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The Hunter Valley Vineyards & Cellar Doors
Plan the perfect weekend or getaway to the Hunter Valley wineries, cellar doors and dining venues with our personally curated guide to one of the premier wine regions in Australia.
The Hunter Valley is Australia’s oldest wine region and has forged an international reputation for acclaimed wines. The region is world famous for its Shiraz, Semillon and Chardonnay wines and over the past decade, the Hunter’s winemakers have successfully introduced a delectable selection of innovative blends and varietals.
With over 150 cellar doors to choose from, you could spend a whole month in the Hunter Valley’s wine region and still struggle to experience its best cellar doors.
To assist you in the planning of your trip, this 2 part guide to the best cellar doors in the Hunter Valley and the accompanying travel videos will highlight some of the best Hunter Valley wineries that you can experience over a weekend, which will ensure that you have the best experience, once you arrive.
So sit back, grab a glass of wine (preferably a good Hunter red) and join us as we spend a weekend exploring the best cellar doors in Australia’s Hunter Valley wine region.
Day 1 (Hunter Valley Cellar Doors)
The Hunter Valley vineyards cellar doors are located primarily around the township of Pokolbin and is located 2 1/2 hours (170km) from Sydney or 60 minutes easy drive (80km) from Newcastle Airport. In our case, we decided to take our camper trailer with us on this trip and arrived at the Wine Country Tourist Park just after lunchtime on a Friday afternoon. After quickly setting up the van, we were off for an afternoon of Hunter Valley Cellar Door tasting.
Our first stop for the afternoon was at the charming, Ivanhoe Wines. The first vines were planted back in 1855 on the steep slopes of Ivanhoe Hill and the vineyard has become one of the most photographed and talked about cellar doors in the Hunter Valley.
We really enjoyed all of their red wines, especially the Premium Boutique Shiraz.
After leaving Ivanhoe, we then took the short drive to Audrey Wilkinson. Their expansive Cellar Door is perched atop a foot hill of the Brokenback Mountain Ranges and is a “must-see” location, due to their stunning 360 degree views of the Hunter valley.
We had pre-booked their 60 minute, “Premium Tasting Experience” which in reality lasted close to 2 hours and included a very knowledgeable wine host guiding us through a showcase of their premium wines.
Our Favourite at wine at Audrey Wilkinson was their 2018 Tempranillo.
Our final Hunter Valley cellar door tasting for the afternoon was at Iron Gate Estate. We have been coming to Iron Gate Estate for many years and we knew their previous head wine marker, Roger Lilliott very well. As we have always enjoyed their outstanding Semillon and Verdelho wines, we were keen to see what Geoff Broadfield would bring to the winery, as their new chief wine maker.
Apart from the wine, the main draw at Iron Gate Estate is their stunning cellar door. The tasting area is inspired by the grand villas of the Mediterranean and features handcrafted Spanish tiles, iron-bark beams and a cosy fireplace.
We really enjoyed our tastings on their relaxing rear veranda and watching the sun slowly set over their picturesque property and the greater Hunter Valley.
Our recommended wine at Iron Gate Estate is their Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz blend, the 2018 Iron Gate Estate Fénix.
From Iron Gate it was a five minute drive back to the Wine Country Tourist Park, where we got ready, enjoyed a glass of wine, and then took a short uber ride to one of the Hunter Valley’s favourite food destinations, Emerson’s Restaurant for dinner.
Chef Emerson Rodriguez has 25 years of culinary experience and known for his sharing plates and individual meals that highlight the stunning produce that the Hunter is known for.
As shown in the video, we enjoyed our entrée’s and main meals with stunning views over the Adina Vineyards.
We can definitly recommend the Emerson’s pork & beef spring rolls with house sauce entrée and the braised Cowra lamb shank with charcutiere sauce and the char grilled xl green king prawns with pico de gallo, as mains.
