Our first choice of long tour outside the city was the Blue Mountains, but with the recent fires, we were advised that they weren’t their usual pristine tourist attraction. Therefore, we cancelled the Blue Mountain tour, switching to the Hunter Valley.
Read on to enjoy our wine tasting escapades.
- Tour type – Ship’s optional excursion
- Tour Name – Hunter Valley Winery
- Duration – 9.5 hrs
- Summary – A scenic drive of about 2.5 hrs to reach the Hunter Valley, where we visited 3 wineries. Lunch was provided at the 2nd winery.
With another early start, our day started with a quick breakfast at the World Cafe, then down to the Theatre for 07:45. Shortly after we arrived the previous tour was called, leaving 4 of us in the Theatre. As it approached 07:45 nobody else had arrived, so the 4 of us headed ashore. OMG!, we had a 54 seater bus, a driver and a guide for just 4 of us. I was pleasantly surprised that Viking did not cancel the tour.
Departing the docks we crossed the ANZAC Bridge, then through the CBD, before crossing Sydney Harbour Bridge into North Sydney, where we drove through the suburbs, until reaching the M1 Motorway. Amazing scenery, with fairly dense forests on both sides of the motorway.
Our first stop was a Ben Ean Winery, which is a small cottage winery that used to be owned by Lindemans. Started in the late 1800’s by a Scotsman, it was purchased by Lindemans in the early 1900’s, but the low yields of the Hunter Valley were not conducive to mass production wines. Therefore, it closed down for many years, before being purchased by the current owners and the name reverted to the original.
On entering, we were met by a fellow Scotsman, who had been in Australia for many years and like me still has a wee bit of an accent. He was brilliant, providing us with the winery history and a very detailed description of each wine. He also discussed the Hunter Valley growing conditions, which result in low yields of only 2.5 tons per acre. This is well below that of other regions, which can be as high as 30 tons per acre.
Rather than standing at the tasting bar, he invited us over to one of the tables, to enjoy the tasting.
Judi tried 6 white wines, while the rest of us tried 3 white and 3 red. I used to really enjoy wines, especially big, bold reds – Old Vine Zins, Shiraz, etc. but one of my medications has rendered many wines unpalatable. Fortunately, it did not apply here, as I enjoyed all 6 of them.
Unfortunately we were too early for lunch at this winery, as the restaurant had not yet opened. Most unfortunate, as the 4 of us agreed, this was the favourite winery of the day.
Judi especially enjoyed a couple of the white wines, so we returned to the bus with 2 bottles of white and a bottle of 45 yr old Tawny Port. Couldn’t try the Port, but it sounded interesting. Note – Ron & I tasted it on departure Sydney and only a 1/2 bottle remains, so my vote is that it’s an excellent Port.
After about 5 minutes in the bus we pulled into the driveway of winery # 2 – Hope Winery. It was certainly an impressive entrance and building. In addition to being a winery, they also were a micro-brewery – yeah, my favourite purveyor of refreshments. On entering the building, we were given a few minutes to explore, before the wine tasting and lunch.
In the restaurant, we sat at one of the tables and the lady conducting the tasting started pouring 2 whites and 2 reds. The tasting was conducted at breakneck speed, with minimal history about the winery, or information on each wine. Shortly thereafter, lunch was served – Scotch fillet of beef, served with mushroom sauce, tatties and veggies. Nice steak, but they all came well done.
They served another glass of wine with lunch and they graciously traded wine to beer for me, so I enjoyed a pleasant and hoppy IPA.
The winery hosts concerts for up to 20,000 and recently hosted a concert featuring Sir Elton John.
I noted that a very low percentage of the area is actually planted in vines and where they are planted they are rather sparse compared to the Okanagan, Senoma, Napa, etc. As seen above none of this land close to the winery has vines.
After lunch, I nipped down to the brewery and scrounged a quick taste of the Chocolate Stout, which was delicious.
Back on the bus, it was another quick drive to our next and final winery of the day – McGuigan Winery.
Rather than standing at the tasting area, we were led to a private tasting area, which had been set up in a large warehouse. The lady was very knowledgeable about the winery and each of the wines we tasted – sparkling wine, 3 whites, 3 reds and a port. With the exception of the Port, I did not enjoy any of the wines. I thought it may have been the IPA for lunch, but Judi and the other couple also didn’t enjoy these wines.
Consequently, no wine purchases from this winery.
On re-boarding the bus, we set off for the 2.5 hr return to Sydney. All in all, it was a most enjoyable day, seeing both the countryside outside the city and sampling a few wines.
However, my impression of the Hunter Valley being a main wine producer was seriously erroneous, based on the area we experienced. Being used to the Okanagan, Senoma and Napa, where almost every square inch is planted, the Hunter Valley has a low percentage of the entire land planted with vines.