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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.

Eco-friendly wines: they taste terrific and they’re good for the planet too!

There's no doubt climate change is trending with millions of people around the world joining the biggest climate protest ever in September. No surprise then that sustainability is a hot topic in the hospitality industry as concern for the environment grows and more people want to know how our food and wines are produced.

Here in the Hunter Valley we're lucky to have grape growers who've cultivated and cherished vineyards from generation to generation using various levels of sustainable farming methods and holistic winemaking practices. So sustainable sipping is super easy here. 

Tamburlaine Wines

​ORGANIC WINE

Organic winegrowing means no synthetic chemicals, including pesticides and herbicides, can be used in the vineyard to tackle pests and disease, which can be challenging in a sub-tropical climate like the Hunter Valley.

But you'll find one of Australia's largest organic wine producers here in Pokolbin. With more than 300 hectares of organically farmed vineyards in the Hunter Valley and Orange, Tamburlaine Organic Wines is a pioneer in the region and renowned for its delicious, award-winning wines.

"Today, more than ever, organic wine is being recognised as some of the best quality wine on the market," says Tamburlaine's head of branding, strategy and communications Irma Dupuis. "The wine industry is starting to endorse organic practices and national and international show results are there to prove that organic wine is not just an environmental promise, it is also guarantee of quality and rigorous winemaking."

Certified by the Australian Certified Organic program in 2005 (the Orange vineyards followed later), Tamburlaine is committed to using naturally derived products in the vineyard and winery, composting winery waste (grape stems etc) which they spread on the vineyards to increase organic matter, reducing energy use thanks to solar panels on the warehouse roof, as well as recycling water.

They produce lip-smacking Hunter Shiraz, Semillon, Chambourcin and Verdelho to name a few, all preservative-free and, since the 2017 vintage, all vegan-friendly too, so it's no wonder this organic powerhouse is hipster heaven. 

Krinklewood Wines

BIODYNAMIC WINE

Biodynamic wine is also organic and growers don't use any chemicals, but the big difference is that all activities in the vineyard, including planting, pruning, composting and harvesting are done according to a cosmic calendar, based on the lunar cycle and astrological events. Buried cow horns filled with manure is also a thing. Yep, that's why some say it's a bit wacky, but this holistic approach has many devotees, including locals Macquariedale Organic Wines and Krinklewood Biodynamic Wines, who produce benchmark tipples that are real showstoppers.

Macquariedale was the first vineyard in the region to receive full biodynamic certification in 2005 and today produces organic, biodynamic, low preservative, vegan-friendly natural wines.

"It was a lifestyle choice for us as we think it's important to improve the land as we farm it," explains owner Ross McDonald. "Instead of synthetic chemicals, we want to encourage spiders, lizards and ladybirds into the vineyard because they attack and eat unwanted bugs."

They're known for their handcrafted Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Verdelho, Chardonnay and Cabernet, which you can taste at their cellar doors in Pokolbin or Rothbury. And the most popular drop? Their preservative-free red blend called Nothing But Grapes, which Ross says is "naturally bloody good!"

Krinklewood is another poster child for biodynamics in the Valley. Certified in 2007, the 57-hectare estate in the sleepy hamlet of Broke includes a 20-hectare vineyard which produces some cracking Hunter classics all made on-site, including Semillon, Chardonnay, Verdelho and Shiraz, as well as Gerwurztraminer and Tempranillo, which they use in blends.

They're also committed to using sustainable practices without the use of chemicals. "We have hundreds of permanent staff working here every day, and only five of them are human," laughs owner/winemaker Rod Windrim.

Encouraging biodiversity is one of the principles of organic biodynamic farming and eliminates the need for chemicals, so that's why you'll see geese and guinea fowl, chooks, ducks and Limousin cattle grazing in the Krinklewood vineyards, eating the weeds and grass under the vines.

They also have a unique welcoming committee. A flock of preening peacocks who like to strut their stuff while you sip and swirl at the charming French-style cellar door.

Keith Tulloch Wine

SUSTAINABLE WINE

And then there are vineyards that follow sustainable farming practices but aren't organic or biodynamic. They may still use some pesticides but have pledged to cut their chemical and energy use, reduce their carbon footprint, conserve water and recycle winery waste.

One of the principal players is Pokolbin's Keith Tulloch Wine. In March 2019 it became the first Hunter winery to be certified carbon neutral and only the second in Australia to be certified under the National Carbon Offset Standard.

