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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
The Epicurean Maturation of Porto
Words by Emily McAuliffe on 19 Oct 2017
Porto may be the lesser known of Portugal’s cities, but it’s becoming a star on the food and wine scene. Porto, which takes its name from northern Portugal’s economy-driving seaport, was traditionally regarded as little more than an industrial workhorse. As Lisbon’s blue-collar cousin, it lacked the cultural clout of the capital, and this was only intensified by a king hit during the global financial crisis that left streets bare and spirits low. But Porto isn’t a city to easily falter and its historical tenacity earned it the nickname Invicta, or ‘undefeated’. Whereas it once resisted monarchists, it is now resisting cultural demise, and has bounced back to attain this year’s title of Best European Destination (an honour it has held twice before). In tandem with this surge of social energy is a lifting of the city’s gastronomic scene. In 2017, Porto and its cross-river city Vila Nova de Gaia were awarded three new Michelin stars, bringing the tally up to five. Despite this epicurean maturation, however, one of the most appealing things about Porto is that residents – including the city’s top chefs – still maintain strong food traditions.  “I think we should fight to keep our traditions,” says Pedro Lemos , who in 2015 became Porto’s first chef to reach Michelin status, and now retains his star for a third year. “When you travel, you want to visit the monuments and experience the history, including through the gastronomy, so I’m not afraid to show our roots,” he says of his exclusively Portuguese menu. Therefore, while the culinary diversity of other Western European cities might fool you into thinking you were in any number of countries, Porto has a way of always reminding you you’re in Portugal. And that strong sense of place provides precious insight into the city and country’s identity. Simple fare
The people of Porto are known to eat every part of the pig bar the squeal and are hence dubbed tripeiros or ‘tripe eaters’. Although a reference to ‘poor man’s food’, the locals wear the label with pride and the dish Tripas à Moda do Porto is still widely available on menus across the city in line with a 600-year-old recipe. In the culinary archives, it sits alongside dishes such as the Francesinha, a greasy multi-decker meat sandwich blanketed in cheese, and dried codfish Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá, which are prime examples of Porto’s penchant for simple soul food. “The food in Portugal has history, it’s an important part of our story and culture; it’s our grandmother’s food,” says Rui Paula, who attained his first Michelin star at Casa de Chá da Boa Nova this year. Hence, he and other high-level chefs still frequent local-run tascas, where the prato do dia (plate of the day) is commonly seen scribbled on paper in restaurant windows. In these establishments, dining out remains a boisterous affair where family recipes are served and devoured with contentment and pride, and it’s an endearing example of the Portuguese saying, ‘there is always room at the table for one more’. Raising the bar
Porto’s old-style comfort food is still evident at every turn, but a sign of gastronomical progression came in 2011 when The Yeatman Hotel ’s restaurant, located in Porto’s neighbouring city of Vila Nova de Gaia, was awarded a Michelin star under the leadership of Ricardo Costa, who proved his salt with a second star in 2017. In addition to this formidable two star feat, Porto’s smaller players are offering stiff competition in the culinary stakes, with the quaint destination restaurants of Lemos, Paula and Vítor Matos of Antiqvvm part of the star spangled club. “We used to say ‘we’re lost in Foz’,” says Lemos of his restaurant’s obscure location down a cobbled backstreet in Porto’s fringe suburb of Foz. But a steady stream of locals, followed by travellers, started sniffing out his food creations. “At first people said I was crazy,” says Lemos. “But I wanted my restaurant to grow from its value, and now, the fact it’s a street restaurant makes me even more proud. People don’t stop at the restaurant because they pass it on the street, they come here specifically for us.” Paula, one of the three judges of MasterChef Portugal, is equally chuffed. “It can be difficult to get a Michelin star outside a hotel, so I’m very proud to have achieved it here,” he says from his 30-seat restaurant hidden amongst the sea rocks in Porto’s coastal outskirts. “More and more tourists are coming to Porto and it’s pushing for better dining options,” he continues, referencing the city’s growing number of refined restaurants. Regional influence
