A bushwalk, a blood moon and Wine & Food Festival in the Hunter Valley begins

It seems that all too often we’re either too busy or too self-critical to stop for a moment and smell the roses we’ve planted. Just taking that moment to enjoy what you’ve cultivated – no matter what it is – is incredibly important and powerful.

This Weekly Edition has provided a lot of those moments for us that we thought we’d share with you.

From the simple pleasures of being somewhere beautiful, to seeing something astonishing, to hearing incredible people speak, to visiting wine country in the full swings of a month-long festival – here’s what’s been happening with us.

Jim & Christina xx

While Christina’s mum recovers from her knee replacement surgery, we’re close by to make sure she’s comfortable.

But when we’re not needed, we like to visit this amazing place: a little bit of bushland tucked away in the middle of the suburbs.

It always surprises me how much nature is hidden just out of plain sight in the most unexpected of places.

And the walk culminates in this truly beautiful waterfall. Christina has been coming here since she was a child, but it still impresses her as much as it does me.

Still can’t believe this is in the middle of the burbs.

Celebrity Cruises Eclipse  and blood moon

Tonight is a very special night for the east coast of Australia. We’ll see not only a full moon on its closest orbit of the earth, but a blood moon where the moon turns russet red from light refracting from the Earth’s atmosphere. 

And not only that, it’s a full lunar eclipse, where the Earth passes between the Moon and Sun. 

To coincide with this rare celestial moment, Celebrity Cruises is celebrating the Australian debut sail of their ship Celebrity Eclipse. So they’ve sent us a little kit to enjoy the evening’s stellar activities – and I think the possie we’ve claimed isn’t too bad either!

Celebrity Cruises Eclipse  and blood moon

The Moon rises huge over the city and looms bright over the water. 

We manage to catch this shot through the telescope Celebrity have sent us just with our phone! We settle in as the sky gets darker and wait until the 15 minutes of complete eclipse around 9.15. It’s one of those rare times when you actually get a sense of the Moon being a ball rather than a simple disc in the sky.

Here’s to many more lunar eclipses and to that moment when we can all cruise again. Celebrity Eclipse will be ready!

Rogue La Vie men's mental health panel Langham Hotel Sydney

From left to right: Stephen Coniglio – captain of GWS Giants, Nathan Spiteri – actor and author of “Toy Cars”, Nick Troedson – Regional Director of Marketing & Communications at Hugo Boss SEAPAC, Iqbal Akhtar – founder of Engage & Empower, and CBT Coach with Primary and Community Care Services, Alexander Glover – content creator and ambassador for Lifeline, and Jonathon Moran – journalist for Sunday Telegraph, Nova and the Morning Show.

This afternoon, I’ve been honoured with an invitation to a very special event. The excellent Arrnott Olssen of Rogue La Vie has partnered with Hugo BOSS and the Langham Sydney for a fashion showcase with a difference. 

In fact, it feels like fashion is only an excuse to get to the bottom of some really important issues. 

Arrnott has asked these six men to share their very personal battles (and conquests) with mental health and well-being in a frank discussion that covers abuse, coping (and more importantly not coping) and bringing a difficult topic into the open.

Rum cocktail Rogue La Vie men's mental health panel Langham Hotel Sydney

During the talk, nothing was left off the table. It was of course interesting to hear other people’s struggles with mental health, but also just so important that more men talk openly about this subject. 

Men all need to learn a better emotional vocabulary and be able to voice it freer. It’s amazing how far bottling all that stuff up goes – all the way to abusive relationships where men are making others suffer because of their own unvoiced trauma.

Arrnott has put on an incredible panel for us today, but I’d also like to acknowledge the Langham’s excellent efforts in hosting. This cocktail – a rum old fashioned using Diplimatico Rum is delicious. And who doesn’t love a bit of theatre at the bar. Bring on the dry ice!

Jim Butcher the Langham Sydney

Thanks also to Marcus from Marcus Bale Photography for a rare photo op. I usually avoid the front of the camera, but he caught me by surprise!

Today, we’re back on the move again at last! We’re on a quick road trip up to the Hunter Valley for the first weekend of this year’s Hunter Valley Wine and Food Festival.

It is in fact a lot more than just a festival. This one runs throughout June (so there’s still plenty of time and so many things to do up there) and encompasses the whole region.