As a fourth generation grape-grower and winemaker, Keith and his family made the decision to become carbon neutral last year after noticeable changes to the annual growing cycle of the grapevines due to warming.

Some of the measures they've put in place to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions include a solar array for power and electric forklifts, using organic fertiliser in the vineyards and dumping single-use plastics in favour of biodegradable or recyclable options.

"Viticulture and winemaking are inherently linked to the land and the climate, so we have a deep connection to the natural world that we live and work in," Keith says. "Climate change is affecting us now – by drinking wine that is carbon neutral people can take climate action while still enjoying the finer things in life, guilt free."

Some of the finer things on offer at the boutique cellar door include the flagship Kester Shiraz, the plush Epogee (a blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne), sensational Semillon and a wine and chocolate tasting session with handmade chocolates from downstairs chocolatier Cocoa Nib.

Margan Winery & Restaurant

Margan Winery & Restaurant is another sustainable superstar, winning a swag of awards for its initiatives over the last 20 years. Owners Andrew and Lisa Margan are champions of sustainable farming, with 100 hectares of vineyards, gardens and pastures that have received sustainability certification under several programs.

Housed in an energy-efficient rammed earth building, the restaurant, cellar door, offices and winery are powered by solar and the business ethos is estate-grown, estate-made. The one-acre kitchen garden supplies 90% of the restaurant's fruit and veggies, chooks lay free-range eggs, beehives provide honey and they have olives and a flock of Suffolk sheep too.

On the wine side, it's lightweight bottles and recycled cardboard packaging throughout and they mulch the vineyards to reduce herbicide use.

"All Margan wines are sustainably farmed and accredited by Sustainable Winegrowing Australia," says winemaker Nicole Wilson. "In addition to this all of our red wines are made following and adhering to vegan practices." The restaurant also caters for vegans too.

It's a terrific setting to taste first-rate Hunter classics Semillon, Shiraz and Chardonnay as well as some outstanding outliers, including Albarino, Barbera and Mourvedre – and you can book various experiences including winery, vineyard and kitchen garden tours as well. 

Becker Wines - 100% vegan friendly

VEGAN-FRIENDLY WINE

If you've decided to go vegan for ethical or dietary reasons, you'll be happy to know you can still drink wine.So, what's that I hear you say? Wine is made from grapes so it has to be vegan – right?

Well, most wines go through a filtering process before they are bottled called "fining" to remove sediment, cloudiness and unwanted flavours and aromas. The fining agents used to filter the wine can include animal-derived products like gelatin, egg albumen and isinglass from fish bladders.

The good news is that there are alternatives like carbon, clay and limestone that can be used as fining agents (Tamburlaine uses organic plant-based agents derived from yeast, green peas or potato) and many winemakers are now making vegan-friendly wine.

Apart from Margan, Macquariedale and Tamburlaine, which we've already mentioned, all Becker Wines are 100% vegan friendly, so too are all Vinden Estate Wines and all Oakvale Wines made from 2015 onwards are wild ferment and vegan friendly (and marketing manager Guy Rayner says they're looking at organic certification next year).

All of Tyrrell's premium range Hunter Valley and Heathcote red wines are vegan friendly, which includes the Hunter Valley Range, Hunter Heroes, Rufus Stone, Sacred Sites, Single Vineyard and Winemaker's Selection.

De Bortoli has eight vegan wines on its current tasting list, while over at Scarborough Wine Co all of the 2019 wines are vegan friendly with the current releases including the 2019 Offshoot Verdelho, 2019 Offshoot Pinot Noir Rose, 2019 Green Label Semillon and 2019 Late Harvest Semillon in the cellar door right now.

Briar Ridge has a preservative-free, vegan-friendly 2019 Semillon, Shiraz, Pinot Noir blend and a 2019 Chardonnay on its tasting list, Pepper Tree Wines has four new release preservative-free and vegan-friendly drops with a 2019 Barbera and 2019 Pinot Gris currently in the cellar door for tasting, and Hungerford Hill also has a range of vegan and preservative-free tipples at the cellar door including the 2018 Hunter Valley Semillon and 2017 Hunter Valley Shiraz.

"These wines have zero sulphites added and are natural expressions of fruit from our Hunter Valley vineyards without animal products or any other additives being added," says winemaker Bryan Currie. "In reality they are natural wines with exception that they have been filtered so they are clear, bright and fruit driven."

Nature doing it nature's way. So, whether you're after organic, biodynamic, sustainable or vegan wine, there's a Hunter Valley vino waiting for you. 

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