The state of New South Wales may be best known for iconic beaches and gorgeous mountains, but the gorgeous Hunter Valley—just a short drive from Sydney—has a long history with wine growing. And that history, along with rich soil and a perfect climate, now results in some of the most sophisticated wines on earth. It’s an ideal place to send your clients who are discerning wine lovers and looking for an unexpectedly great destination. Here’s what to know.
What Makes These Wines Unique
World-class wines begin with rich, ancient soils—and the Hunter Valley features a wealth of them. The area is also blessed with the perfect climate for growing grapes: warm days and cool evenings. (Which is great for visitors, too, 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, are some of the country’s oldest roots. What the vineyard has christened its “Sacred Sites” consists of six blocks—one Chardonnay, two Semillon, 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 unique vines from unspoiled lands still grow on their own roots, continuing to produce complex, sophisticated wines that your clients will rave about.
Why It’s Worth the Trip
Perhaps what’s most remarkable about this region is how long it’s been producing notable wines. With plenty of room to roam—on a given day, travelers might encounter more wallabies than people—and the rolling hills making it a scenic paradise, it’s perfect for hopping from vineyard to vineyard.
Sampling some of these wines really does require a trip: Travelers 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, travelers will find a community of creative, boundary-pushing winemakers, crafting globally respected expressions of Semillon, Shiraz, and Chardonnay. And in a distinctively Aussie way, many of these winemakers are vibrant personalities who will be thrilled share their stories over a glass—and point travelers to great, locals-only restaurants while they’re at it.
Experiencing the Vineyards
There are some 150 wineries around the Hunter Valley, ranging from established labels that might be stocked at neighborhood “bottle shops” to boutique producers that 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 discovery.
To sample a wide variety, it’s common for travelers to visit a multitude of “cellar doors,” or what Americans call “tasting rooms.” (And you can point your clients to Wine Australia for some great tasting tips and insight on the terroir.)
To help your clients delve into the region with an expert, Ultimate Wine Experiences Australia offers highly curated tours, including a private walkthrough of the Sacred Sites at Tyrrell’s Wines and a behind-the-scenes look at the Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard, another historically important vineyard (that’s also perfect for 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 Semillon, and popular Cricket Pitch Range. It’s also a great 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, travelers 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—there are opportunities to 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. And on Australia’s Oyster Coast, travelers can savor freshly shucked oysters, walk along white-sand beaches, and kayak through estuaries.