Some of Portugal’s best produce is found in the north, so Porto’s restaurateurs can easily tap into quality supplies. Renowned Portuguese food and wine critic José Silva, whose accolades include television presenter, guidebook writer and columnist, cites the smoked meats of Trás-os-Montes as the best in the country, for instance, and Paula, Lemos and Silva all credit the cold vegetation-rich waters of the North Atlantic for producing second-to-none seafood. Though top-notch produce is readily available, local chefs aren’t wedded to northern produce, preferring to draw on regional strengths. “I’ll use local where I can, but I’m not fundamentalist,” say Lemos. “Besides, Portugal is a small country, so really, everything is local.” Costa agrees, saying he prioritises regional products where possible, but also scours the country to find Portugal’s best, such as seaweed from the Algarve region and cheese from the Alentejo.  A fine drop While port has long been a household name, Portugal’s table wines are starting to break international barriers as people discover the 14 principal wine regions, including Porto’s nearby Douro Valley. “In the next few years I think places like the Douro will be one of the 3–4 most important regions in the world for both port and still wines,” says Silva. Francisca Lobão from Porto’s beautiful chapel-turned-wine bar Capela Incomum agrees. “People already have worldwide references of Italian and French wines, for example, and Portugal is on that path,” she says.  Confidence in Portugal’s table wines also led husband and wife team Filipa Garcia Fernandes and Moisés Cardoso Campos to keep the focus away from port wine at their riverside bar, Wine Quay . The gamble paid off, as they have since expanded to include the Quay Market next door for patrons wishing to purchase wines offered at the bar. “People are starting to take Porto more seriously when it comes to food and wine,” says Fernandes. “We have good food, good wine and nice people, and I’m not just saying that because I’m Portuguese,” she laughs. “Oh, and of course, Porto is a beautiful city,” she gushes with true tripeira pride. And, really, what more could you want?
Wine
The Granite Belt: Beautiful One Day, Perfect Wine The Next
Words by Paul Diamond on 8 May 2017
Cool climate wines from Queensland – if that sounds strange, head to the  Granite Belt wine region  and you’ll find plenty! It’s well established that the first ‘official’ Australian wine region was Farm Cove NSW, planted by Captain Arthur Phillip in 1788. But what about the second? If you assumed it was in South Australia, Victoria or even Tasmania, you would be wrong.  It is, in fact, Queensland’s Granite Belt, planted in 1820, preceding Victorian and South Australian regions by 15-plus years. Given most of Queensland is hot and tropical, we usually associate it with beaches and reefs rather than grape vines. However, the Sunshine State has a rich and varied agricultural history and people are now starting to favour the Granite Belt’s cool climate, Euro-style wines. Three hours south west of Brisbane on the southern Darling Downs, the Granite Belt is situated around Queensland’s apple capital, Stanthorpe. This is heralded on your arrival by a massive apple on a pole, a bold indicator of local pride in the tradition of Coffs Harbour’s big banana, Ballina’s prawn and Goulburn’s Merino. Originally known as ‘Quart Pot Creek’, Stanthorpe was settled when tin was discovered in the late 1800s. Fruit production followed as the altitude and climate started to attract Italian immigrants who’d come to Australia to cut cane and then moved south to take up pastoral leases.  Cool Climb Wines As you travel south west from Ipswich along the Cunningham Highway, you start the gradual climb through the Great Dividing Range. By the town of Aratula, a popular resting spot, the temperature drops considerably and you realise how cool it gets at 110 metres above sea level.  The Granite Belt has some of Australia’s highest altitude vineyards and it is the associated cool climate that is the perfect setting for the region’s fine boned wines. So don’t visit this region expecting big, ripe wine styles that are popular in warmer areas. The cool climate dictates that the Granite Belt’s wine styles are closer to those of Europe. Think medium bodied, savoury reds with fine tannins and pronounced acidity. In the whites, expect lighter, citrus driven styles with elegant layers and fine acid lines. Adding to the Granite Belt’s wine identity is the fact it excels in alternative styles. While you’ll certainly find mainstream varieties like  Shiraz ,  Cabernet   and  Chardonnay , real excitement comes from discoveries like  Fiano ,  Vermentino , Chenin Blanc, Savagnin, Barbera, Graciano, Durif, Nebbiolo and Tannat. Granite Belt producers have long recognised that these varieties are the future and with their unique alternative identity, have dubbed themselves the ‘Strange Birds’ of the Australian wine scene. In fact, visitors can explore this fascinating region by following one of the Strange Bird Wine Trails. BOIREANN WINERY Established in the early 1980s by Peter and Therese Stark, Boireann has been a Granite Belt standout for decades. While quality and consistency are high, production is low, with reds the specialty and only a very small amount of  Viognier  grown to co-ferment with Shiraz. Standouts are their Shiraz Viognier, Barbera, Nebbiolo and the ‘Rosso’, a Nebbiolo Barbera blend. www.boireannwinery.com.au/ GOLDEN GROVE Third generation winemaker Ray Costanzo has made wine all over the world, but is passionate about the Granite Belt. Golden Grove is one of the oldest wineries in the region, making a wide range of wines including Sparkling Vermentino, Barbera, Nero d’Avola and  Tempranillo , but it is Ray’s  Vermentino  that has developed a solid following.  