This was a full day tour from Sydney to the Hunter Valley, leaving Sydney at 8.30am after a number of hotel pick ups and returning about 645pm. Our driver/guide Roland claimed we would travel over 500 kilometres during the course of the day – fortunately we did so in a state-of-the-art coach complete with reclining leather seats, USB charger, tinted windows and wifi on board. Our group of 25 was made up of travelers from Canada, USA, India, Taiwan, England, Ireland and Australia, all of us united in a desire to sample some fine Hunter Valley wines.
We had a quick refreshment stop at Freeman’s Rest and took the wise advice to ensure we had some food in our stomach before the tastings began. Upon exiting the freeway we immediately noticed the change in scenery – the sparse planes of the Hunter soon gave way to the vine-covered wineries.
Vanessa passed on some great detail and our wine knowledge was certainly expanded – I now understand the red varietals are generally grown on hill slopes as they don’t like too much moisture, whilst the whites are planted on more flat terrain. I also learned that a white wine can go from harvest to bottle shop within 4 months and that semillon from the Hunter valley is one of the best whites to age.
We were able to sample 9 different wines at Leogate, with each introduced with an explanation of the vintage and ideal foods to match them to. The breadth of wines tasted was much more than I was expecting and whilst there was no pressure exerted to make a purchase, many did. This was a great introduction to the Hunter Valley and we spent approximately 90 minutes at Leogate.
Our driver Roland had a unique way of ensuring on-time departures from each of the stops during the day – whoever caused a delay would have to sing their country’s national anthem. This ensured we were all actually early!
From the Hunter Resort we travelled to the last winery for the day – McGuigans, arriving around 2.15pm. This was a much larger winery than Leogate, although all wines produced here are only available for sale via the cellar door. McGuigans also has a much larger commercial operation in South Australia. We were led into a group tasting area by our wine presenter at McGuigans and she gave a very bubbly (pardon the pun) overview of the 9 tastings. By now our group were getting on like old friends and enjoying the tasting together. It was fun to hear the different perspectives on wine from the different nationalities around the counter.
McGuigans is located adjacent to the Mercure Resort and Hunter Valley Village Gardens. After the wine tasting we had approximately an hour to wander around this large complex. Some chose to sample cheeses at the Hunter Valley Cheese Company; others to walk through the Village (lots of souvenir shops); whilst I found myself wandering into a beer tasting. There was certainly enough time to find something to enjoy here.
This Hunter Valley tour includes drop offs at several hotels, which were around 6.45pm. Whilst we covered a lot of distance and were away over 10 hours, the day was very comfortable, we never felt rushed, and our driver provided just the right balance of good humour and commentary.