Day 2 – Hunter Valley Cellar Doors Self-Guided Tour
As we have visited the Hunter Valley many times, we decided to break up our two main Hunter Valley cellar door days into a self-guided tour day (This article and video) and an guided tour of the Hunter Valley boutique cellar doors (Our next article and video).
The reason for our self-guided tour was twofold. Firstly, we wanted to revisit a number of wineries that we were already wine members of, to enjoy their “Members Tasting” experiences and we also wanted to visit some of the best Hunter Valley cellar doors that we have never been to before and are unlikely to be included as part of a guided cellar door tour experience.
The day started at 8:00am with breakfast at Fawk Foods Kitchen & Bakery in the Pokolbin Village.
Fawk Foods Kitchen & Bakery was founded by Frank Fawkner, the head chef at the acclaimed EXP. Restaurant and as a result this has become one of the “go to” places for breakfast in the Hunter Valley Vineyards. I ordered their famed “Bacon & Eggs” which was a delectable dish of thick cut bacon, chorizo, mushroom, free range eggs, tomato, potato hash & sourdough.
Karen opted for the Breakfast Bowl that contained quinoa, sweet potato, sautéed asparagus, kale, kale, miso, tahini, poached egg, sauerkraut, seeds & avocado.
We both really enjoyed our meals and highly recommend Fawk Foods Kitchen & Bakery to anyone wanting a substantial breakfast in the Hunter Valley Vineyards.
After finishing breakfast, we still had an hour before our first Hunter Valley Cellar Door would open at 10:00am and decided to take a walk around the charming Pokolbin Village.
Our first hunter Valley cellar door stop of the day, was our private members tasting at Peterson House.
We have been long time members of Peterson House and like many other travellers, this is usually our first stop when we are visiting the Hunter Valley cellar doors. Located at the main gateway of the Hunter, the picturesque property is home to the largest array of sparkling wines in the region and it is a very civilized way to commence your full day of wine tastings.
Their lively Cellar Door boasts over 40 varieties of red and white sparkling wine to taste, and Karen and I love their motto, “Life’s Flat Without Bubbles”.
Our favourite wine at Peterson’s is their Sparkling 2010 Merlot Reserve. It is a very nice way to start the day…
Following our very enjoyable tasting, we were off to our next cellar door stop at Pepper Tree Wines.
The Pepper Tree cellar door is a previous winner of the Hunter Valley Cellar Door of the year award and continues to offer one of the best tasting experiences in the Hunter Valley.
We had pre-booked a “Best of Four Worlds” private tasting in their exclusive tasting room “The Vault”, where we were able to choose 8 of Pepper Tree’s premium single vineyard wines to sample along with some fine local Hunter Valley cheese and olives.
We enjoyed the extensive range of wines on offer and we were really impressed with their excellent selection of premium red wines. We recommend however that you take time to explore this beautiful winery and gardens as it is one of the most stunning cellar doors you will find anywhere in the world.
Our recommendation at Pepper Tree is their gorgeous, “The Gravels” 2015 Shiraz.
Our next Hunter Valley cellar door visit was Hunters Dream Estate.
However, as often happens on our travels, we noticed a new tasting experience as we were headed to our next winery. The Hunter Distillery uses premium quality organic raw ingredients to produce a range of premium top shelf spirits including Gin, Vodka, Liqueurs and Schnapps.
We really enjoyed their spirits, in particular their aromatic Copperwave gin and their mango liqueur.
After pulling ourselves away from the distillery, we finally arrived at Hunters Dream Estate.
The story behind this Hunter Valley cellar door is an interesting one, as the founders of this winery are the creators of the renowned health care company, Nature’s Care. In line with the vision of Nature’s Care, this winery and cellar door are both serene and elegant and contains beautiful lavender fields, an oriental display garden, olive groves, fruit orchards, tea trees and commercial bee hives.
Karen and I love their philosophy of, “Everything we bring to this estate we do so with the intent of enhancing the natural order of things”, and we are pleased that their wines are of a very good quality too.
