Like a fine wine, this area is getting better with age as a new crop of forward-thinking vignerons, food-producers and restaurateurs set up shop.
For many Sydneysiders, the Hunter Valley is synonymous with wine-themed weekends away. It’s the city-dweller’s go-to for destination weddings, romantic mini-breaks and weekend wine-tours, but the venerable Valley isn’t set in its ways. Like a maturing wine, this area is getting better with age as a new crop of forward-thinking vignerons, food-producers and restaurateurs set up shop. A weekend away entails dining at sustainable restaurants, exploring organic farms and, yes, wine.
The Sebel Kirkton Park Hunter Valley
The Sebel Kirkton Park Hunter Valley has reopened after a muli-million dollar transformation under the baton of interior designer Greg Natale. The luxurious results could make it difficult for guests to get out of Pokolbin to explore the region. Natale has transformed this heritage country resort into a sophisticated, contemporary hotel while maintaining its historical integrity. Instead of “twee country manor”, this place now says “luxurious Hamptons estate”.
Set amid 28-hectares of manicured gardens and verdant hills, the hotel boasts tennis courts, a Grecian-style pool-house with indoor heated pool and spa, gym and a billiards room. All 70 guestrooms have been made over in the same colour scheme – chic blue-and-white with pops of gold – as the hotel’s public spaces. If these oases of calm aren’t enough, guests can gaze out upon picturesque views of the Brokenback Ranges or the pretty gardens. The Epoche Lounge Bar is the perfect place to relax with a glass of local wine beside a comforting fire in winter and sample what emerges from the new outdoor pizza oven.
Breakfast at Restaurant Cuvee, Peterson’s Champagne House
If there’s one place it’s appropriate to drink at breakfast, surely it’s overlooking the vines in the Hunter. Restaurant Cuvee is renowned for its Bubbly Breakfast: free-range eggs, bacon, tomato and thick-cut toast with a glass of sparkling and locally made chocolates. Enjoy this feast in the charming Peterson House with its sandstone walls with exposed timber beams.
Lunch at Locavore Dining, The Sebel Kirkton Park
The Sebel Kirkton Park didn’t just revamp its interiors; it totally reimagined its food philosophy, too. Its remit is “bringing farmers and foodies together”, and that’s just what executive chef Trent Webber is doing with his menu. Thirty per cent of the restaurant's food is sourced from the hotel’s own gardens and 50 per cent from local farmers and producers. When he’s not cooking, you’ll find Webber tending to the yabby traps or keeping freeloading rabbits off the vegetable patch. When in season, the yabby tortellini with asparagus, butternut crème, tomatoes and confit beetroot is a must-try, and the zucchini flowers with Binnoire Dairy goats cheese and mushroom duxelles are worth a look, too. The white timber shutters and chic herringbone patterned floor (continued from the beautifully revamped hotel lobby) create a warm and inviting space for a long lunch. Go to sebelhuntervalley.com.au/locavore-dining
Dinner at EXP.
EXP. is all about the experience: the food, of course, but also the wine, the service, the surrounds – even the crockery is designed to make an impression. Chef and owner Frank Fawkner, who honed his skills at the two-hatted Muse Restaurant, opened EXP. In 2015 and sources local ingredients for his menus – some as close as the kitchen garden just beyond the dining room. There are two tasting menus with matching wines – one five-course, the other eight – featuring delectable dishes such as Milly Hill lamb with broccolini, avocado, grapefruit and choko. It’s perfect paired with a drop of local Andrew Thomas Elenay Shiraz.
Float away in a hot-air balloon
An unholy start is warranted for aerial views over the Hunter region in a Beyond Ballooning hot-air balloon. By the time the sun begins to emerge through the valley’s mist, brisk morning air has helped shake off any residual sleepiness. Observe the orderly rows of vines from above, and keep an eye out for kangaroos and wallabies grazing in the dawn light.
Wine, cheese and salumi at Usher Tinkler Wines
The Usher Tinkler cellar-door experience takes place in a deconsecrated church and the experience is truly heavenly. Match the wines with flavorsome prosciutto, truffle salumi and gooey Camembert. The 2015 Nose-to-Tail rosé is a particular stand out. The wonderfully restored Pokolbin Church interior reflects the winery’s philosophy of blending traditional winemaking with contemporary practices.
Try out the dark side at Hunter Valley Chocolate Company
It’s not all about wine and cheese in the Hunter Valley. Chocoholics are welcomed by the cocoa experts at the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company at three locations around Pokolbin. Enjoy handmade Belgian chocolate and fudge at the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company Factory and Showroom, the Hunter Valley Gardens shop and, for some extra indulgence, Peterson’s Champagne House.
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