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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.

Hermitage Road - The Hunter's Hedonistic Playground

There are so many reasons to spend a few days around Hermitage Road in the north-west corner of Pokolbin. Jaw-dropping views, dozens of boutique wineries and cafes, a brewery or two, as well as loads of fun things to do if lying by the pool just isn't your thing.

Running from Broke Road in the south to the New England Highway at Belford, this sun-soaked strip is so aptly named. Hermitage is a respected wine region in France (snap!) and the Merriam-Webster dictionary describes a 'hermitage' as the habitation of a hermit or a secluded residence or private retreat: in short a hideaway. And there's no doubt that 'Around Hermitage' – the local lingo for this area – is home to loads of heavenly hideaways tucked away amid the vines.

Of course, the hermit life is supposed to be free of worldly temptations, but this is true-blue Hermitage – an out-and-out obstacle course of hedonistic pleasures, so what the heck. Just give in to temptation and be done with it. 

Keith Tulloch Wine

​DRINK

As you drive up Hermitage Road from Broke Road you'll come across Keith Tulloch Wine on the right. It's the first carbon neutral winery in the Valley so if you love a good wine that's sustainably made head upstairs and grab a spot on the verandah overlooking the vines and kick off your wine-tasting tour with some tasty tipples that have the highest environmental credentials around.

Just across the road is Scarborough Wine Co. They're Chardonnay specialists with a lovely tasting room where you can peer through a window at the working winery while sampling flavourful wines that are a real pleasure to drink.

If you turn right into Deasys Road you can call in to the dog-friendly Misty Glen Wines where Chambourcin, the four-footed welcoming committee, is happy to play with other pooches so you can enjoy the estate-grown wines while the tail-waggers hang out. Then call in at nearby Degen Wines, a petite producer specialising in single-vineyard Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz.

Thomas Wines Cellar Door

Next, head back to Hermitage Road and up the hill to Thomas Wines on the left in the Estate Tuscany complex for a full-on deep dive into the region's flagship wine varieties. Gun winemaker Andrew Thomas specialises in Semillon and Shiraz – yes, just two varieties but boy he does them well – with six lip-smacking styles of Semillon and nine Shiraz in his range.

Just across the road at Hunter Valley Resort is Hermitage Road Cellar Door, where you can taste 30 wines from seven producers, or pull up a pew in Matilda Bay Brewhouse and sink a pint or paddle of beer.

Tintilla Estate

Further on you can enjoy a taste of Italy at Tintilla Wines and sample estate-grown and made olives, oils, tapenades, classic Hunter drops and a cracking Sangiovese in the Tuscan-style cellar door. At nearby Peter Drayton Wines you can also make merry with several Mediterranean varieties including Pinot Grigio, Barbera and Montelpulciano. It also has an onsite brewhouse too with 10 beers and two ciders on tap.

No surprises that it's all about wombats at Wombat Crossing Vineyard. It's named after a family of nearby wombats, the wine label has a pic of a wombat, they support the local wombat rescue group… and the fuzzy headed wombat sparkling is a real crowd-pleaser.

If you're going vegan or just like natural wines, keep heading north and take a quick 10-minute side trip onto Old North Road and visit Macquariedale Organic Wines. They're not only the first winery in the Valley to be certified biodynamic, they also specialise in low preservative, vegan friendly wines and the Nothing But Grapes red blend is "naturally bloody good!" says owner Ross Macdonald. Finish your wine trail at neighbouring RidgeView Wines, another boutique brand that focuses on 100% Hunter Valley fruit with a few out of the box varieties including Cabernet, Chambourcin and Viognier.

Muse Kitchen

EAT

All that wine-tasting can really work up your appetite so luckily there's a stack of top-notch eateries where you can refuel before hitting the sightseeing trail again.

Muse Kitchen and Cocoa Nib Artisan Chocolatier are two must-visits tucked away in the courtyard at Keith Tulloch Winery. Cocoa Nib is known for its divine handmade chocolates, specialty coffee made using beans from Newcastle's micro-roastery Silverskins Coffee, and a to-die-for hot chocolate. Next door is Muse Kitchen, one of the hottest places to eat with a lovely, laidback atmosphere and exquisite bistro fare that's earned it a chef's hat eight years in a row. Josh Gregory's strikingly presented dishes spotlight local ingredients with wild kingfish sashimi with white almond gazpacho and green grapes a spring highlight. There's also a dedicated menu for vegos.

If you want to treat yourself to lunch or dinner with a view, head to the Brokenback Bar or The Mill Restaurant at Estate Tuscany. Boasting some of the best views of the Brokenback mountain range, the Bar has a café-style menu featuring wood-fired pizzas, fish & chips and the like, while the Restaurant offers a more upmarket menu including kingfish ceviche and confit duck leg.

