Two-ish hours north-ish of Sydney is the wine destination of Hunter Valley where we spent a lovely couple of days with Lisa, Mitül, Ash, Jono and Anna.
If you drink a little wine from time to time you’ll recognize the name “Hunter Valley”, but it turns out there’s just a handful of boutique vineyards left here. The region contributes just two per cent of all Australian wine. The upshot is: it’s tourism that’s the real industry in Hunter Valley.
These facts were given to us by our tour guide and minibus driver, James. He’s an English ex-pat, and former travel agent, with a brisk, dry manner and cavalier attitude to driving. I liked him a lot. He’d take us over dirt roads to some great wine tastings, prepping us on the eccentricities of the owners, while we bounced around in the back of the bus.
With four vineyards to hit in the day we needed to make at start at 10am. Kicking off a wine tour so soon after breakfast wasn’t something I’d fully thought through—I’m not yet at that stage of life where I wake up thinking I could really do with a nice glass of red. However, when the minibus arrived and we climbed on-board the immediate concern switched to defending ourselves from the hoard of mosquitoes in the minibus. “Are there mosquitoes back there?” asked James in a tone of surprise that suggested he knew damn well there was, had a pretty good idea of how they got there, but wasn’t comfortable explaining the cause. I may have read too much into his tone. Not that it mattered much, as we’d nailed most of them by the time we arrived at our first vineyard, Ernest Hill.
Jane made notes on the wines, so I don’t have to mention them, other than to say there were some lovely wines, once you get passed the problem of tasting wine while minty toothpaste still lingers in your mouth. That problem goes away pretty quicky, but for me was replaced with a different problem. How much wine was I drinking?
I’ve started using the NHS drinks tracker (iPhone app) and it doesn’t have a category for wine tasting, and as you taste more it becomes increasingly difficult to translate wine strengths and tasting measure volumes, or “standard drinks”, into “units” used in the UK. It wasn’t until the third vineyard that I found a handy leaflet which at least told us how much was in a tasting measure:
By about the third vineyard, I’d probably had enough wine tasting for the day. Ash and I started wandering around a cellar with a calculator working out how these people make enough money from selling wine to people like us, or from wine clubs. “They don’t”, was the short answer from James. I guess it’s all about the wine passion then…
The tourism side has warped some people’s minds a little. At an ice cream place there was a no photography sign. WTF? Jono asked the question of a member of staff and she said the rule is there because the competition had been copying their designs. Although she added “….but I don’t care”.
But if you’re out that way, I’d definely recommend heading out there. We stayed at a lovely place in what I’d describe as the middle of nowhere, and I could have probably enjoyed another day or so there. But I’d have to drink less wine.