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Life

17 Must Do Hunter Valley Experiences

The Hunter Valley isn't just about cellar doors. Shonagh Walker uncovers a host of activities that may well see you extend your stay.

While it's widely known as the destination to uncover boutique cellar doors and world-famous wines, the Hunter Valley has another face that it's worked hard on showing to the world. From balloon rides to nature walks, festivals to art amongst the vines and even animal sanctuaries that will melt your heart, you're spoiled for choice when it comes to filling your itinerary on your weekend or family holiday. Here's a list of some of our getaway inspirations.

Be Cheesy

Cheese lovers should make a B-line for The Sebel Kirkton Park on Saturday June 17 and Sunday June 18, which mark the annual Cheese Lovers Festival. Highlights include 50 exclusive stalls featuring cheese, beer, wine and assorted cheese-related food stalls, cooking with cheese workshops, beer and cheese workshops and cheese making classes. Preceding the official start of the festival is the Classic Cheese Dinner on Friday June 16.

cheeseloversfestival.com.au

Get Cooking

Millfield Hall Cooking School caters for corporate and private groups of eight to 20 people. All produce used is local and seasonal, with citrus and herbs grown in the Hall's garden and eggs coming straight from their own chook pen. Prices are usually around $145 per class, which includes a glass of wine, however, bespoke tutorials can include anything from roasting an entire beast and beer tasting, to matching courses with local wines, which might up the price a bit.

millfieldhall.com.au

Organic Fare

Run by partners Matty and Jimmy Kerr, Nanna Kerr's Kitchen is a mostly organic restaurant and is a huge favourite with locals and tourists alike. Famed for dishes taken from the Kerr matriarch's menu and its farm to table ethos, this restaurant also boasts a retail space where you can purchase the pickles, relishes and jams served on site. Don't miss the Dirty Chai Pannacotta, which was created to celebrate Nanna Kerr's recent 80th birthday.

nannakerrskitchen.com.au

Be Proud

You'll have a blast during the second annual Pokolbin Pride Festival, which this year again sees local businesses band together with wine tasting tours, live entertainment, fine dining and cocktail parties, community markets, guided bike riding winery tours and more. The festival runs from October 20-22.

pokolbinpride.com.au

A Day On The Green

Hit Bimbadgen for this not-to-be-missed event where you'll get your fix of local and international acts teamed with a great selection of wine. This year has already seen rock icons Blondie and Cyndi Lauper entertain, with more acts every summer. When major celebs aren't singing, you can enjoy Esca restaurant and sip a generous wine selection at the cellar door.

bimbadgen.com.au

Take To The Skies

If you fancy yourself a bit of a pilot, then Hunter Valley Joy Flights is for you. Located at Cessnock airport, the company offers Tiger Moth adventure flights where you man the cockpit and fly the plane solo once in the air (an experienced pilot is there to guide you at all times). A less adrenaline-inducing way to get elevated is by Hot Air Balloon. Hunter Valley Ballooning offers exclusive and group flights out of its Lovedale HQ every day and is a peaceful and unique way to take in the views of the region

huntervalleyjoyflights.com.au

Inspire Your Green Thumb

With over 60 acres of international display gardens, you can easily while away a day or two in the lush haven that is the Hunter Valley Gardens, situated conveniently in the Pokolbin region.

There's over eight kilometres of walking paths to explore, which reveal 10 individual feature gardens each with a unique theme. The Storybook Garden with its topiary animals including horses, teddy bears and ducks will delight kids of all ages. The Lakes Walk will take you past waterfalls, babbling brooks, Weeping Willows, a chapel and rotunda and stunning seasonal flora.

The Rose Garden features over 150 varieties of roses, with around 8000 fragrant and beautiful roses in bloom and the Formal Garden, a nod to French and British garden designs, will transfix you with its manicured hedges, evergreen magnolia and 3000 bushes of Rosa chameleon roses. Make sure you stop by the Wishing Fountain - all proceeds from your wish are donated to local charities.

A favourite of this scribe though, is the Italian Grotto, with its Statue of Saint Francis of Assisi (Patron Saint of Animals and the Environment), its lush lavender hedges and incredible bougainvillea.

