May and June – arguably the greatest time of year to visit the Hunter. The cool but sunny days make for the perfect white wine-sipping weather – we’re thinking crisp semillon, luscious chardonnay or pristine verdelho, ideally overlooking a vineyard somewhere – while the cold nights call for hearty food, an open fireplace and spicy, medium-bodied shiraz.
It’s also the time of year most cellar doors release their new vintage wines, meaning you can be the first to sample the results of last year’s harvest and the efforts of the region’s incredibly talented winemakers.
Could it get any better? Absolutely. The annual Hunter Valley Wine and Food Festival (HVWFF) coincides with all this deliciousness, celebrating the brilliance of the Hunter’s many gifted producers. Throughout May and June, sensory adventures will be lurking around every corner, from long lunches, blending masterclasses and wine and cheese pairing courses to degustation dinners, barrel hall sales – plus an actual festival where wine barrels are set on fire – yes seriously! You’ll be totally spoilt for choice, so here are our top picks.
If you’re a wine newbie, check out…
Semillon, Shiraz and Cheese Matching Experience
Mike De Iuliis is one the Hunter’s best-loved characters and something of a poster boy for the region’s new generation of winemakers. His wines are distinctive and delicious with a high drinkability factor, and honestly, we can’t think of many things better than seeing how they stack up against a range of locally-made cheeses.
When: 11am-4pm, every day throughout May & June
Cost: $20 per person ($15 for wine club members)
Where: De Iuliis Wines, 1616 Broke Road, Pokolbin
Sensory Schooling at Scarborough
If you’ve ever wondered how (or why) on earth people stick their nose into a glass of wine and pick up on aromas like cashew and brioche, or take a sip and say it tastes like dark chocolate or red cherries, then this one-hour class is for you. The team at Scarborough will test your aroma recognition skills before applying them to a selection of six wines – it’s the perfect way to become acquainted with the characters and aromas most often associated with wine.
When: 10am & 2pm, every Saturday & Sunday throughout May & June
Cost: $40 per person (includes a bottle of Scarborough wine to take home)
Where: Scarborough Wine Co, 179 Gillards Rd, Pokolbin
For a great time with friends, go to…
Lovedale Long Lunch
Possibly the Hunter Valley’s most iconic annual event, the Lovedale Long Lunch is set across seven cellar doors in the Lovedale sub region, offering delicious food by some of the Hunter’s top chefs and of course, plenty of great local wine.
When: 10am-4pm, 18 & 19 May
Cost: From $79 per person
Where: Lovedale and Wilderness Roads, Lovedale
When you need a bit of a break from wine (it does happen!), nothing beats a good feed and a refreshing beer with a few mates. Matilda Bay Brewhouse will be firing up the barbecue every Sunday during the festival, showcasing incredible slow-cooked food alongside their range of boutique brews.
When: 12pm-4pm, every Sunday throughout May & June
Cost: From $20 per person
Where: Matilda Bay Brewhouse, corner Hermitage Road & Mistletoe Lane, Pokolbin
Burning of the Barrel
What better way to spend a wintry Saturday night than rugging up and indulging in local food and red wine while sitting in front of a huge outdoor fire? The Burning of the Barrel takes place every year in June and is one of the Hunter Valley’s most talked about events.
When: 3pm, Saturday 29 June
Cost: From $40-$120 per person
Where: Glandore Wines, 1595 Broke Road, Pokolbin
Annual Barrel Hall Sale
The team at Margan Family Wines will be opening the doors to their coveted barrel hall, offering over 100 wines for sampling, as well as wine education classes and cellaring advice.
When: 10am-5pm, 8-10 June
Cost: Free entry
Where: Margan Family Wines, 1238 Milbrodale Rd, Broke
Hunter Valley Wine Festival
If you can only attend one event during the HVWFF, make this it. All that is Hunter Valley (think food, wine, beer and cider) will be on show on Saturday 29 June, with plenty of live entertainment to keep the good vibes in check.
When: 11am-5pm, Saturday 29 June
Cost: $22 per person
Where: Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley, 430 Wine Country Drive, Lovedale
The Hunter Culinary Association Food Fight
Every year four of Australia’s most illustrious chefs compete against each other in this lively cook-off, with diners deciding the winner. Premium Hunter Valley wines; a mouth-watering menu and a whole lotta fun – what better way to spend a Monday?
