After a day of dropping by welcoming vineyards and enjoying leisurely meals at charming restaurants, you look out over a lush landscape of rolling hills. You savor the last rays of sunlight as they reflect off the neatly planted vines, knowing you’ve discovered a special place—one brimming with unexpected flavors.
Welcome to the Hunter Valley—the oldest wine region in all of Australia. The state of New South Wales may be best known for its iconic beaches, gorgeous mountains, and superb quality of life. But thanks to its rich soil, perfect climate, and unique history, this area also plays host to an award-winning wine country, producing globally renowned bottles that will delight even the most discerning wine lovers. Making the experience even better is a favorable exchange rate, allowing you to savor this flavor of dolce vita for less.
What Makes These Wines Unique
World-class wines, of course, begin with rich, ancient soils—and this area features a wealth of them. You’ll also find a climate with warm days and cool evenings that’s perfect for growing grapes (and for traveling around, of course!)
What makes this region especially unique, however, is that it’s home to some of the planet’s oldest vines. Wine history runs especially deep in New South Wales—the first vines were planted in Sydney’s Botanic Garden in 1788. And just two hours north of Sydney at Tyrrell’s Wines in the Hunter Valley, you’ll find some of the country’s oldest roots. What the vineyard has christened its “Sacred Sites” consists of six blocks—one chardonnay, two sémillon, and three shiraz—which are more than 100 years old.
These vines date back to James Busby’s original grapevine cuttings from Europe, which were planted in the Hunter Valley during the 1800s. (Busby is widely regarded as the father of Australian wine.) These vines were wiped out in Europe during a widespread phylloxera epidemic in the 19th century, but they survived—and thrived—in Australia.
Impressively, many of these ancient vines still grow on their own roots, continuing to produce complex, sophisticated wines. New South Wales is a fortunate heir to these unique vines from unspoiled lands.
Why It’s Worth the Trip
Perhaps what’s most remarkable about this region is how decidedly undiscovered it feels, even though it’s long been producing notable wines. On a given day, you might encounter more wallabies than people. And the rolling hills make it a scenic paradise, perfect for hopping from vineyard to vineyard.
Sampling some of these wines really does require a trip: You might not find these coveted bottles anywhere else in Australia—or the world, for that matter. The overarching focus here has been on quality over quantity—and on enjoyment over export. Fortunately, since the region is located just two hours from Sydney, it’s an easy escape.
It’s also an area that hasn’t been beholden to tradition. As a result, you’ll find a community of creative, boundary-pushing winemakers crafting globally respected expressions of sémillon, shiraz, and chardonnay. And in that distinctively Aussie way, it’s a wine country bursting with vibrant personalities, who will share their stories over a glass—and point you to great, locals-only restaurants while they’re at it.
How to Experience the Vineyards
There are some 150 wineries around the Hunter Valley, ranging from established labels you might find stocked at neighborhood “bottle shops” to boutique producers you might not, such as Krinklewood Biodynamic Vineyards and Gundog Estate. Many of them are clustered around Pokolbin, though the area is dotted with unexpected finds ripe for discovering.
To sample a wide variety, it’s common to visit a multitude of “cellar doors,” or what Americans call “tasting rooms.” (For a few pointers before visiting, Wine Australia provides some great tasting tips and insight on the terroir.)
If you want to delve into the region with an expert, Ultimate Wine Experiences Australia offers highly curated tours, including a private walkthrough the Sacred Sites at Tyrrell’s Wines and a behind-the-scenes look at the Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard, another historically important figure in the area. At the latter, you can also soak up the ambiance with a picnic among the vines.
Among the region’s blockbuster producers, Brokenwood Wines showcases the largest complex in the Hunter Valley, covering more than 15,000 square feet. This five-star winery is best known for its famous Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz, acclaimed ILR Reserve Sémillon, and popular Cricket Pitch Range. Along with a visit to the cellar door, you can stop for a casual breakfast, lunch, or snack at the Cru Bar + Pantry—or a refined dinner at The Wood Restaurant.
In addition to the Hunter Valley, New South Wales offers wine country in almost every direction. In the towns of Orange and Mudgee, both located about 3.5 hours north of Sydney and about two hours from each other, you can discover a wide variety of grapes, historic towns steeped in classic Australiana, and rustic orchards.
In Orange and its surrounding villages, the burgeoning food and wine scene showcases boutique wineries and award-winning vintages. The high altitude and rich volcanic soil from nearby Mount Canobolas provide ideal conditions for producing cool-climate wines. Just past the Blue Mountains, Mudgee boasts culinary gems and UNESCO World Heritage-listed wilderness. Along with visiting local wineries—such as Lowe Wines, Huntington Estate, and Robert Oatley Vineyards—you can go on a relaxing bushwalk, kayak through the Cudgegong River’s wetlands, and soar in a hot air balloon.
Heading south from Sydney to the Southern Highlands and South Coast, New South Wales pairs vineyards tucked into sloping landscapes with a dramatic and wild coastline. In the Southern Highlands, the main hub of Bowral is a gateway to wine country, destination restaurants, and one-of-a-kind shops. Or head to Australia’s Oyster Coast, where you can savor freshly shucked oysters, walk along white-sand beaches, and kayak through estuaries.