You can find the full programme here, but basically imagine a whole host of wineries in the Hunter Valley running different activities, events and offerings that you can’t usually get. From feasts to cooking schools, art classes to wine tasting challenges, this is going to be fun!

Wollombi NSW

On our way up to the Hunter Valley, we decide to take the tourist road – Route 33. A lot more fun than the freeway, 33 bends and winds its way over mountains into valleys and past some absolutely beautiful spots. There’s also the little town of Wollombi that’s worth a look. 

Oaks Cypress Lakes villa

We check into our villa at the Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort and immediately put the fire on. It’s a chilly one here in the Hunter and we’re glad of the fire’s warmth. 

Our villa is great too. So much space, all the luxuries and amenities (though the wifi’s a bit suss), and so close to everything. This is a two-bedroom villa and there are lots of other options… but we’ll be running a full review of this place pretty soon.

Our villa has a veranda, but one of the rooms also has a balcony, which is great for a bit of secret golf watching! It’s a shame we’re not here longer – and that I didn’t bring my clubs! Next time.

Wine House Hunter Valley - Penfolds vs the Hunter #HVWFF21

But our first event beckons, so we leave the golf for another day in exchange for something way more satisfying: The Wine House is running a daily event vying Penfolds’ Grange against the best the Hunter has to offer. 

This is such a fun clever thing to do, I’d recommend it to anyone who takes even the slightest enjoyment from red wine.

Wine House Penfolds v Hunter wines #HVWFF21

And here’s the most auspicious lineup. 

Silkman’s 2014 Reserve Shiraz, Brokenwood’s 2013 Graveyard Shiraz, Penfolds’ 2014 Grange and Mount Pleasant’s 2014 O’Shea Shiraz.

There aren’t many times when you’ll get to taste not only the best wine in the country but also from such a vintage as 2014 – heralded as possibly the best the Hunter has ever seen. 


This tasting is delivered to your table as a blind tasting. Only a couple of people know which wine’s which. You taste, you write down which one you think each is and you find out at the end of June! 

And though you might not know the difference between any of them, it’s more about choosing your favourite and enjoying the very rare opportunity to taste four such high quality wines in one place. It doesn’t matter if you get it right. It’s not a competition.

It’s totally a competition!

Blaxlands Inn First Fire dinner #HVWFF21

Tonight, we’re at Blaxland Inn for the official start of the festival – the First Fire. 

The inn is serving a huge carnivore dinner with paired beers from Lord Nelson Brewery, and when you’re not dining or imbibing, you can go outside and roast yourself on the big fire. It’s actually warmer outside than it is in!

A big fire, live music, rows of long tables, feasting, merrymaking and new friends – it doesn’t get much better. We immediately fall in love with our table buddies Anne-Marie and Paul from nearby Newcastle – I even forego the beard envy!

Blaxlands Inn First Fire Dinner tomahawk #HVWFF21

As the night moves through its gears, so do the dishes. Soon the much-anticipated tomahawk steaks come out. Now, I have history with these Flintstone style monster cuts and I’m interested to see if my body remembers. 

Thankfully, I’m not expected to eat a whole two-kilo tomahawk by myself this time, so the experience is far less gluttonous or painful! Indeed, the night is an absolute pleasure and we roll into our bed full and happy.

This morning, we’re up (reasonably) early for a bite to eat at the much-loved Cafe Enzo before our first activity of the festival. Bacon and avo roll for me, creamed corn, egg and bacon on toast for Christina.

We would have eaten at the Oaks Cypress Lakes, but we got up too late. During the weekend – as the hotel warns – if you’re not down at the restaurant by about 8.30, you’re in a very long queue of more patient guests and lots of hungry golfers. 

We arrive at Whispering Brook Winery early – mostly so we can annoy the winery dog. Mission accomplished! I think Christina’s got the good end here; by the time I get a pat, this good boi has discovered the virtues of a good butt scratch!

Whispering Brook Olive Long Table Lunch #HVWFF21

Whispering Brook is an interesting winery. Initially owners Susan and Adam thought they would have olives as a mainstay crop, but when they had success with some intriguing Portuguese wine grapes, they ended up with a winery. 

They still have the olive groves, and they do more with them than hold this spectacular luncheon once a year amidst the orchard’s branches, but this is very much what we’re here for today.

Whispering Brook’s Olive Long Table Luncheon is an icon of the Hunter Valley Wine and Food Festival – and justly so.

