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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?

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Five festival highlights you won’t want to miss

​One of the country's top food and wine festivals kicks off in May, celebrating the best of the Hunter in a glass and on a plate. Over the next two months the Hunter Valley Wine & Food Festival gives you the chance to explore the different tastes of the region with a series of masterclasses, cooking schools, long lunches and more. Here's a roundup of five of the headliner events that make this fab fest one of the best.

Lovedale Long Lunch

Hunter Valley locals know how to party, which is what the annual Lovedale Long Lunch is all about. And it must be the longest lunch ever as it goes all day for two days!

Yep, really. If you've not heard of it, it's a progressive lunch where you can whoop it up at seven different cellar doors who've teamed up with seven top chefs so you can have entree at one, main meal at another, dessert at a different place and cheese at one more. Of course, there's the perfect wine to match each dish and live entertainment too.

Fancy wood-smoked salmon with a glass of Gartelmann's Jessica Verdelho or pork and fennel ragu with an Allandale Chardonnay? They're just two of the tasty wine and food matches on offer on May 18-19. It's the busiest weekend of the year in Lovedale for a very good reason.

Olive Long Table Luncheon at Whispering Brook

From the longest lunch to the longest table.

Whispering Brook's Olive Long Table Luncheon is another festival fave with an extremely long table stretching 30-odd metres down the centre of the olive grove. Okay I'm not sure exactly how long it is – I didn't measure it when I was there but it's super long – and seats are prized as the magic number of guests this year is 124.

It's a delightful way to spend a sunny winter's day (June 1), tucking into olive-inspired food (this year by talented chef Frank Fawkner) with delish Whispering Brook wines after a tour of the vineyard and olive grove. There's a guest speaker – Marion Heathcote – and live entertainment from songster Larry Hughes… and the manicured lawn makes the perfect dance floor post lunch. Trust me, I know.

Hunter Culinary Association Food Fight

Another fun event that offers a side dish of shenanigans is Hunter Culinary Association's Food Fight on June 17. This year four of the country's young gun chefs – Thomas Boyd (Margan), Troy Crisante (Quay Restaurant), George Mirosevich (Restaurant Mason) and Eilish Malone (formerly of Saint Peter) – will whip up one lunch course matched with a Hunter Valley wine and guests vote for their favourite dish, without knowing who created which dish.

The food and wine are top shelf – and trying to guess who makes which dish is fun – but what takes it over the top are the hosts with their witty banter. Famed chefs Matt Kemp and Irish-born Colin Fassnidge (the chief mischief maker) have the entire room in fits of laughter with their side-splitting remarks.

Hunter Valley Wine Festival at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley

If you want to taste as many bevvies as you can in one place, the annual Hunter Valley Wine Festival at Crowne Plaza on June 29 is the place to go. It's an indoor event in the hotel's convention centre with more than 60 local producers of wine, beer, cider and gourmet food. If you've always wanted to compare 10 local Chardonnays or Shiraz side by side this is the spot to do it. And it's family friendly too with free entry for kids. Crowne has so many things for kids to do all-year-round including a carousel and train ride but during the festival they go all out, adding a jumping castle, face painting and mini car rides.

And there's no need to fight over who's going to be the designated driver as this year they've teamed up with Uber so you can get a free first ride to the festival (up to $20). Good news or what?

Burning of the Barrel at Glandore Estate

You can end the day with a huge fiery celebration at Glandore's Burning of the Barrel. It's another family friendly event – what kid doesn't love a massive bonfire? – with boutique wines on pour for parents, warming tucker by local chef Andy Wright and toe-tapping music under the Hunter's bright stars.

And when I say a massive bonfire… they truck in about 75 tonnes of wood for this great display of fire! No wonder it was named in Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine's Top 50 Wine Experiences.

With more than 500 people expected to hotfoot it along on June 29, you'll need to get there early to nab a spot at the front of the flickering fire.

For the full schedule of Hunter Valley Wine & Food Festival events click here.

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