When: From 11am, Monday 17 June
Cost: $195 per person, includes four-course meal and matching wines
Where: Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley, 430 Wine Country Drive, Lovedale
Olive Long Table Luncheon
Say hello to winter with a walking tour of Whispering Brook’s olive groves and vineyards followed by a stunning four-course lunch set amongst the olive trees. With food by the exceptionally talented Frank Fawkner paired with a range of Whispering Brook’s wines, this’ll be an afternoon not to forget.
When: 12pm, Saturday 1 June
Cost: $159 per person
Where: Whispering Brook, Rodd Street, Broke
If you’re a wine enthusiast, make sure you check out…
Grange vs The Hunter
Australia’s most revered red wine, the 100-point 2008 Penfolds Grange, goes head-to-head with three of the Hunter’s best shiraz wines from the incredible 2009 vintage. Get ready to rumble!
When: 11am-5pm, every day in June
Cost: $96 per person
Where: Wine House, 426 McDonalds Road, Pokolbin
Wine Tasting & Blending Workshop
This two-and-a-half-hour experience will teach you about the entire winemaking process, from grape to bottle. Tour the Mount View Vineyard before enjoying a tasting of six red wines with Briar Ridge winemaker Alex Beckett, then make your own unique wine blend which will be put to the test in a group blind tasting.
When: 1pm, Saturday 11 May & Saturday 22 June
Cost: $80 per person
Where: Briar Ridge Vineyard, 593 Mount View Road, Mount View
Meet the Makers – 2018 Red Release Masterclass
The Tyrrell family owns some of the oldest shiraz vines in the country so it’s no surprise the quality of their top shelf reds is out of this world. Meet the winemaking team and delve into 11 of the best Tyrrell’s bottlings from the 2018 vintage.
When: 11am & 3pm, Friday 17 May & Sunday 19 May
Cost: $40 per person (refundable if signing up to Private Bin membership)
Where: Tyrrell’s Wines, 1838 Broke Road, Pokolbin
If you’re a foodie, you can’t miss out on…
Heroes of the Hunter Degustation
Audrey Wilkinson is one of the Hunter’s premier wine producers. Discover how their wines
shine when paired with five stunning dishes prepared by the team at Redsalt Restaurant.
When: 6pm-9pm, nightly throughout May & June
Cost: $95 per person
Where: Redsalt Restaurant, Crowne Plaza, 430 Wine Country Drive, Lovedale
The Original 100 Metre Meal
When the best ingredients can be sourced within 100 metres of the kitchen, it’s a given that you’ll be putting together some pretty special food. That’s exactly what Margan’s ‘agri-dining’ philosophy is centred on, with eggs, lamb, vegetables, olives and honey – and wine – all sourced from the Margan property. Join head chef Thomas Boyd for a garden tour followed by an exquisite three-course lunch in the hatted Margan Restaurant.
When: From 11:15am, every Sunday throughout May & June
Cost: $95 per person, extra for matched wines
Where: Margan Family Wines, 1238 Milbrodale Road, Broke
Ocean to Paddock Dinner
We’re pretty lucky in New South Wales to have access to some of the highest quality produce from both land and sea. Both elements come together at this annual event, showcased across a seven-course degustation dinner with matched wines, all curated by RidgeView’s executive chef Donna Hollis and winemaker Darren Scott.
When: 6pm, Saturday 22 June
Cost: $150 per person
Where: RidgeView, 273 Sweetwater Road, Pokolbin
Where to stay...
With all that action, you’ll need somewhere to crash for the night, too!
This brand-new estate features 49 luxury guest rooms set amongst pristine vineyards.
57 Ekerts Road, Pokolbin
These 31 luxury, spacious apartments feature gas fireplaces and king-sized beds.
Vintage Drive, Rothbury
This boutique hotel is nestled amongst the vines and offers the perfect place to unwind after a long day of, well, eating and drinking.
112 Halls Road, Pokolbin
Classic resort-style accommodation conveniently located within easy access to all the wineries.
430 Wine Country Drive, Lovedale