Before arriving in Sydney, Australia, I had very specific ideas of what I wanted to do during my five days there (more information on that here). Of course, I wanted to see all of Sydney's iconic landmarks and encounter a kangaroo and/or koala bear, but I also set out to explore the areas around Sydney, including wine tasting in Australia's Hunter Valley. Located about two hours north of Sydney in New South Wales, Hunter Valley is one of Australia's most well-known wine regions and is an area well worth visiting if you find yourself in Sydney with some time to spare (and you're a wino like me).
I am no stranger to the wine tasting tour. I've visited vineyards in Stellenbosch, South Africa as well as New York's North Fork. And I hope to expand my wine tasting adventures to many other places around the world. California, France and Italy are high on the list; also, Spain, Portugal, Austria and Argentina. Actually, everywhere. Let's just say everywhere.
My day in Hunter Valley started with my friend Ali and I arriving at our tour meeting point in Sydney's Central Business District. With our breakfast in hand, we boarded a van and began the two-hour drive to the valley. Our group consisted of seven people from various countries and continents, all with a love of wine. Our day was an ambitious one. We stopped at four wineries — McGuigan Wines, Drayton's Family Wines, Wynwood Estate and Leogate Estate. We also stopped at a gift shop area to taste chocolate AND we got to feed wild kangaroos some carrots. Here's a recap of the day:
MgGuigan Wines was our first stop of the day and included one of my favorite wines of the tour. Upon arrival, the first thing that struck me about this vineyard is the prevalent use of their hashtag on their wine barrels. I have no idea how many people are using #MgGuiganWines on social media but since it's all over their barrels, I hope it's getting some attention on the internet. The wine I loved the most was their Black Label Red. It was one of the top choices for the entire group, but for some reason is priced the lowest of their wines. Not sure why, but regardless, it's a great wine. We also tried a delicious cheese plate after our tasting. Overall, it was a great way to kick off the day.
Drayton's Family Wines
Our next stop was at a family-owned winery. Drayton's has the intimate, familiar vibe that one would expect at a vineyard that's been in the family since 1853. What I enjoyed most about Drayton's Family Wines, besides their great port and sparking wines, are their creative labels. There were funny labels, cute labels, witty labels, holiday-themed labels... I found them to all be really creative and memorable. If I could, I would have bought a few bottles of their family port and sparking wine to take back with me to the States. Alas, that wasn't possible, so I had to settle for numerous tastings of both before moving on to our next stop.
After a lunch break and mini photo shoot, we headed to Wynwood Estate, a boutique winery that is one of the newer wine labels in the valley. As soon as you walk in, you can tell this place is boutique. It's shiny and polished and, in some ways, a contrast to both MgGuigan and Drayton's. It's also home to Twine, a well-known restaurant in the area serving modern Australian fare. Though I loved the aesthetics of this winery, the wines were mostly not for me. The sparkling moscato, though really sweet, was my favorite of the group, though I can't say I would drink it on a regular basis. Perhaps I just tried the wrong wines. Either way, it was still an enjoyable visit, and they have one of the best wine quotes I've ever seen (see below).
Last, but certainly not least, Leogate Estate was a surprise visit and not a typical stop on this tour. Our tour guide Billy finagled a last minute tasting for us before leaving the area, which we reacted to with mixed feelings. I say mixed because, though I love wine (clearly), we were now many tastings in and it was a steamy day in Hunter Valley. Anyone who has ever spent a day wine tasting knows that at some point fatigue catches up with you. Throw in the heat, and we were all feeling pretty sluggish. Fortunately, we pushed past it and stepped into the gorgeous, air conditioned tasting room of Leogate. This winery truly felt like an estate with its chandeliers and fountains and stunning views of the valley. Leogate was also the only winery where I enjoyed the semillon wine. Semillon is very popular in the Hunter Valley, but I didn't love most of the semillons I tried, until Leogate. I'm glad we were able to end our tastings on a high note.
The rest of the day is also worth mentioning, as it includes one of my favorite moments in life, EVER. After Leogate Estate, we headed to an area with several gift shops and boutiques, where we took part in a chocolate tasting. We then continued on to our last stop — an outdoor area known for its wild kangaroos. By this point, I had seen several kangaroos at the Koala Sanctuary, which was an exciting experience, but it ultimately paled in comparison to interacting with these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. To see groups of kangaroos hopping around and mothers with their young joeys cautiously watching me while I smiled at them tentatively was just one of those experiences I will never forget. Unfortunately, people who visit don't know better and lure the kangaroos in with bread. Bread is actually not good for kangaroos, so if you ever find yourself in a situation where you're able to feed them, do NOT give them bread! Instead, bring raw carrots with you. We did this and spent a really enjoyable time feeding carrots to the kangaroos and watching in awe as they happily munched their food. It was an incredible way to end our day in Hunter Valley.
I'm so glad I had the opportunity to visit Hunter Valley during my time in Australia. I can't wait to return to Oz and explore more wine regions in the future. For anyone visiting Sydney, definitely make time for a wine tasting tour in Hunter Valley, or if you're feeling more adventurous, you can do a hot air balloon ride like my friend, Ali. Read about her experience here.
Have you ever been to Australia's Hunter Valley? If not, is it on your list?