There’s no better way to spend a weekend than chatting with friends, getting lost in a view of picturesque vines and, of course, sipping a chilled glass of Verdelho.
A visit to the Hunter Valley wine region is the perfect way to make this vision a reality, but there’s more to the ultimate wine getaway than simply arriving on the region’s doorstep and hoping the magic will happen.
This guide is intended to ensure you get the most from your Hunter Valley experience.
The Do’s and Don’ts of an Awesome Hunter Valley Getaway
1. Book Your Wine Tastings in Advance
While the Hunter Valley is home to almost 150 wineries and cellar doors, not all of them can take groups, and bookings on a weekend (especially Saturdays) are usually in high demand. Some of the more popular cellar doors can be booked out months in advance when it comes to tastings, and they may only accept visitors with the intention to purchase.
Some cellar doors offer a specialised and more technical tasting experience aimed at wine connoisseurs looking to add to their collections, while plenty of other options are available for those with an interest in wine, but who are mostly out for a good time with friends. Be sure to do your research first and enquire as to the type of tasting experience offered at each venue.
The majority of cellar doors charge a $5 per person tasting fee, but with a little digging you can find venues that refund this upon purchase. Most provide a wine expert to guide you through the tasting experience and some even provide cheese and biscuits.
If you opt to join a group Hunter Valley wine tour, you’ll find that many cellar doors waive the tasting fee for groups brought by that particular tour operator, and you may even be given the opportunity to taste special reserve wines that are not usually offered to the general public.
2. Don’t Expect to Simply Pop Down the Road for Dinner
If you’re staying at a country retreat overnight, it’s a good idea to plan your evening meal in advance. Transport in the Hunter Valley is not as simple as walking to the nearest cross street and flagging down a taxi. A taxi will need to come from the nearby town of Cessnock, which is a 30-minute journey. Not only will this be costly, but you will have to wait a long time for it to arrive.
Some of the larger pubs and resorts in the area offer courtesy buses that will pick you up from and return you to your accommodation. If you go with this option, don’t forget to arrange a pick up place and time.
Another option is to choose accommodation that provides an Aussie barbecue meat pack (which you will need to cook yourself) or an on-site kitchen.
Whatever you decide, you’ll need to give some thought to your evening meal arrangements as there are far fewer venues providing evening meals than lunches.
3. If You Decide to Drive, First do Some Research
The obvious advice is not to drive if you intend to drink. Other than the obvious safety concerns for you, your passengers and other road users, it should be noted that Australia has some fairly strict laws when it comes to drink driving. Beyond a simple fine, you might have to make a court appearance, attend an 8-week ‘drunk’ school and possibly even do jail time. It’s also common to see police cars lining the most popular roads in the Hunter Valley conducting random breath testing.
It can also be quite difficult to determine how much alcohol you’ve consumed, as the wine tastings are poured in different styles of wine glass without specific measurements.
Most Hunter Valley wines are quite high in alcohol (around the 14% mark, which is stronger than your average drop from a bottle shop).
If there’s a member of your group who is willing to miss out on the experience, stay sober and be your designated driver, it’s worth picking up a map of the region showing the cellar doors and accommodation venues. These are available at the Hunter Valley Visitor Centre, which is located on Wine Country Drive.
A map might seem old-school in this day and age, but there are still some parts of the Hunter Valley where your GPS and phone signal might not have reception. The accuracy of the GPS leaves much to be desired as well.
The Hunter Valley is a picturesque, serene rural getaway, but it’s quite easy to get lost. Bear in mind too that some of the smaller roads that lead to the boutique wineries are dirt or gravel in parts and some are prone to flooding.
Nobody wants to miss out on sampling the delicious wines this region is so famous for, so the best option is to pass on the responsibility to someone else. With a chauffeured tour and a guide who knows the area well, you can relax and enjoy your experience while making new friends.