The Hunter Valley – only a couple of hours from Sydney – is one of Australia’s premium wine regions. But the challenge we tend to face when we explore wine country is choosing which cellar door to visit. Thanks to our new friends in the Hunter, we’ve got the insider’s tips on where to go.
In the past, we’ve arrived in the Hunter Valley then sort of looked at each other, shrugged and then just driven up the first driveway that offers a cellar door.
It’s been a bit hit and miss.
What would’ve been better would be to have researched our trip more… a bit like what you’re doing now. Well done! But that’s still easier said than done.
Not only is wine a very subjective area, what one person experiences at a cellar door can be completely different to how the next person feels. Researching something so subjective can be “like fitting wheels to a tomato: time-consuming and utterly pointless.” (Thank you, Black Adder!)
Instead, we prefer to rely on local knowledge. And you can’t get more local or knowledgeable in the Hunter Valley than the Scarborough family, who’ve been making amazing Hunter wine for 2 generations.
Here’s the insider’s scoop on where to go in the Hunter Valley if you want to really experience the region through its wine:
15 Hunter Valley wineries only locals know about
In spite of its newness (1st vintage released in 2013), Silkman is creating some instantly lovable wines. Owned by husband-and-wife team Shaun and Liz Silkman, this small-batch winery is already taking home awards.
Good for: Semillon, Chardonnay and their Shiraz Pinot Noir blend.
2. Lakes Folly
Started by Dr Max Lake in 1963 and since bought by the Fogarty family. A welcoming little cellar door with wine made from grapes only grown on the estate.
Good for: Chardonnay and Cabernet blend
Started by Ian Scarborough and his family in the ‘80s the 2 cellar doors they have are homely and welcoming, and unlike most cellar door experiences, you’re served complimentary cheese and antipasto board with your sit-down tasting. Very civilised.
The Hermitage cellar door also has the most amazing views out over the Brokenback mountain range – a spur of the Great Dividing Range.
Good for: the view but also Chardonnay (the range here is amazing), a beautiful light Pinot Noir and new to the line, a very drinkable Vermentino.
I should mention Scarbie and the family didn’t include themselves in this list. That was our idea!
Planted in 1866 this is one of the oldest vineyards in Australia and named after the man (yes, it confused me too) that started it all.
Good for: award winning Hunter Semillions.
First Creek have been making wine here for almost 20 years and have established a solid reputation for quality wine. The cellar door might not be the most interesting but the wine you get to taste here is well worth it.
Good for: the range. They source the best fruit to make everything from Merlot and Shiraz to sparkling Moscato and Botrytus.
Set on a hill overlooking the Valley, this striking estate produces some excellent wine with fruit from its own vines and selected contract vineyards. But it also has an award-winning restaurant Ian vouches for too.
Good for: its superb array of whites and reds but also its restaurant Esca.
Part of the beautiful Botanica restaurant at the Hunter’s Spicers Vineyard Retreat, Botanica’s wine is something quite special. The grapes are all laboriously handpicked by Executive Chef Mark Stapleton and whoever he can convince to help him.
He tried to talk us into it for next harvest but I think we’ve got something on! There’s no cellar door to Botanica, so the best way to taste their wine is over a good meal served in the restaurant!
Good for: excellent Chenin Blanc.
8. Thomas Wines
Owned by Andrew Thomas, who was named Hunter Valley Winemaker of the Year twice so far, this quirky little winery produces some benchmark wines.
Good for: small but cult-forming range of Semillons and the DJV Shiraz.
9. Littles Wines
Formed by 2 families – the Kindreds and the Littles – in 1997, the estate is now solely owned and run by the Kindred family. Open Friday to Sunday their cellar door is very homely and welcoming.
Good for: aged Semillon, Chardonnay and Daisy Hill range.
10. De Iuliis Wines
Pronounced “de oo-lee-iss” the De Iuliis family work on bringing a fresh, small-batch approach to creating their Hunter wines. The cellar door is a large, modern building but the welcome and the service you receive reflects the family’s Italian heritage.
Good for: the view, the Two Fat Blokes cheese & wine experience. For wine, go for Semillon and Hunter style Shiraz.
11. Oakvale Wines
One of the oldest working wineries in the Hunter (since 1893), Oakvale only sells their wines through their cellar door, which is a beautiful country estate style wood build. Interestingly the $5pp tasting fee goes towards the winery’s work with Meals on Wheels.
Good for: Their restaurant EXP. – reviewed here by SoniaStyling.com is well worth a look. Their wine range is enormous so there’s plenty to try.
12. Tyrrell’s Wines
The long family history (which you can read about on the website) brings us – among many other things – over 150 years of Hunter Valley winemaking. The Tyrells are very proud of their family history and the cellar door is steeped in the stuff.
Good for: private tasting room (between $5 and $25pp), some of the best-known Australian wine.
13. Tulloch Wines
Family-run since 1838, when James Tulloch – then owner of the local store – agreed to take a debt settlement of 43 acres. The modern-day cellar door offers tastings of the full range of Tulloch wines.
Good for: Verdelho – though the range exclusive to the cellar door looks very tempting.
We’ve been drinking their wines for years, and love their unoaked Chardonnay and Semillon. Started by John Beeston, the late Tony Albert and James Halliday himself in 1970, Brokenwood is now a household name.
Good for: Graveyard Block Shiraz, Semillon and Chardonnay.
15. McGuigan Wines
One of the Hunter Valley big hitters, McGuigan’s has actually been a family-run outfit since 1880. We find it one of the more approachable cellar doors, perhaps because it’s more like a supermarket inside. The staff are friendly and helpful though, and the wine is very well priced.
Good for: a starting point to cellar door experience, Semillon and reasonable range of reds.
Bonus: Small Winemakers Centre
Just opposite Brokenwood in the heart of the Hunter, the Small Winemakers Centre is where a lot of the vineyards who are too small to have a cellar door go to have their wares marketed and showcased.
Good for: amazing customer service and a chance to try wine you’re not likely to find anywhere else.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at the Hunter Valley in the same way again after these amazing tips from the Scarboroughs. It’s really opened my eyes to what’s available in this unique part of the Australian wine landscape.
What’s your favourite Hunter winery? Do you have a top tip for a winery we haven’t mentioned here? Tell us in the comments!