard on 70 acres, with 35 rooms and cottages.
The Convent Hunter Valley Luxury Boutique Hotel is just down the road from Pepper Tree Wines and features 2 restaurants, an outdoor pool & a tennis court, plus an on-site winery.
Estate Tuscany just won a Travellers' Choice Award for 2021 as one of the top 10% of hotels worldwide. The restaurant has a chef's hat and the property sits right on the foothills of Brokenback Range.
I like the sound of Cranky Rock camping in Wollombi. You might get to hear a lyrebird on their 120 acre working farm property and there's a choice of camping, glamping or a cottage stay.
With Pokolbin being such a mecca for wine tasting, there's often not such a focus on the Upper Hunter. If you feel like visiting the area, you could try Blueberry Hill Estate, a working vineyard offering reasonably priced accommodation with a high rating. They also have a cellar door.
Why visit the Hunter Valley in 2022?
Whilst much of the Hunter Valley received a lot of rain through Spring and early summer of 2021, the first few months of 2022 have been sunny and mostly calm. Lots of the varietals have been picked later than is usual for Hunter Valley wineries. This might make the viticulturists nervous, but if the weather holds late picks can have a great balance of acidity and sweetness.
However, there's a fair chance you'll be drinking something picked in 2021. Well, the Wine House (a venue that says they have the largest selection of wine from the top Hunter Valley wineries) reckons "The general consensus is the Hunter Valley has pulled a rabbit out of the hat and it’s wearing a very smart bow-tie! "
Further to the above, the Wine House will be moving all of their wine tasting experience into the Wine Lounge overlooking the lawns and lake. It's a good locale to travel around and drink a range of Hunter Valley wine without leaving the bar.
Something to see while you're there?
From bespoke cooking experiences to hot air ballooning, meandering through award winning gardens or just checking out the myriad of art galleries, there is more to the Hunter Valley than just wine. Although we must admit, at least for us, the wine does take a front seat. For those suffering palate fatigue, here are a few more activities to give the taste buds a rest.
photo by Garath Hubbard - licenced under unsplash
Fancy a bevvy while visiting?
Beer, wine and cider in the Hunter Valley Region
1st Release Wine week is a two day event on September 10-11. There will be local produce, music and wine masterclasses. Most importantly, you can get to try the first releases of all the wine that was first harvested in 2022. You van also tour some of the small single vineyard producers of the Hunter wine region.
Come May, 2022, to Denman for some award winning wines and the best of the area's fresh produce. The Upper Hunter Wine & Food Affair (email) also has live music, street entertainment and lots of kids activities.
The Lovedale Long Lunch, returning in May 2022, is one of the Hunter Valley's signature food and wine events. Eat local food, taste wines made nearby, and be merry al fresco.
photo by View Apart- licenced under shutterstock
How about some good tunes and good times?
Live Music and Festivals in the Hunter Valley Region
Opera in the vineyards in October and Jazz in the Vineyards in November are both on Broke Road Pokolbin, like many of the other events we've covered here. For that matter, the Hunter Valley Gin and Jazz Festival is also on Broke Road Pokolbin and starts in April. Botanicals and cocktails sounds enticing!
Wildflower is also at Roche Estate, Broke Road Pokolbin, and features a big line-up of acclaimed women in music. It's on in April, 2022.
Bringing Granny and the kids?
Family Friendly things to do in Hunter Valley
Hunter Valley Zoo aims to provide a safe, caring and natural environment to ensure the welfare of all species housed for exhibit, educational and conservation purposes within the zoo. The Hunter Valley Zoo is also a fun place to have kids' birthdays.
photo by Photocech CZ - licenced under shutterstock
Aussie Ark is a project that aims to rehouse and rehabilitate Tasmanian devils on the mainland.
Denman Farmers & Artisans Markets - first Saturday of every month.
The Magical Storybook Garden on Broke Road Pokolbin is a gorgeously designed landscape right in the heart of the wine history and future of the Hunter Valley.
Quirky and clever things to do in the Hunter Valley wine region
Not quite sure if I'd classify this as nerdy, but chocolate making and chocolate tasting sounds like a fun combination and maybe scratches that scientific itch. You can book a class at Greenaway Wines.
If you love a model railway, a steam powered train, or some trainspotting souvenirs, you might be excited to visit the Richmond Vale Railway Museum.
Arts, Culture and Entertainment in the Barossa Valley
Winmark Art Gallery has a sculpture garden and makes the sensible suggestion that both sculpture and wine age well and can be enjoyed together.
Winmark Art Gallery
Looking for Something Sporty?
Active events and outdoor sports in the Hunter Valley Region
If you love riding or just admiring horses, check out The Scone Horse Festival in May.
If you enjoy hitting a golf ball, you'll have plenty of places to choose from. Grab nine holes before the Lovedale Long Lunch at the Hunter Valley Golf and Country Club.
Rothbury has the Greg Norman designed Vintage Golf Club.
Pokolbin has a lovely course with view of the nearby Brokenback Range at the Cypress Lakes Golf and Country Club.
photo by Lo Sarno - licenced under unsplash
We've hope you've enjoyed this run down of the Hunter Valley wine region and some of the incredible wineries and activities it has on offer. We will be regularly updating this page and greatly welcome any input you can offer. And if you go ahead and visit the Hunter Valley, we hope you love it as much as we do.
The team at Goodwill Wine
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