“Ahhh love… it’s sunshine in a bottle” says the elderly gentleman at McGuigan’s winery in the Hunter Valley, pouring each of us a generous tasting glass of their Moscato. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine drinking the sweet wine with a dash of bubbles with friends at a summer barbeque, or by the beach with some cheese and crackers. Or better yet, give in to the temptation to settle in the sunshine in the winery’s garden, overlooking vineyards, and crack open a recently purchased bottle…
Only a 2.5 hour drive from Sydney, a spontaneous weekend escape to the Hunter has inspired a feeling of relaxation, peace and freedom, taking the place of a weekend otherwise jam-packed with pre-arranged brunches, bbqs and drinks. We forget how easy it is to break from routine and step out of the ordinary, temporarily abandoning reality to reflect, escape or just have fun. The rolling green hills, the birds calling to each other over the vineyards, the occasional sighting of a rabbit or a kangaroo, create a world far removed from the frenetic pace of the Sydney CBD. It is a gentle reminder to slow down, with smiling locals referring to Sydney as the big city where people are constantly in a rush.
Each winery that we visit has its own charm and character, with rustic cellar doors welcoming visitors in for a taste and a chat. At Emma’s Cottage there are bright original paintings by a local artist lining the walls, with the dessert wine named Perfect – “simply… because it is perfect. You’ll understand once you’ve tasted it”, says the lady behind the counter. Brokenwood Wines’ mission statement of “Make great wines and have fun” has led to the creation of an entire vineyard known as the “Cricket Pitch”, with blended wines sampled described to us as ideal for an afternoon at watching the sport (or any opportunity to sit in the sun and drink wine). Draytons Family Wines has rebuilt its cellar door since the 2008 fire that led to the tragic death of winemaker Trevor Drayton, and there is a sense of pride that the 100% family owned winery is continuing the tradition.
|'Perfect' dessert wine... simply because it is|
The hosts at each place delight in sharing their knowledge about the wine, and take their time with each explanation and tasting. Every experience is about savouring the moment, enjoying the quality of produce and appreciating the effort that has gone into the creation of each indulgence. In addition to wine, there are cheeses and dips, olive oils and jams, olives and freshly baked bread. The restaurants and cafés serve food sourced from the local area, and the emphasis is on freshness and flavour.
The Hunter operates by a different clock, with everything happening in its own time (including a cabbie who was late because he had stopped to place a bet on a horse on the way there). A watch is merely a quaint accessory, and the open space and fresh air allow you to unwind, relax and absorb. As Robert Louis Stephenson wrote, “wine is bottled poetry”, and there is nothing like a weekend in the Hunter Valley to bring that to life.