Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

The vines in winter time

Training a new assistant


Lindemans Cellar Door

The museum at Lindemans

Pigs Peake Winery

Capercaillie Winery

The winemaker at Capercaillie

A view from Capercaillie

The Hunter Valley

Here we are back in the wine growing areas of Australia, this time the Hunter Valley, an hour's drive above Sydney. The broad valley of the Hunter River has contrasting landscapes with wooded hills running down from the Brokenback Range to the south-west of the valley. It has rich volcanic soil, the origins of which were from the outpouring of ancient volcanoes, which suit the grapevines.

The coalfield areas have been operating for over a centaury and have been the making of the city of Newcastle on the coast. The vineyards, inland, were first planted here in the 1830's and after a period of decline are flourishing once more. The Hunter is divided into two areas, the Upper Hunter and the Lower Hunter Valley.

With over 140 wineries and cellar doors you are able to find a myriad of varieties of wines, but it is for the distinctive styles of Semillon, Chardonnay, Verdelho and Shiraz which the Hunter Valley is known. The small boutique wine makers sit along side the big boys such as Lindemans, Wyndham Estate and Rosemount Estate. The valley also boasts lots of accommodation, tearooms, restaurants, galleries and gourmet food outlets, so there is plenty to temp people.

The guide book describes the area as being 'like a vine that has nine beautiful branches that stretch across its landscape'. These branches are sub-regions with their own character and style, the small country roads traverse the valley taking you through the lovely countryside to the wineries. For the traveller who does not want to drink and drive there are plenty of tours on offer. There are the usual tours ranging from the ordinary coach and mini bus trips to the unusual of the Pokolbin Horse Coaches, and the spectacular Hunter Wine Helicopter Tours. I don't know how many bottles of wine you can take on a helicopter so this one may not be for the discerning drinker.

For our stay in the Hunter Valley we could only find one caravan park, so we just had to make do with it. However, all was not lost as this caravan park has its own winery; the owner has vines growing around the park and makes wine for a hobby. He does not have a licence to sell the wine so the only way to get to taste it is to stay 3 nights, when you get a complimentary bottle of Valley Vineyard Mitchell's Merlot. This wine has a distinct chocolate bouquet with a nice palate leaving a nice peppery taste. We are going to enjoy this with our Thai takeaway from the camp restaurant tonight.

On Saturday we set off to tour the valley and do some tasting, but unfortunately not too much buying. We have at the most 64 days left in Australia, and given there are 140 wineries in this area we would have to go something to drink one bottle from each winery. So we have to be selective and shop with restraint as we have rarely found a wine we did not like.

Our first tasting was at Rosemount Estate, we have enjoyed their wine's at home so it was nice to see where they come from. In just over 30 years Rosemount has become one of Australia's leading wineries and have 11 wines on offer. We tried the Traminer Riesling 2006 which was a rich fruity wine with floral and tropical fruit flavours with a lovely crisp and clean finish. The Pinot Greco had a very dry finish with a lime and lemon palette. Rosemount Cellar door is a small building reminiscent of a country school building and it has its own boules pitch, so after wine tasting you can nip out for a game.

We went next door to Lindemans, one of the oldest and most respected in the Hunter Valley and also producing wine for the International market. This cellar door was much larger and included a museum, function centre, a space for group testing (up to 300 people) a café and food retail outlet. We tried two wines, the 1998 Shiraz and the 1998 Cabinet Merlot. I am a Shiraz fan and found this a nice light red with plenty of fruit flavours, but Jeff did not like the after taste saying he thought it was a bit metallic. The Cab Merlot as a rich explosion of rich black fruits which just burst on the palette and left a nice after taste. We then went into the food area and did some tasting of the olive oils, one infused with lime which was quite sharp and the other infused with garlic which had a nice after taste and stayed with us for the afternoon. Good job we had both had a try at it. I also had a go at dipping in the dukkah with the pistachio, it is a shame we are now restricted as to what we can buy as we could have bought a lot of the food in the store.

After all this wine and oil tasting it was now time to try something different so in the café we bought two flat white coffee's and two cookies and enjoyed them in the nice ambiance of the cellar door.

On Sunday we set out to explore another area and drove to the Upper Valley and meandered along the country roads watching kangaroo's hop across fields and passing, yes passing, lots of small wineries. We were wondering which one to stop at when we came across Piggs Peake Wines and thought with a name like that we ought to go and try the wines. It is a small boutique winery which does have outlets around Australia but sadly not in any overseas market. They produced 3 white wines, Chardonnay, Semillon and one grape variety I had not heard of before, Marsanne. This had a really nice fruit flavour of apricots with a slight acidic taste and left a good after taste. They have given all their wines a piggy name and when bottled it was called 2006 Wiggy Tail Marsanne. When we looked at the red wine list, along with the Shiraz and the Merlot I was surprised to see a Zinfandel. This is an American grape variety and so I gave it a try. It was a rich dark red wine with heavy fruit aromas and a taste to ensure we bought a bottle. It had a good write up from the Australian Wine expert of Gourmet Pages, so there you have it. This one was named 2006 Wolfie Zinfandel. We also purchased a couple of their blended wines, the whites called Swill and the reds called Duroc.

We left the best till last, on our last morning we visited a winery called Capercaillie Wine Co. What is a winery with such a name doing in the middle of the Hunter Valley? Simple it is a Scottish couple who run it, Alisdair and Trish Sutherland, and they make some lovely wines. We tried a Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, which is unusual to use this grape variety in a sparkling wine. Trying this first really spoilt me for the rest, as this was one of the best sparkling wines I have tasted. It even beat some of the champagnes I have tried, and those of you who know me, know I like champagne. The next wine was a Semillon, which had a nice crisp flavour which would go nice with seafood; Jeff did not like it feeling it was too dry for him. Our last white was a Chardonnay which had a real fruity taste with a nice after effect. Moving on to the reds we tried The Clan 2005, a very rich Cabernet Sauvignon with lots of flavour, and the Shiraz, which was another great taste.

Now the good news, Capercaillie wines are available in Scotland, and even in Dundee. The web site for you to find out where they can be bought is Sorry to the readers in England as they are not as widely distributed down there, so you may need to come to Scotland for a holiday. Some of you may want to treat yourself for a nice meal out so if you go to Martin Wishart's in Edinburgh or Andrew Fairley's in Glen Eagle's you can buy a bottle with your meal. Returning home to Scotland will not be so bad with this news.

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