Ironbark Hill Brewhouse

Those who prefer a casual eatery with some standout local brews should swing by Ironbark Hill Brewhouse & Kitchen or Matilda Bay Brewhouse Dining. Matilda Bay offers Italian-inspired dishes like arancino, pizza and pasta while Ironbark has live music on weekends to go with your spicy chicken wings, burger and pizza.

Restaurant Botanica at Spicers Vineyard Estate

Restaurant Botanica's chef Shayne Mansfield believes great chefs must be great gardeners. That's why the discerning Mod Oz menu uses freshly picked herbs and veggies from the restaurant's kitchen garden and other regional produce sourced from local farms. He also offers a plant-based menu alongside the regular menu and the freshly baked sourdough is a must, made with an original sourdough starter that's over 150 years old.

RidgeView Restaurant is another eatery that ticks a lot of boxes. It's known for its locally sourced share plate menu and tranquil rural setting. The estate's free-range chooks lay fresh eggs while the veggie patch provides plenty of herbs, citrus and veggies for the Mediterranean-inspired menu. For a languid long lunch try the seven or 10-dish Meze Feast paired with Ridgeview Wines and stay overnight in one of the lovely lakeside cottages. 

Segways at the Hunter Valley Adventure Centre

DO

This patch of the Valley is also home to some terrific outdoor activities so it's easy to burn off those indulgent dishes and glasses of wine.

For a labour-intensive workout hire a bike and pedal along the 10km cycleway that stretches all the way along Hermitage Road. But, with more than a dozen wineries along the vine-lined route most people break up the ride with a few stops – and sips - along the way. There are several places to hire bikes – including electric - and wine purchases can be delivered to your accommodation or your bike hire venue, so there's no need to worry about balancing wine boxes.

If the balancing act of riding a bike is beyond you (I totally put my hand up), don't despair, you can still have a two-wheeled tour of the vineyards on a self-balancing Segway. Trust me, I've done it and didn't fall off. The Adventure Centre at Hunter Resort runs tours along an old 1880s stock route so there aren't any cars to worry about. After a quick training session you'll be zipping through vineyards and off-road trails eyeing off the views and scores of kangaroos.

Equestrians can also saddle up and explore the area on horseback. Hunter Valley Horses has more than 30 horses and several trail rides from pony rides for younger kids to two-hour expeditions through farmland that's ideal riding terrain with spectacular views of the Brokenback Range. They also offer horse and carriage rides, with their gorgeous, well-trained Clydesdales and Australian draught horses pulling covered wagons and open carriages along the country roads, clip-clopping from winery to winery.

You can explore the local culture too by taking part in a cooking class. Nicita Estate on Mistletoe Lane is the home of Our Italian Table, where you can learn how to make (and eat) pasta or a three-course Italian feast or go for broke with a three-day immersive experience learning tips and tricks from local producers. Estate Tuscany Cooking School also runs MasterChef-inspired classes where you're given a mystery box of ingredients to create a three-course meal, while Hunter Valley Cooking School holds lunch and dinner three-course classes as well as pizza-making classes.

If you've overdone things a bit you can detox at Spa Anise at Spicers Vineyards Retreat. Apart from relaxing massages and face treatments, they offer a series of spa ritual packages, including a "pick-me-up" spa serenity treatment that will help you bounce back from your binge. 

SEE

​ Film fans should book a visit in May when the Hunter Valley Wine, Food & Film Festival is held. Each year the district is abuzz with peeps watching flicks in the relaxed ambience of the vineyards washed down with local wines and gourmet food. It's being held on May 2 in 2020 but the line-up is still to be confirmed, so you'll need to check aroundhermitage.com.au for updates.

Casuarina Estate managed by Hunter Valley Stays

STAY

If you're after a relaxed resort, some top picks include the 12-room elegant guesthouse Spicers Vineyards Estate; the dog-friendly Estate Tuscany where pooches can stay in five of the 38 rooms; and the 35-room Hunter Resort with its own restaurant, brewhouse and cellar door.

If you prefer the convenience of a self-contained stay, The Grange on Hermitage is a homey spot with two self-contained two-bedroom cottages with spa baths (or you can kip down in one of the king-sized guestrooms), while Block Eight at Belford and Broken View Estate are both adults-only retreats with five self-contained villas each where couples can bliss out amid the bushland and vines.

Greystone Estate managed by Hunter Valley Stays

For a dose of total seclusion, having an entire house to yourself is hard to beat and that's where Hunter Valley Stays comes into its own. It manages a large portfolio of privately owned properties throughout the region with several around Hermitage Road, including Corunna Station, Casuarina Estate, Billabong Moon, Greystone Estate, Windsor's Edge and Jindalee Estate. All beautiful boltholes with fab facilities.

So, you can start your day and end it 'Around Hermitage'. Now there's a tempting thought. 

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