Whispering Brook Hunter Valley #HVWFF21

In between dog-annoying and lunching, Christina and I get to explore some of the vines and enjoy their wines. This is such a pretty spot and highly recommended for its lovely cellar door, sumptuous olive oil, tapenade and alike, and also for beautifully sophisticated old-world style wine. And a very cute dog of course!

Whispering Brook Olive Long Table Lunch #HVWFF21

The Olive Long Table Luncheon is in full swing! Such a fun thing to do – though you’ll have to wait till next year for your chance now. Make sure you sign up to Whispering Brook’s mail list so you don’t miss out.

Still life paint and sip Tullochs #HVWFF21

This afternoon we’re donning our smocks for a spot of painting. We’re giving some still-life a shot at the Paint & Sip at Tulloch Winery, where we learn some basic painting skills thanks to Lucy Isaacs of The Art Social, while sampling some of Tulloch’s finest. 

It’s amazing how much better you think your painting is than what it looks like the next day!

Margan Wines garden #HVWFF21

This morning, we’re at the impressive kitchen garden of Margan Wines. With an eye firmly on sustainability and fine dining, this winery is a must whenever you’re in the Hunter. 

But today, along with a tour of the garden, the chooks and the huge greenhouse, we’re learning about complete cooking at Margan’s Scale to Tail seafood cooking masterclass. And lunch of course! 

Margan Wines scale to tale cooking masterclass #HVWFF21

In the stunning cavernous private tasting room, Margan’s head chef Chef Joey Ingram takes us through the process of breaking down a whole salmon and using every single bit of it. His knowledge and skills are enthralling, and it really shows the level of intelligence in this kitchen.

Margan cooking masterclass Head Chef Joey Ingram #HVWFF21

As well as showing us cuts, curing techniques, cooking tips, knife skills and best practices, Chef Joey knocks up a quick DIY smoker to make some smoked salmon. Perfectly normal. 

We get to taste the result of the smoking at lunch by the way. Freshly smoked fresh salmon is completely different to the stuff you buy in the supermarket. It’ll be hard to go back to that to be honest.

Margan lunch #HVWFF21

After the cooking demo (thankfully Chef Joey doesn’t ask us to recreate any of his masterpieces!) we head to the garden for a multi-course degustation lunch with matching wines. 

Here are some of the dishes Joey and his crew dish up. Top pic is hand-rolled gnocchi with pancetta, Swiss chard, beurre noisette and pecorino cheese shavings. This is paired with Margan Ceres Hill Chardonnay.

The second photo is roasted salmon coins with yacon, celery and dehydrated parsley dust served with Margan’s Albarino. The third here is beautifully cooked duck breast with witlof, parsnip and beetroot dust served with Margan’s 2017 limited release Shiraz.

There are more dishes, but you get the idea! It’s also amazing that a lot of the fresh produce in these dishes is grown here at the winery.


Dessert comes with a glass of the winery’s botrytis Semillon. In a real show of the kitchen’s artistry, we’re served three quenelles of ash brie mousse, pear sorbet and poached quince. What a meal.

Tintilla Port and Cheese paring #HVWFF21

Our last event for the weekend is up the road at Tintilla Estate. This family-run winery is very homely and relaxed, and you’ll always find at least one of the Lusby family working the cellar door. 

We’re welcomed by youngest son Edward, who takes us through Tintilla’s activity for the festival – a port and cheese paring. 

Tintilla have four ‘ports’ currently – a wonderfully light sharp fortified Semillon (the Edwardo), a barrel-aged version of the same fortified Semillon (the Vincento), a brooding fortified Shiraz (Shortland R.N Reserve) and a very portly 21-year barrel aged liqueur Shiraz (the Old Parish).

We head back to our villa tired, full and happy. Though we’re not too tired nor too full to give it all one last nudge. 

With the fire blazing, we settle in for a cheese platter and a glass of wine, and reflect on what’s been a wonderful beginning of this festival. We’ll be back for the last weekend at the end of June to see how things are going and to enjoy more of this wonderful region.

Margan Family Winery #HVWFF21

We hope you’ve enjoyed this Edition. There’s still plenty for us to tell you about, so watch this space for more on the Hunter Valley and the not-to-be-missed Hunter Valley Wine and Food Festival.

Cheers – Jim & Christina xx

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