Winter marks the annual Snow Time festival (June 24 to July 16), with a giant ice-skating rink, mega ice toboggan and tubing. You can also build a snowman at in the man-made Snow Play Zone.

huntervalleygardens.com.au

The Block

Four luxury self-contained villas and a three bedroom guesthouse comprise the secluded but stunning accommodation and winery of Block 8. Soak up views of orchards, olive groves, grapevines, open fields and distant mountain ranges as you meet kangaroos and wallabies, sugar gliders, swans and goannas. You can even pat a couple of pigs and handfeed the ducks. Guests also receive bottles of the estate-grown single vineyard wines, generous breakfast hampers and home-baked treats for afternoon tea.

blockeight.com.au

Get Artsy

Sculptures in the Vineyards happens throughout November, stretching across Undercliff Winery and Gallery, Stonehurst Cedar Creek Wines, Wollombi Wines and Noyce Brothers Wine. Works are by renowned local and national artists, with an estimated 100 pieces planned for 2017.

sculptureinthevineyards.com.au

On Your Bike

As the original bike hire company in the region, Grapemobile Bicycle Hire and Tours really know their stuff.

Rent from the centrally located vineyard and hire shop in Pokolbin, where you can take a private off road self-guided tour amongst the vines, sampling wines from up to nine vineyards on the way (some even provide free delivery of your purchases to the bike's hire shop). You can also choose to have the Grapemobile bus pick you up and return you from your accommodation or meeting place.

All tours include mountain bikes, retro cruisers or tandems, helmets, sunscreen, bottled water, numbered VIP access pass, maps and tour options.

grapemobile.com.au

Organic Spa Experience

There's a plethora of day spas peppered around the Hunter. UBIKA spa at the Crowne Plaza in Lovedale is noteworthy, thanks to its alliance with certified organic skin care brand, Eminence Organics. Hailing from Hungary, this nurturing range relies on ingredients such as blueberries, Arctic berries, and pomegranate. Choose from an array of facials and body treatments including Vichy showers, wraps and exfoliation.

Other fantastic spa experiences include iconic Spa Elysia Golden Door, which has partnered with Certified Organic skin care range, Divine Woman and Chateau Elan at The Vintage, where you can enjoy a glass of bubbles in the outdoor Jacuzzi before or after your treatment.

crowneplazahuntervalley.com.au

goldendoor.com.auchateauelan.com.au

Luxe Getaway

Just Desserts

Sweet tooth? Book a table at Sabor. Famed for its Portuguese Chocolate Mousse made from owner Fernando's grandmother's recipe from 70 years ago, there are over 50 desserts on the menu and each can be paired beautifully with local wines. There are gluten-free options too, as well as Glinelli coffee and a selection of teas.

saborinthehunter.com.au

A Berry Nice Time

Few things taste as sweet as organic, bio-dynamically farmed blueberries, fresh from the bush. At Misty Valley Farm, you can pick your own punnet and enjoy the intense flavour straight away, or freeze your harvest for up to two years. Berry picking season is Dec/Jan, but at other times you can lap up the farm environment in the boutique accommodation, which sleeps up to four people and includes organic farm fresh eggs in the breakfast hamper.

mistyvalleyblueberries.com

Take A Stroll

If you're still feeling energetic and want (or need) to walk off a few calories, take one of several walking trails through Barrington Tops National Park. Choose from easy walks, overnight hikes, or simply enjoy a picnic by the stunning Barrington Tops Falls. Those after more action can 4WD.

nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/barrington-tops-national-park

See Pigs Fly

Where Pigs Fly is a registered charity and sanctuary located in the Lower Hunter region, dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating and caring for farmed animals that have been treated cruelly, abused or neglected. With various open days and sanctuary tours (bookings essential) throughout the year, the team is committed to educating guests about the importance of treating all animals with compassion and respect. An open day will see you mingling with pigs, lambs, chickens and cows, living life as they should be - free range and organically.

wherepigsfly.org

Lush Lavender

Daniela Riccio bought Little Valley Lavender Farm five years ago and while she still grows over 100 lavender bushes, the farm is mostly an organic garlic producer, alpaca breeding base and fleece retailer, bee keeper and miniature cattle grazier. It's is also a part of the Department of Primary Industries' Visit My Farm program, whereby city slickers can spend a day learning about farm life.

