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Place: Hunter Valley

The Hunter Valley - Home Of The Australian Wine Industry   by Miguel Scaccialupo


The Hunter Valley in New South Wales is a renowned Australian grape growing region and is home to some of the best known wineries in the country. Only a short 2 hour drive north of Sydney, the Hunter Valley is an excellent day tour destination for visitors to the New South Wales capital. For anyone with a taste for Australia's excellent wines, the Hunter Valley ranks along with the Barossa Valley in South Australia, the Yarra Valley in Victoria and the Margaret River area in Western Australia as a premier holiday destination.

The Hunter Valley stretches from the Goulburn River and Wollemi National Park in the south to the Barrington Tops National Park in the north. Most of the Hunter Valley's many vineyards are located in the Lower Hunter Valley, with the centre of grape and wine production being Pokolbin, located north west of the town of Cessnock. Although some wineries specialise in particular wines, Chardonnay, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Verdelho can be found at most vineyards. The best vintage years for both red and white wines in the Hunter Valley include 1979, 1983, 1996 and 1999, although several other good years were seen during both the 1980s and 1990s. Great wine is accompanied by great food in many restaurants, including a selection of fresh local grown vegetables, locally bred game, delicious seafood from Port Stephens, bread and pastries, cheeses and chocolates.

The Upper Hunter Valley also has several vineyards, and is also home to a thriving horse breeding and racing industry. The centre for thoroughbred horse breeding in the Upper Hunter Valley is the town of Scone, although horse breeding is popular throughout the area. Scone has a range of quality accommodation options and several excellent restaurants, although the main attraction for many is probably the race course. Numerous race meetings are held throughout the year, so chances are good of being able to catch a race when you visit.

Prior to European settlement, the Hunter Valley was inhabited by the Darkinjung people for many thousands of years. The area was cleared for farming during the 1820s and grape vines have been grown there since the mid 1850s, making it the oldest wine region in Australia. In the 1900s coal was discovered in the area, giving the Hunter Valley a new lease of life. The mines eventually closed down to be replaced by wineries and a thriving tourism industry, with over 4500 acres of the Hunter Valley now covered with vines. The region today is a veritable mecca of holiday resorts and activities suitable for families, couples, corporations and international tourists.

The Hunter Valley's excellent range of wineries, shops, restaurants and other attractions make it the most visited wine region in Australia today. Home to several leading Australian wineries including Lindemans, McWilliams, Wyndham Estate and Tyrell's, the Hunter Valley is also home to many smaller boutique wineries. In total, the Hunter Valley is now home to over 80 wineries, most of which offer celler door wine tastings and many of which also have quality restaurants. Hunter Valley grape growers do not specialise in any one particular grape variety or wine style. While classic varieties such as Chardonnay, Shiraz and Semillon are popular, newer styles like Verdelho and Chambourcin are also commonly found.

Excellent wine and food aren't the only attractions offered by the Hunter Valley. Outdoor activities are available to suit every taste, ranging from horse riding and golf to hot air ballooning and sky diving, all set amongst wonderfully picturesque landscapes. The Hunter Valley is also a great location in which to enjoy music and entertainment during one of its many festivals. During October you can enjoy music and Australian wine with the Opera in the Vineyards and Jazz in the Vines music festivals. Many fascinating buildings can be found in the Hunter Valley, along with several galleries and museums. Speciality shops and small businesses abound, with galleries displaying antiques, crafts, glassware, jewellery, paintings, sculptures and wrought iron.

The many small towns nestled around the Lower Hunter all offer the visitor something unique. The rural community of Wollombi still lives in the 1930's, the time in which it was settled. You can wander along taking in the historic atmosphere, go horse riding, or even explore the nearby bushland. Branxton and Greta are popular for their markets and festivals. Cessnock has a range of accommodation as well as modern shopping areas, set amongst its heritage buildings and craft shops. Kurri Kurri hosts several heritage country pubs as well as a mining museum. It is also popular for a mixture of sports including bowls, golf, squash and tennis. For wonderful views of the Brokenback Range head to Broke, or for museums and antique shops go to the old river port of Morpeth.

About the Author

Miguel Scaccialupo writes regularly on Australian Outback Tour topics including Alice Springs Tour itineraries and shopping for Aboriginal Art.