www.goldengroveestate.com.au JESTER HILL Established in 1993, Jester Hill is now a family affair, having been bought by ex-health professionals Michael and Ann Burke in 2010. With the new focus that Michael is bringing to the wines, the estate is building momentum and picking up accolades along the way. Standouts include their Roussanne, Chardonnay, Shiraz and  Petit Verdot .  www.jesterhillwines.com.au/ BALLANDEAN With an extraordinary history of winemaking that stretches back to the 1930s, the Puglisi family have been operating their cellar door and passionately flying the Granite Belt flag since 1970. Fourth generation Puglisis Leeane and Robyn are warm, generous, regional advocates, who have a large cellar door from which they love sharing their passion for both the wines and the people of the Granite Belt. Tasting highlights include their  Viognier , Opera Block Shiraz and Saperavi, a full-bodied red that originally hails from Georgia.   www.ballandeanestate.com/ JUST RED Another family-owned winery, Just Red is run by Tony and Julie Hassall with their son Michael and daughter Nikki. Just Red’s organic wines are styled on the great wines of the Rhône and are winning awards in the show system. Their star wines include Tannat,  Shiraz Viognier , Cabernet Merlot. www.justred.com.au/ RIDGEMILL ESTATE WINERY Starting its life as Emerald Hill in 1998, Ridgemill boasts a modern but unpretentious cellar door looking out on dramatic mountain surroundings. The broad range of wines is crafted by winemaker Peter McGlashan and includes Chardonnay, Shiraz,  Shiraz Viognier , Mourvèdre and Saparavi. With its self-contained studio cabins, Ridgemill is a great place to base yourself. www.ridgemillestate.com/ SYMPHONY HILL Symphony Hill’s winemaker Mike Hayes is quite possibly the Australian king of alternative wine varieties. Mike won the Churchill Fellowship and travelled around the world studying alternative styles. His wines are highly awarded, vibrant and interesting. A trip to the Granite Belt is not complete without a tasting with Mike, including his standout expressions of  Fiano , Lagrien, Gewürztraminer,  Petit Verdot and Reserve Shiraz. www.symphonyhill.com.au/ TOBIN WINE Adrian Tobin’s wines are a strong philosophical statement, reinforcing the notion that wine is made in the vineyard.  Since establishing Tobin Wine in 1999, Adrian has been deeply connected to his vines and produces a small amount of high quality Sauv Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet. All of Adrian’s wines are named after his grandchildren and are collectables.  www.tobinwines.com.au/ GIRRAWEEN ESTATE Steve Messiter and his wife Lisa started Girraween Estate in 2009. Small and picturesque, it is home to one of the region’s earliest vine plantings. They produce modest amounts of Sparkling wines, including Pinot Chardonnay along with Shiraz, Rosé and Sauv Blanc. Their table wines include Sauv Blanc, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet.  www.girraweenestate.com.au FEELING HUNGRY There is no shortage of good food in the Granite Belt, but a trip to  Sutton’s Farm  is essential. An apple orchard, it’s owned by David and Roslyn Sutton, who specialise in all things apple, including juice, cider and brandy. Their shed café also pays homage to the humble apple with the signature dish being home made apple pie served with Sutton’s spiced apple cider ice cream and whipped cream. For breakfast, try  Zest Café  located in town, where the coffee is fantastic and their baking game is strong. Their breakfast will definitely see you going back for seconds.  A delicious choice for lunch or dinner is the  Barrelroom and Larder , lovingly run by Travis Crane and Arabella Chambers.  Attached to Ballandean winery, the Barrelroom is casual in style and fine in output. Everything that Travis and Arabella cook comes from within a three hour radius and if it doesn’t exist in that area, they don’t cook it. A fantastic way to spend an afternoon is with Ben and Louise Lanyon at their  McGregor Terrace Food Project . Based in a Stanthorpe, this neighborhood bistro with a gorgeous whimsical garden offers cooking from the heart with the surrounds to match. Whether your choice is a Granite Belt alternative ‘Strange Bird’ or a more traditional varietal, take it along to Ben and Lou’s Food Project, sit out the back and you’ll feel like you’re in the south of France. You will, in fact, be in Queensland, thinking that it is a pretty cool place to be; literally and figuratively.     
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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