This vineyard is beautiful and you definitely appreciate what the “corporate support” has provided to the cellar door visitor.
We enjoyed the Hunter’s Dream 2017 Shiraz.
After leaving Hunters Dream, we had a 10 minute drive to our final Hunter Valley cellar door and private members tasting at Ballabourneen.
We have been members and advocates of Ballabourneen Wines since first meeting their award winning winemaker Daniel Binet over a decade ago, and we always look forward to our cellar door members tastings, when we are in the Hunter Valley.
Ballabourneen, (part of Binet Family Wines) is a small producer of an exceptional range of Hunter Valley wines specialising in Chardonnay, Verdelho, Semillion, Moscato and Shiraz varieties.
Their extensive wine tasting list and warm hospitality makes this cellar door a “must do” when visiting the Hunter.
We really enjoy all of the wines offered at this cellar door, but we especially like Domaine de Binet’s Accidental Tourist (Barbera, Grenache & Cabernet blend) and Ballabourneen’s Majors Lane Semillion.
Following our final Hunter Valley Cellar Door tasting for the day, we took the short drive back to the Wine Country Tourist Park to get ready for our highly anticipated dinner at Muse Restaurant
Located at Hungerford Hill Winery, Muse Restaurant aims to showcase Hunter Valley produce with a succinct emphasis on seasonality and quality.
The restaurant has been awarded the following –
- Good Food Guide Two Chef Hats, 2015 until present
- Good Food Guide One Chef Hat, 2011 to 2014.
- 2019, 2018 & 2017 ‘ Delicious 100 Top NSW Restaurants’
- 2017, 2016 & 2015 ‘Hot 50′ Australian Restaurants List.
Offering contemporary Australian cuisine with constantly changing seasonal menus and featured local producers, we were excited to try this highly praised dining venue.
On entering the restaurant, we were immediately impressed with the relaxed elegance of the interior of Muse, mainly due to its high ceilings, prominent sandstone walls and large fireplace. We were seated promptly at a nice table with a view of the adjacent vineyard and the nightly Chef’s Menu was carefully explained by our wait staff.
We decided on the following:
- Burraduc Farm buffalo Dolce Nina fresh cheese, heirloom tomato, olive, basil, preserved lime (John & Karen’s Choice)
- Cured and charred kangaroo, wattleseed yoghurt, mulberry, radish, native pepperberry (Karen’s Choice)
- Raw fish marinated in green apple and verjuice ferment, Sweetwater ruby grapefruit, red marble onion (John’s Choice)
- Oysters 2 ways
- Slow cooked wagyu tri-tip, citrus kosho, zucchini, wakame (John’s Choice)
- Barbequed Murray Gold cod, prawn XO, fried eggplant, gem lettuce, orange and soy (Karen’s Choice)
- Little Hill Farm rhubarb and strawberry, white chocolate, liquorice (Both of our choices)
As you will see from the photos and video, each dish was beautifully presented, and our wine was expertly matched by the restaurant’s sommelier.
This was a very memorable dining experience and we were very impressed by every meal presented by the kitchen. The service we received was outstanding and although this is definitely a fine dining venue, we really appreciated the relaxed vibe and ambiance created by our servers.
When visiting the cellar doors in Hunter Valley cellar doors, we definitely recommend making a reservation to dine at Muse Restaurant.
Our Best Hunter Valley Cellar Door Guide Wrap Up
Don’t forget to check out Part Two of our Best Hunter Valley Cellar Door Series – “Our Hunter Valley Boutique Wine Tour Review” (To be posted over the coming days)
If you enjoyed our video of the Hunter Valley cellar doors, please check out these popular related videos:
Guide to the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale Wine Regions https://youtu.be/nKgL9bx_EQI
Ageing Barrels – Coal River Valley Tasmania Wine Tour https://youtu.be/tcqx7OO4v3U
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John & Karen