A weekend among the vines: The Hunter Valley

Well, what a wonderful way to spend a weekend. I spent two days in the rolling hills, with the autumn sun on my face surrounded by friends new and old in a region of 160 wineries; The Hunter Valley did not fail to impress.

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Work has not stopped since I joined and the last three months have flown by, so much need girly weekend could not come soon enough for me.  I needed a pause in life and a good glass of wine and that is exactly what I got.

Five o’clock on Friday came around and I was out of there. Off to North Sydney to meet the girls, have a swift champagne on the roof of the swanky Ogilvy offices and then we were off.

We arrived in the dark to Wattle Wilde Country Hideaway, a lovely little bungalow just outside of Lovedale. Needless to say our “well appointed’ kitchen didn’t have an oven so we improvised and put the paleo lasagne I had made (I’m doing really well with the food plan, thanks for asking!) on the bbq – it worked well! We settled in our beautiful temporary home, finding our bedrooms, trying out the whirlpool bath and then we sat down to our first meal.

I woke to a stunning view of eucalyptus trees and stunning whispy pink clouds, replaced with a golden glow, and the sound of birdsong – Australia is so unique and so beautiful and in this moment the stress melted away and I was reminded of how lucky I am to be here.

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We were joined by the last member of our party for a leisurely breakfast on the veranda of eggs and smoked salmon and what would be the start of the girly gossip. At 10am on the dot the tallest man I have ever met knocked on the door, this was our introduction to the best tour guide I have ever experienced, Tex of Tex Tours. I would highly recommend Tex and his tours, he really made the day a delight for us; he is super cheerful and has a great knowledge of the wineries.

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We had a short drive through the valleys past the kangaroos skipping through the vines to our first destination; Constable Estate. We tasted nine of their wines ranging from their 2013 Sparkling Cuvee to their 2014 Premium Shiraz. This was also the first time I had tried the Verdelho grape; a sweet taste when picked young, I will definitely chose this when I next see it on a menu. Verdelho was the first grape variety to come to Australia from Portugal and is traditionally used to make Madeira.

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I learnt that the Hunter Valley is famous for its Semillon and Shiraz and the wines here, in the Hunter Valley especially, tend to be more flavourful and less full-bodied due to the weather conditions ripening the grapes quickly.

Top tip: If the growing season (Sept – Feb in Aus) has been a particularly hot one, stock up on the wine. A good harvest is determined by dry conditions. Growers trick the vines into thinking it is dying so it puts all its resources into the fruit and then at the perfect moment, right down to the hour(!) the grapes are harvested.

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We visited a few more wineries throughout the day; Ernest Hill, McGuigan’s and McLeish. We learnt about the wine making process, what makes a good wine and how the weather impacts the quality of wine and profitability of that year’s harvest. I already know a fair bit about wine, I was lucky enough in my previous job to travel the job frequenting wineries and international wine fairs, but it was fantastic to learn from unique tastes of these wines too. At McLeish we were able to try their 2007 Semillon which won the award for the best wine in the world the year it was harvested – quite an honour.

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After a full day in the vines we retired to the veranda where we tucked into a huge charcuterie with cheeses, pates and dips and the wine we had bought in the day. As the sun set the food continued and we moved in front of the fire where conversation flowed into the night.

The next morning after another long leisurely breakfast and a visit from a little wallabie, we visited one last winery where my gorgeous friend Ellen has a membership; Ballabourneen (“the road to the little town”). We all ended up buying multiple bottles of the Moscato, a stunningly light sparkling rose with hints of rose and Turkish delight – perfect for next weekend!

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Time for home, but something tells me with 155 more to tick off the list I will be back very soon!

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