World Class wines in the Hunter Valley
The Hunter Valley, less than a couple of hours northwest of Sydney and 45 minutes due west of Newcastle, has a relatively short history by global standards, but it is still the oldest wine region in Australia. Despite its relative youth, the region boasts some of the world’s oldest grape vines, largely because of the phylloxera epidemic which destroyed most of Europe’s vineyards in the late 19th Century.
It is a picturesque part of Australia; undulating terrain and dry eucalyptus forests spectacularly punctuated by the green leafiness of patchwork vineyards. It’s a landscape littered with rocky outcrops, craggy ranges in the west and the odd wild rabbit or wallaby!
The first vines in the region were planted by James Busby in 1825 with cuttings he has secured in Europe and South Africa. From that time, plantings proliferated and in 1847, the Hunter Valley Viticulture Society was founded and the regions’ wineries prospered, largely due to their close proximity to a growing market for wine in Sydney.
The Australian wine industry owes quite a debt of gratitude to the Hunter and its pioneering winemakers; think Murray Tyrrell (Tyrrell’s), Max Lake (Lake’s Folly) and Maurice O’Shea (Mountain View). These were some of the winemakers who put Australian wines on the international viticultural map and drove an upswing in domestic wine consumption across the board.
Today the region has the most wineries (over 120) of any Australian wine district, and draws international acclaim for the quality of its Semillon; a focus which probably unfairly down-plays the other varietals that do very well in the Hunter soils and climate. To my palate, the chardonnays from the region are simply superb. The styles may be quite varied, but the intensity of citric fruit characters and the lingering acid are universal, and a true calling card for the region.
With its world-class Chardonnay, Verdelho, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, and its wide range of easily accessible accommodation options, the popularity of the Hunter Valley as a weekend getaway destination is perhaps understandable. It’s super-easy to take a one and a half hour drive from Sydney’s northern suburbs, or hire a car in Newcastle and take a 45-minute spin! What a shame for us Queenslanders that our next long weekend is not until early October!