littlevalleyfarm.com.au

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Life
City of Wine
Words by Richelle Harrison-Plesse on 10 May 2017
Escape to the heart of Bordeaux, where the magnificent Cité du Vin carries you away on a multi-sensory adventure. Dubbed a 'Disneyland for adults', France's Cité du Vin - recently opened in Bordeaux - is dedicated to the history of wine. But instead of tea cups and roller coasters, at this wine 'theme park' you'll get your thrills from wine glasses and drink coasters. Costing a budget-busting 81 million Euros ($AUD 116 million) and taking more than two decades to become reality, the multi-storey Cité du Vin is a truly impressive temple to viticulture. The building itself (designed by Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazières from the Parisian agency XTU) is an architectural triumph. Featuring thousands of glass and metallic glazed panels, the imposing aluminium structure is all shimmering curves. Evoking the swirl of wine moving in a glass, its sculptural form also reflects the undulating Garonne river, which the building overlooks from the city's left bank. This mecca for wine-lovers is not just aimed at connoisseurs; the Cité du Vin hopes to make the vinous tipple accessible to everyone via a playful, hands-on journey of discovery. It claims to be the world's largest wine museum, offering visitors an immersive experience through the world's wine culture and its universal heritage. "I don't like to call it a museum," says Sylvie Cazes, president of the Foundation for the Culture and Civilisations of Wine, "because the word suggests a bunch of dusty collections. This is completely interactive and unlike anything seen before." That goes for its wine collection too, which doesn't limit itself to the Grands Crus of Bordeaux. "When the project started some 20 years ago, there was a Bordeaux focus," says Sylvie, "but over time it evolved to include wines from everywhere." The ground floor wine boutique houses more than 14,000 bottles of 800 different wines from some 80 countries. There are even drops from unlikely destinations such as Ethiopia, Indonesia and Tahiti. If you're not ready to splurge on a bottle, some wines can be tasted (for a corkage fee) at the bar.   CONVIVAL CLASSES However, it's on the upper floors of the Cité du Vin where the real fun starts. Go beyond a wine's taste to discover other aspects of its character during one of the workshop sessions. These take place in sleek, multi-sensory spaces featuring 360 degree projections, sounds and a scent diffusion system.  Far from being straight-up wine-tasting classes, the experience is casual and convivial. "They're focused on the spirit of sharing, as everyone has a different relationship with wine", says Sylvie. Meanwhile, in a bid to keep the local clientele coming back, the Cité du Vin shows temporary exhibitions in the Salle des Colonnes, and all year long, the 250-seater Thomas Jefferson auditorium plays host to concerts, film screenings and debates.   FEAST FOR THE SENSES The headline visitor attraction is the permanent exhibition, where the interactive multimedia experience is a real feast for the senses and a glorious celebration of every facet of wine. With 19 themed sections, the Cité du Vin has all bases covered, from the lands that produce the grapey goodness, and winegrowers around the world, to wine's influence on thousands of years of society, and its connection to the arts. Each display is fascinating, thanks to the clever use of 3D imagery, aroma diffusion, or video game technology. Not forgetting punters not yet old enough to enjoy wine; the Cité du Vin reaches out to younger visitors with fun, age-appropriate displays. The museum's highlights range from giant video screens looping mesmerising vistas of the world's winemaking regions, and the 'getting to know you' feature with (virtual) winegrowers from all corners of the globe, to the 'meet the experts' panel where you can seek one-on-one advice from wine professionals (again, in virtual form). Whether you listen to a Michelin-starred chef or a respected sommelier, their answers on how to buy wine, how to serve wine, and whether wine awards mean anything, may surprise you. Refuelling takes place on the 7th floor where Le 7 restaurant offers sweeping views over the Garonne and the Port de la Lune. Chef Nicolas Lascombes rustles up his brand of world cuisine with a French twist using seasonal and regional produce. Wash it all down with your choice of 500 wines from 50 countries. Indeed, la pièce de résistance is the Belvédère, the rooftop wine bar, which boasts a stunning panorama of Bordeaux. This is where you wrap up your visit (only those who have paid museum entry fees can access it) while sipping on a glass of wine included in the ticket price. Soak up the views from the 10 metre-long oak bar, or gape at the 4,000 glass bottles suspended from the ceiling. Tasters can choose from a regularly rotating selection of five Bordeaux wines and 15 from around the world. As to why the Cité du Vin would open its doors in Bordeaux, it couldn't have happened anywhere else, says Sylvie. "It's a big city with the most famous wine-producing region in the world, and the biggest producer of AOC wine." The founder of the Cité du Vin, Alain Juppé, who is also the mayor of Bordeaux (and a 2017 French Presidential hopeful) has called the museum his 'Guggenheim'. An ambitious claim, but it's certainly gone some way to cementing the World Heritage listed city's status as the unrivalled world capital of wine.   STAY AND PLAY Take the wine theme all the way with a luxurious stay at Les Sources de Caudalie , an intimate, five-star boutique hotel nestled in Bordeaux wine country. Indulge your tastebuds at one of three on site restaurants, including the magnificent Michelin-starred La Grand' Vigne. Take a guided tour of the  Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte  , just steps from the hotel, or borrow a bike for a leisurely ride through the sun-dappled vineyards. The cherry (or grape) on top is the spa offering exclusive vinotherapy wine-based treatments. Book at  sources-caudalie.com  , rooms from 240 Euros.
