Touring the Hunter Valley Wine Region

Wednesday, June 1st

I told Mom as we were planning the trip to Australia, "I am going to take one day and do a wine tour.  You, Dad and Elias are not invited.  I will set up a tour for you guys for that day.  I hope you don't mind."

Here's the thing.  I wasn't doing this to be a jerk.  I wanted to do a wine tour while we were in Australia.  No one else cares about a wine tour.  Mom drinks very rarely (or whenever I bring a bottle to her house).  Elias has learned he is a beer person (he's 20...of course he's a beer person right now).  And Dad isn't allowed to drink.  A wine tour would not hold any interest for the rest of the family.  Not only would we have to pay for three people to go on a tour that is not relevant to their interests, but then I'd be stuck feeling guilty because they are on a tour that is not relevant to their interests.

The family was sent on a tour of the Blue Mountains.  Which after we met up later in the day, I found out was a bit...meh.  The weather has not been too kind to us during most of our stops.  But definitely, we were getting hosed in Sydney.  When going sightseeing in nature, you kind of want to be able to see that nature.  The rain and fog weren't helping them.

But enough about them.  Let's talk about me.

Hunter Valley is a wine region where over 150 wineries live.  The region is about two hours north of Sydney, so it makes for a decent day tour.  My tour was booked through our travel agent with AEA Luxury Tours (who did a lovely job, by the way).  I was picked up at the hotel around 9a and already in the van were an older couple from Canada.  The driver was super personable and announced it would just be the three of us on the tour.  All I could do was hope the couple was cool.

The drive north would take a few hours, so we made a pit stop along the way.  The Australian Reptile Park is located in Somersby in New South Wales.  The reptile park is home of Elvis, the crocodile.  I'm not entirely sure what Elvis's deal was, but he was there...probably getting ready to pounce.  I'm also not entirely sure why wine enthusiasts were visiting a reptile park.  But our time at the reptile park began with tea, lamington cakes, and anzac cookies, so I was happy.

Seriously, dig this.  The lamington cake is a sponge cake cut into squares, dipped in chocolate and rolled in coconut.  I had them for the first time a few years ago at the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival and have been on the hunt for them in Australia.  I mean, I bought the cake at the Australia Booth at the food and wine festival, so they should be abundant here, right??  Nope.  I was super happy to find the lamington here.  And I was even happier when one of the other two people on the tour weren't interested in their portion.

The anzac cookies were ones Mom and I found the day before at the Wolworth's grocery store.  Crispy and oatmeal-y, they were seriously tasty cookies.  And note to self...I need to find a recipe to make these at home.

As we noshed on the treats, our tour guide gave us each a small baggie of food.  Not for us, but for the kangaroos.  We walked to an enclosure where kangaroos were hanging out.  I think we were able to go into the full enclosure and walk around, but it was really quiet at the park and I didn't want to break the rules before we ended up at the wineries.

It's your fault you're eating off of the patio, you silly kangaroo!!
The kangaroos ate from our hands for a little bit.  Until one rambunctious kangaroo snagged the baggie in my hand (I may have still been snacking on a lamington, so my other hand was full).  The kangaroo food went everywhere, so I scolded the kangaroo a little bit.  "Dang it!!  Now you're eating off of the floor!!"

Once we finished drinking tea and eating treats, we piled back into the van for our trip up to where the wine lives.  We had two winery stops ahead of us.

Our first stop was Briar Ridge.  Briar Ridge is located in Mount View, NSW.  It's one of those picturesque places where you could sit and drink all day.  But we didn't have time for that.  We did have time for about four tastings.  It was during this time the three of us on the tour were able to get to know each other.  The Canadian couple were cute enough.  This was the last day of their 21 day tour, so they were kind of ready to go home.  But we all were able to tell tales of the Australia journey so far.  And the wine was really nice.  The server was very good at her job, explaining how some of the wines we were trying were good now, but would be even better in a number of years.

I was also super jazzed to see that the head winemaker was not only a Lady Winemaker (capitalized for importance, which I know is not supposed to be done), but she has also won many awards for her wines.  I walked away with a bottle for the road and was ready for the next stop.

Here's where my tour varied from the Canadian couple's.  They were not down for buying wine.  Which...what??  Knowing a lot of this wine stays in Australia and would never be distributed back home, you're not bringing anything back??  I felt a twinge of guilt about taking longer to get back to the van.  But only a twinge.  Screw them if they were bored while I shopped.

The second stop was to Leogate Estate, in Pokolbin, NSW.  Where Briar Ridge was rustic and adorable, Leogate was much more regal.  They are a premiere destination for weddings and you can immediately see why.

We were ushered into a room overlooking the grounds.  The glasses were ready for the wine to be poured.  As we sat down, the staff were ready with the cheese plate.  And the glasses began filling up.  Honestly, I'm not sure how many wines we tasted.  But my assumption is around 10.  Tastings, remember.  We were not drinking large quantities of wine.  Well...define large...

Big thumbs up for having a cheese plate.
When the tasting was over, we wandered the winery until lunch was served.  The winery looks like any other winery, but quite industrial.

Lunch was served family style when we returned.  Each of us was able to choose our favorite wine to drink with lunch (my choice: Rose.  Because the Summer of Rose had begun back home.).  And then we dug in.

I may use this design theme when I renovate my bathroom in a few years.
Salad, pasta, prawns and scallops and a charcuterie plate all got passed around (I missed a pic of the charcuterie plate).  Our driver joined us for lunch (no drinks, thank you very much) and we all had a great, great meal.  Dessert was served and again, I did what I could to keep most of it to myself.  At least the strawberry dessert.  I didn't see anyone fighting me for it.

The prawns in Australia are ridiculous.
My plate of food.  I regret nothing.
Strawberries, strawberry ice cream, meringue and something else.  Ooh, I loved this.
Chocolate and ice cream.  It was nice, but is there any more of the strawberry dish left??
I bought two bottles from Leogate.  And I definitely made the group wait as I took pictures of the grounds.  I was basically taking over the tour.

Also in Pokolbin was the Hunter Valley Garden Village Shops.  This was our last real stop before heading back to Sydney.  We had a bit of a sample at the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company.  And we were given 30 minutes to do whatever kind of shopping/wandering we wanted to do.  I bought a hat.

I call this my Miss Fisher hat.  And if you don't know Miss Fisher, go to Netflix.
The drive back was rather uneventful.  The husband portion of the couple sacked out a bit, head bobbing about as the van hit bumps on the road.  The driver kept conversations going as well as he could, but we all zoned out a bit on the way back.  As we drove into Sydney, the skies got gray and the rain began again.

The van dropped me off first and we pulled up behind the parent's bus, which had arrived moments before.  We walked into the hotel together as we began telling stories of our day.  After being together for almost two weeks, it really was nice to take a day and do our own thing.  The fact that I was drinking all day was just an added benefit.


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