Monday, 29 August 2016

Pokolbin Hill: Hunter Valley Wine Country


The Hunter Valley is easily one of Australia's most well-known wine producing regions, and just 64 km west of Newcastle, or 163 km north of Sydney, you'll find yourself in the heart of wine country at a place called Pokolbin Hill.


The Roche Estate precinct in Pokolbin Hill is a great central point to start exploring the vineyards.

When arranging your own wine tour of the local Hunter Valley vineyards, the Roche Estate precinct is perhaps the best place to begin. A modernistic cluster of eateries, cellar door tastings and a place called the Smelly Cheese Shop, (which is a must-do if making a do-it-yourself picnic hamper to take with you on the road), it provides a central point to set off in search of the perfect drop. With views such as in the above two photos, it also offers a great place to come back for lunch.

During our most recent visit in May 2016, we once more stayed at the Leisure Inn Pokolbin Hill, (part of Wydnham Vacation Resorts group). As in the past, the resort offered quiet individual villas set among a sprawling tree-lined estate, that best of all, was situated opposite the Roche Estate precinct on the corner of Broke Road and McDonalds Road in Pokolbin Hill. Also within walking distance of the Leisure Inn and the Roche Estate precinct is the much-talked about Hunter Valley Gardens, and McGuigan Wines, (McGuigan's Black Label Red just so happens to be my go-to wine for dinner parties). But the real fun in exploring Pokolbin Hill's wine country happens when you grab a map from the Hunter Valley Visitor Centre as you drive in along Wine Country Drive, and set off with a spirit of adventure to see where the day leads you.

Welcoming signs such as these can only make you smile. This was Tulloch Wines on Debeyers Road.

Once you begin exploring, you soon discover that wine tasting and fun go hand-in-hand. The above sign was waiting for us at Tulloch Wines on the corner of McDonalds Road and Debeyers Road. You'll enjoy the day more by having a responsible designated driver. On this occasion it was me. Leaving my wife to sample the wines, I became the chauffeur for the day with the added responsibility of selecting where we stopped for lunch and dinner. Drayton's Family Wines a little further south along McDonalds Road on the corner of Oakey Creek Road offered very reasonable prices for lunch (about $15 to $20 a plate), and also had a great selection of lower-priced, everyday drinking bottles of wine. For a family owned vineyard that can trace its roots back to 1853, it is well worth a visit.

Although most cellar doors offer free tastings, you do feel that sense of obligation as the day unfolds to at least purchase something before you leave. My advice is; avoid the temptation to buy a dozen bottles from the first cellar door you visit, and instead have fun assembling your own mixed dozen throughout the course of the day. That way you'll not only keep the old wallet in check, but come back with your own story to tell of where you purchased each bottle.

The entrance to Tyrell's Wines cellar doors in Pokolbin Hill. Photo May 2016.

One of my favourite labels is Tyrell's Wines, located west along Broke Road with a history dating back to 1858. Considering Australia was only settled by Europeans in 1788, it is amazing to think that those early Aussies were already bringing back cuttings from vineyards in France and Spain by 1831.

That's Edward Tyrell's Hut, built in 1858.

Outside the entrance to Tyrell's Wines' cellar door you'll find the timber slab hut that was erected in 1858 by Edward Tyrell. While establishing vineyards in Pokolbin, he called this humble single room shack home.

Wine tasting at Tyrell's Wines in the Hunter Valley, May 2016. Denise kept herself busy all day.

Inside the long established packing shed that stands opposite it however, the walls are lined with bottles of Tyrell's finest. Above them the shelves are filled with just some of the trophies their wines have won at Wine Shows both here and abroad. Tyrell's Wines Brokenback Shiraz has long been one of my favourites, but if you get a chance to taste their Lost Block Shiraz, and hear the story about how this wine got its name, then I highly recommend you do so.

Late afternoon winter's scene of the Brokenback Range, seen from Tyrell's Wines, May 2016.

Continuing along Broke Road, the wine trail will ultimately lead into Hermitage Road, where on a previous visit Denise and I took our children horse riding through the vineyards and countryside surrounding the Hunter Valley Resort. This time without our children whom have now grown-up, we were able to stop and smell the roses, literally. Many of the vineyards in the Hunter have spectacular views such as the rose gardens (above) located alongside the entrance to Tyrell's Wines, and set in front of the impressive Brokenback Range.

Oakvale Wines is one of our favourites and can be found on the west end of Broke Road.

Finally our day came to an end at Oakvale Wines, which is now firmly entrenched as my wife's favourite. Situated on Broke Road close to the Hermitage Road turnoff, the massive cellar door building is overshadowed only by the adjacent restaurant and picturesque gardens. Inside however, visitors are offered a glimpse into the wine making process through the large plate glass windows that separate the tasting area from the production floor. With some amazing Semillon, Shiraz and Rose on offer, (and I'm not normally one to drink a Rose), Denise had soon signed up as a member of their Wine Club. So with a mixed dozen already loaded in the boot of our car, I was soon making room for another dozen of her Oakvale favourites to take home on the trip back to Queensland.

Oakvale Wines' production room, as view through the cellar door windows. Pokolbin Hill, 2016.

Pokolbin Hill would have to be one of our favourite Mum and Dad retreats. If your looking for a romantic long weekend away, or to use Pokolbin as a base for a 5 night or more stay to explore everything the Hunter Valley has to offer, there's no need to look any further. For eating out for a special occasion, I can recommend The Cellar Restaurant in the Hunter Valley Village Gardens (about $200 a couple for entree, dinner, desert and wine), or Blaxlands Inn along Broke Road (about $200 for a family of 4 for entree, dinner, dessert and a bottle of wine for Mum and Dad to share). We tried one night getting into Harrigans Irish Pub but couldn't, on account of it being a ticketed event for a rock concert that was happening that night. When planning a stay in Pokolbin Hill, it is best to check well in advance what event, or multi-events, are scheduled for that weekend. From Opera in The Vineyards, to the Lovedale Long Lunch, or even rock concerts on one of the estate grounds. Wine Country is perhaps the best website to keep up with what is happening.

So with another visit to the Hunter Valley now behind us, and almost all of the wine we bought now consumed, maybe its time to plan another long weekend away in the Hunter. With accommodation booking out quickly on weekends of concerts, I'll have to plan our getaway 12 months in advance. But as usual, that's a story for another day.

What I liked: Home to some of Australia's best wines, there are also some amazing restaurants hidden away in many of the estates. Food and wine, what's not to like?

What I didn't: Being the designated driver! You can book a seat on a tour bus, but they aren't cheap and you'll lose the thrill of exploring at your own pace and creating your own adventure.


See also; Newcastle: The historic beach city and Richmond Main: Richmond Vale Railway Museum

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