Wine
Cycling the Clare Valley Riesling Trail
Words by Elliot Watt on 6 Nov 2017
Discover the fun of cycling the Clare Valley Riesling Trail with Wine Selectors Membership Consultant, Elliot Watt, as he shares all his tips for touring through this spectacular wine region . Exercise and wine don’t usually go together, but, when you think about it, it's actually a genius combination. You are essentially cancelling out the damage done by one with the other. Well, in theory, anyway. Now a word of warning. We’re in no way suggesting you empty a bottle of wine into your drink bottle and hit the gym. There are far more attractive and much more appropriate places to achieve this symbiotic activity. A leisurely two-hour drive north of Adelaide will see you in Australia’s epicentre for Riesling , the Clare Valley, where you’ll find the Riesling Trail. This 35-kilometre-long cycling and walking track follows the path of the old rail line that sliced through the hills before it was irreparably damaged by the 1983 Ash Wednesday Bushfires. Today, the trail takes you past some of the region’s finest Riesling producers, so get ready to sip, sweat and cycle your way through the Clare Valley.  Clare
It all begins with a visit to the Riesling Trail Bike Hire to collect your trusty steed. Kent will size you up with the perfect bike and give you the local lowdown on the trail. Once in the saddle, an easy 12-minute ride north on the trail will take you to your first destination, Knappstein Enterprises Winery and Brewery . Originally established as the Enterprises Brewery in 1878, the current winery was installed by Clare Valley icon Tim Knappstein in the late 1960s. In 2006, 89 years after the original taps went dry, the brewing of beer started up once again in this heritage building. For Riesling lovers, definitely look to the Single Vineyard range, which is a perfect expression of the diversity in Clare Riesling. However, if you prefer a beer, then the delicious Knappstein Reserve Larger will quench your thirst and replenish the tank for the next leg of the journey.  Sevenhill and Penworth
Now you need to put in some hard yards and work off that wine and/or beer. Head south, 6km from Clare, and you’ll arrive in Sevenhill where it’s time to take a detour. John Horrocks Road is off the trail and runs through some seriously beautiful countryside, which will take your mind off the fact your legs are on fire. More importantly, it leads you to one of the jewels of the Clare Valley, Mitchell Wines . Andrew and Jane Mitchell established their winery in 1975 and have created something really special, showcasing a true Australian family-owned and run winery. On arrival, Jane welcomes you like you’re one of the family and you can tell her and Andrew are proud of their wines and vineyards and so they should be. Within their quaint cellar door, they present stunning single vineyard Rieslings, as well as Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Semillon. Now, it’s awfully hard to transport wine on a bike, trust me, I ride to work at Wine Selectors and constantly attempt to juggle wines home. However, not to worry, Jane will personally deliver any purchases direct to your accommodation that very same day.  Watervale
Departing Mitchell Wines, with a few more turns of the cog, you’ll be off the detour and back on the trail. This is where things start to go downhill, literally, not figuratively, as you’re now over the incline and can give the legs a rest as you glide through the rolling hills towards Watervale. As soon as you arrive, it’s essential to restore your energy with some carb loading and there’s no better place to do so than the Watervale General Store . It’s one of those charming country icons that is part café, part grocery store, part post office. The food is simple and delicious, but heed my warning, it's not wise to consume a full pizza and then carry on the trail as if you are riding in Le Tour De France. That pizza will come back to haunt you. Leasingham
With a full stomach and renewed energy, it shouldn’t take long to reach the next town of Leasingham and the home of Claymore Wines . Here you can wash down lunch with a glass of Dark Side of The Moon or Bittersweet Symphony . No idea what I’m talking about? Cleverly, the majority of their wines are labelled after hit songs from a bygone era . However, there are no gimmicks when it comes to the wines with some seriously good juice going on here. Sing your way through the range, find your favourite and sit down with a glass accompanied by a board of local South Australian Cheese. For a second in time, you will completely forget about your aching muscles and the fact you still have to ride home.  The Riesling Trail comes to an end a further five clicks south at the town of Auburn. Unfortunately, I cannot tell the tale of Auburn as Leasingham is as far as my legs would carry me. Some say, namely my wife, it was the pizza that lead to my ultimate demise however that’s neither here nor there.  