We weren’t sure what to expect out of an early winter visit to Australia. Thoughts of a cold winter didn’t reconcile with my vision of the Red Continent. I pictured Bondi Beach surfers, the Outback, and the cuddly koalas and playful kangaroos that can only be found in Oz.
On the other hand, my husband Chris envisioned a myriad of killer snakes, spiders, and crocs, which I suppose are perennial threats, or attractions if your adventure meter is set on high.
What we could agree on was our love for wine. Australia is one of the world’s largest wine exporters and reason enough for us to book an air ticket. We were able to fit in three of the Australia’s top wine regions in our three-week visit to Oz. Below describes our experience at our favorite stops in each region. Note, I have not provided my opinion of the wines, you’ll have to go try them yourself!
The Hunter Valley is located about two hours North of Sydney, making it a popular day trip from the city. There are over 120 wineries in the region which is one of Australia’s oldest and most well-known.
We scored a housesitting gig in Newcastle which ranks second to Sydney in population in New South Wales and is known for being the biggest coal exporting harbor in the world. Thanks to a newly opened Hunter Expressway, our temporary home was an easy 35-minute drive to the Hunter Valley. Well, easy for me being the passenger, Chris had to get accustomed to driving stick-shift on the left side of the road!
Our first stop in Hunter Valley was at the Visitor Center where we picked up a number of brochures and maps. Then just around the corner, we turned onto Broke Rd where all the wineries we would be visiting for the day were located.
Hungerford Hill Wines – The unique wine barrel shaped building caught our eye and made this our first winery stop. There was a $5 tasting fee for as many samples as I wished and it was refundable with bottle purchase. This generous policy is the norm in Australia I would come to learn, so pacing yourself is a must. I was grateful the bartender had such extensive knowledge of wine and shared with me the characteristics of the region specializing in Semillion and Shiraz.
Tyrrell’s Vineyards – Unbeknownst to us we had arrived at one of the oldest and most awarded wineries in the Hunter Valley. It was here that I first noticed they already had a 2016 vintage. Harvest in Australia takes place in February and March, much earlier than we were used to in the Northern Hemisphere. Outside we spread our packed lunch out on the picnic table and took in uninterrupted views of the pond, vineyards, and mountains in the distance.
De Iuliis Wines – We weren’t quite sure how to pronounce it and we weren’t sure what the knights on stilts outside the entrance were meant to represent, but we would soon sort it all out. As we were tasting, I spotted a kangaroo outside. It was a very exciting moment as it was the first one we had seen in the wild. We were told a mob of kangaroos frequently visit the grounds and I was able to get a picture of a few before we left.
Hope Estate Winery- In search of something different, we pulled into Hope Estate which is a winery and brewery combined. We felt right at home as soon as we walked in and were greeted by life-sized, cardboard cutout of New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen! This winery, we came to learn, has hosted some epic concerts featuring legends such as Bruce, Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones, Elton John and many, many more. Most impressive! The bartender pointed outside to the field which held about 20,000 people. I felt like I was standing on sacred ground. Rock on Hope Estate.
Just about an hour Northeast of Melbourne is the Yarra Valley, a cool climate region known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
For this region, we booked a tour on Viator which had excellent reviews. The tour included lunch and tasting fees and would stop at three wineries and a champagne house.
A minibus picked us up in front of the 7-Eleven just down the street and the driver/guide was sure to point out sights of interest as we drove out of the city and into the countryside. The scenery was beautiful as we entered the rolling hills of the Valley and listened to stories of the gold rush past.
Punt Road Wines was our first stop and we were welcomed into the tasting room where a warm fireplace took the chill out of the damp, winter day. Here, our guide would explain the steps involved with tasting and savoring a wine. We were offered a mixed sampling of about six red and whites.
At Balgownie Estate, the staff led the tasting which included something I had never had before, a sparkling Shiraz. Our tour included lunch at Rae’s Restaurant at Balgownie Estate which served up an exquisite Moroccan spiced chicken breast for lunch which came with a view.
Yering Farm was the quaintest stop and perhaps my favorite. The tasting room was a 100-year-old hay shed with a view to die for. Inside, wanted posters of Ned Kelly, Australia’s most infamous bandit, hung on the walls and we admired some barrel crafted wine racks. Here the star was a cider, or “Syder” as they like to call it just for kicks, known as Pink Lady.
In stark contrast to the quaint hay shed was Domaine Chandon, our final stop. Our tour started in the trophy room of the world-renowned champagne house, continued to the production and storage rooms and ended in the tasting room. Sipping a glass of champagne overlooking the Chandon vineyards was the perfect ending to a great day exploring the beautiful Yarra Valley.
The Mornington Peninsula is just South of Melbourne and a perfect weekend getaway for Melburnian’s wishing to visit beaches in the summer or farm stands and wineries year round. We rented a car in Melbourne for the weekend and drove to see the koalas and penguins of Phillip Island the first day. The next day, we drove just over an hour around Western Port Bay to visit Mornington Peninsula for a day in the country.
Our first stop was Main Ridge Dairy where we were lucky to find a seat in the packed tasting room. Service, none the less, was prompt and we were soon digging into a sampler of nine different kinds of cheese. Outside a quick rain shower passed through and the goats took cover under the trees. Talk about a farm to table experience!
Next door to the dairy was Morning Sun Vineyard. The tasting room was at the bar in a restaurant where the pizza looked incredible. The property was stunning with a large patio overlooking the vineyards but the cold day kept patrons inside.
Just around the corner, we pulled into Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm. Outside was a giant strawberry mosaic in the pathway, leading to a sample basket of juicy strawberries. Inside, we browsed the gift shop and sampled some Stroop flavors. Stroop is a jam-like spread that can be used in a number of different ways. The strawberry one reminded me of a birthday cake filling. The highlight of our visit was having Devonshire tea at the Dessert Café complete with two gigantic strawberry scones.
The final stop of the day was at T’Gallant Winemakers. We could tell by the crowded parking lot it was one of the more popular cellar doors. There was an acoustic singer inside that made for a great vibe. We made our way to the tasting room where it was much less hectic. If we lived in the region I know I would be frequenting this winery a lot.
As you can see each region was very unique. We enjoyed the scenic drives, chatting with the locals and learning more about Australia’s weather, history other things we heard ‘through the grapevine’.
We highly recommend a wine tour while visiting Australia’s wine country. Check out the sample itineraries and tours at Wine Compass to help plan your perfect visit to the vineyards.
The next time you find yourself in front of a bottle of Chardonnay, Semillon or Shiraz back home, check the label, it just might be from one of these regions. If you travel to Australia one day, make sure to add wine tasting to your Aussie bucket list.
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