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HUNTER VALLEY BLOG

With more than 150 wineries and cellar doors, 65 restaurants and 180 comfy accommodation places to stay, where do you start?

Follow our insider tips by the people who know best… the locals. We ask talented winemakers, chefs, farmers, brewers and journalists to blog about their favourite places and experiences in this fertile wine region.

Crush Camps: Where you can pick and stomp grapes in the Hunter

Want to experience the thrill of grape picking and crushing during the 2020 Hunter vintage? It's our 192nd vintage and that makes us the oldest continuous wine region in Australia!

Not surprisingly, our winemakers think they know a thing or two about making great wine. We've seen it all… great vintages – 1965, 2007, 2014, 2017, 2018 – and some not so great.

It's hands-down the best time to visit. There's a real buzz around the place as everyone chips in to harvest the ripening grapes with whites picked first, followed by the reds.

Harvest traditionally kicks off about 100 days after the vines flower and in the Hunter Valley that's usually between January and March, depending on the weather. We've had an early start this year with some winery crews already harvesting Verdelho, Semillon and Chardonnay.

If you want an insight into a Hunter vintage and get your hands dirty, read on.

Many wineries hold fun events like grape-picking parties and others that could be described as winemaking bootcamps as they show you what it's like to be a winemaker for a day.

Some of the wineries mentioned here don't have specific dates for their events as it will depend on when the grapes ripen, so if you want to score tickets you'll need to get in fast as there are limited numbers. Plus, some are member-only events, so you'll need to sign up for membership to take part.

And remember, if you're going to be stepping into the shoes of a winemaker you need to dress like a winemaker. That means enclosed, flat shoes for work in the vineyard and winery, and casual clothes that you don't mind getting dirty.

GLANDORE ESTATE WINES

Glandore's 2020 Picking Day is on Sunday January 26 even though the wine team admits vintage is a tricky time of year to predict exactly when the fruit will be ripe. They expect the Chardonnay vineyard will be ready towards the end of January, so that's the date their loyal friends and families can experience the behind-the-scenes action of a functioning winery in the middle of vintage.

The day kicks off at 6.30am for bacon and egg rolls for brekkie before grape picking, stomping and crushing, with canapes at 12.30pm followed by a gourmet meal with matching wines among the barrels in the winery. Members $135; guests $150.

SADDLERS CREEK WINES

You can also become part of the 2020 vintage crew when you take part in the Harvest Experience on Saturday February 1 at Saddler's Creek. You'll join the winemaker and harvest team to hand harvest grapes at 8am, followed by grape stomping, Baumé analysis and a winery tour where you get to taste the wine at various stages of the winemaking process.

Afterwards there's a banquet brunch with matching wines, and you also receive a bonus souvenir bottle of Saddler's Creek wine to take home. Members $85pp; non-members $75pp.

MARGAN WINES

Margan's annual Harvest Lunch on Saturday February 8 also pays homage to the mighty grape with a vineyard and winery tour led by winemaker Andrew Margan. 2020 marks his 23rd vintage and he's throwing open the winery doors to show you the wines fermenting in the tanks so you can learn a bit about how the magic happens.

It's hungry work, so the restaurant team will create a seasonally inspired, three-course lunch with matching wines for you to enjoy afterwards. $160pp.

BROKENWOOD WINES

Brokenwood's mission statement to 'make great wine and have fun' is encapsulated in their Get Your Hands Dirty event on February 8. If you've always dreamt of diving heard first into a barrel full of grapes, here's your chance! This annual harvest celebration is for members only – and it sells out every year – so you'll need to sign up and book pronto.

Members are put to work in the vineyard picking grapes, followed by a behind-the-scenes tour of the winery and then jump into the fermentation tanks filled with grapes and juice for some stomping fun. Then it's time to relax and enjoy an alfresco lunch in the winery. $200pp.

PETER DRAYTON WINES

It's a real family affair at Peter Drayton's Grape Stomp on Sunday February 16 where you can enjoy a morning of grape picking and stomping, bottling wine and games for all ages.

Sparkling wine and craft beers will be served on arrival (with soft drink and juice for the kids) and after all the work is done you get to tuck into a buffet-style lunch, including gourmet pizzas, crispy wings, salads and sides, served in the brand-new outdoor dining area.

The kids will love the jumping castle and face painting, while adults kick back and listen to live music. You also take home a souvenir t-shirt or hat. Limited tickets available through stickytickets.com.au. $95pp; kids $40pp.

OAKVALE WINES

Oakvale's Crush Party is another popular annual event, being held on Saturday February 22 in 2020. You can spend the day with the winery team and experience a Hunter Valley harvest with everything from grape picking, sorting and stomping, followed by a hearty banquet lunch in the vineyard, live music, as well as all your Oakvale favourites by the glass. Members $148pp; non-members $185pp.

DRAYTON'S FAMILY WINES

You might not know that you can adopt a vine at Drayton's Family Wines. One of the benefits of the adoption is that you can follow the life cycle of your vine, taking part in all aspects of the process.

Each year Adopt-A-Vine 'parents' are invited to harvest the grapes from their vines – usually during February – and the day includes tours of the vineyard, winery and museum, tastings from the barrel, tank and pre-release wines and a leisurely lunch. This year Adopt-A-Vine Picking Day will be held on Sunday February 9 2020. $30pp for Adopt-A-Vine members; non-members $60. July sees Adoptavine parents pruning their vines and in November it's bottling day.

VINDEN ESTATE WINES

Winemaker Angus Vinden also runs a picking and crushing day in mid-to-late Feb for members and friends. It's a real hands-on experience as you get to pick grapes in the vineyard, load them by hand into the fermenters and then take off your shoes and socks and stomp the grapes with your feet in the fermenters. After all the work's done for the day, Angus provides lunch for the pickers. It's a free event and the perfect way to get a glimpse into the winemaking process. The exact date is vintage dependent, so you'll need to check in with him for specific dates.

STOMP WINES

You can also discover what's in a day's work for a winemaker during vintage at Stomp! Wines on Saturday March 7. Your activities include measuring grape ripeness, sampling the 2020 juices and ferments, blending and tasting, training in the art of pigéage or foot stomping ripe, juicy grapes and creating your very own stomped T-shirt as your keepsake.

After the hard work, in true winemaker style, everyone relaxes with an alfresco lunch prepared by chef Matt Dillow, live tunes by Mark Henderson and a glass (or two) of wine. $125pp; members $100pp.

HUNTER VALLEY RESORT

You can also have a go at traditional grape stomping in an oak barrel at Hunter Valley Resort. It regularly holds wine appreciation classes as well as other activities including pressing grapes by foot. It's a fun way to learn how grapes were crushed into juice before machines were used. Minimum numbers apply and bookings are essential. $35pp (cost is subject to seasonal grape availability).

CESSNOCK STOMP FESTIVAL

Another event where you can squish grapes between your toes is the Cessnock Stomp Festival on Sunday April 5, which celebrates the end of vintage. It's a street festival that takes over Vincent Street in Cessnock, which is lined with wine, beer and food stalls with markets, live music and lots of activities including the star attraction – The Great Cessnock Stomp with barefoot grape stomping in barrels.

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