Now begins the journey home, although it's not over yet. As any good bicycle wine tour strategist knows, you’re going to get thirsty, so Stone Bridge in Sevenhill is the perfect rehydration stop. Crafting not only exceptional Riesling but another 14 wines from 7 different grape varieties, Stone Bridge has something to quench any thirst. The aftermath Once off the bike if you stop moving things begin to hurt, the wine wears off and the lactic acid sets in. The only solution is to manoeuvre yourself directly to Seed Winehouse and Kitchen in Clare . Immersed in the simplistic stone and natural timber of the old chaff mill, you begin to imagine you are somewhere in rural Italy about to dine on local rustic cuisine. However, Head Chef Guy Parkinson is no Nonna, he may be better. Offering sophisticated A la Carte and degustation options, the menu highlights local produce with a wine list to reflect. Nearly 200 local and international wines will make the decision hard, add in 47 Gin choices and the mind begins to boggle. Whatever your decision there is no doubt any indulgence is guilt free. You have literally burned off three Big Macs during the ride so sit back, reward yourself and reflect on the beauty of the Clare Valley and the amazing wines it has to offer. Your Quick Guide to the Clare Valley Riesling Trail Wineries Knappstein Enterprises Winery and Brewery Mitchell Wines Claymore Wines Stone Bridge Restaurant Seed Winehouse and Kitchen in Clare Watervale General Store Bike Hire Riesling Trail Bike Hire
Life
Cellar Doors Italian style
Words by Alessandro Ragazzo on 20 Aug 2015
Like most producers in the world, Italian wineries are constantly looking at making better quality wine. In Italy in recent times, this search has become a study of the ‘fashion of form’ – uncovering the intricate concept of structure of wine to help conceive that perfect drop. This thinking has also extended to ‘Turismo Enogastronomico’ (food and wine tourism) with spectacular results. Old estates have been transformed by a collection of famous Italian architects, so that the cellar door and winery has become as much the centre of attraction as the wine. It is a union between tradition and modernity, a road map that directs guests and the curious to an unexpected and beguiling journey. These new concept wineries have been designed by architects and engineers in conjunction with Italy’s most famous contemporary sculptors, and using biodynamic principles so their designs are at one with their environment. Gone are the boring rusty tinned walls of decaying estates, ushering in is a new era of engineering that utilises the natural shape of the landscape as the centre of attraction. Buildings don’t just go up, they also flow out, around and even down inside the earth. Natural inspirations The choice of materials, most of the made from recycled or sustainable products, and the sensitivity for the surroundings have been critical elements in this architectural revolution. The most precious inspiration for Arnaldo Pomodoro, one of Italy’s greatest contemporary sculptors and designers, was a turtle, a symbol of longevity and stability. In this case, the shell of the turtle became the domed copper roof of the Tenuta Coltibuono di Bevagna , a winery in Umbria. Pomodoro had produced many sculptures in his time, but this was the first for the wine industry and the success of the project reverberated on an international scale and set the tone for the design wave to come in the Italian wine industry. Other wineries followed suit, embracing the art of the concept and seeing it as a way to reinvigorate tourism to the wine regions. Designers and architects Paolo Dellapiana and Francesco Bermond des Ambrois collaborated to conceptualise the Cascina Adelaide di Barolo in Cuneo, Piemonte. This amazing structure has been built into the hills, and from a distance it almost disappears into the countryside, perfectly camouflaged with the rest of the habitat – almost like a Hobbit house full of wine, if you will. Structure and form While many of the structures are dazzling from the outside, just as much thought and design has been applied to the internal workings. Everything from barrel halls to crushing rooms have transformed wineries’ inner workings into virtual exhibition halls. The new Antinori Cellar Door in the Chianti Classico area near Florence is a perfect example. Designed by Mario Casamonti it is a truly unique structure. With a surface area of 24,000m2, it took eight years to construct, with an investment of 40 million Euro. The structure is developed horizontally rather than vertically, with the winery hidden in the earth. The production facilities and storage are spread across three stunning levels. And the interior design is simply breathtaking with terracotta vaults to ensure perfect temperature and humidity levels.   The new world order Where Italy once had wineries they now have monuments. And while there are still plenty of the old style ‘casale’ with moulded walls and giant dirty barrels, the way forward is for large, clean, bright and spacious structures with areas dedicated to each individual phase of wine production.   This concept of wine and design seems to be resonating around the globe with architects working on amazing structures   from California to Chile, from Spain to France, from Alto Adige to Sicily, and even right here in Australia – think Chester Osborn’s big Rubik’s Cube plans for d’Arenberg in McLaren Vale. The future is now and it is an exciting time for those who appreciate design in architecture and in their wine glass.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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