Hunter Valley wine tourism tips for self-drivers

David Whitley looks at how to do a day out wine tasting without going over the drink drive limit

The appeal of going to a major international wine region and going round all day sampling wines is fairly obvious, and few places do the wine tourism thing better than the Hunter Valley.

This is partly due to its proximity to Sydney – it’s two to two-and-a-half hours’ drive out of the big city, which ensures a steady stream of people on short breaks and the infrastructure to cater for them. 

The major problem, however, is that the Hunter is not well served by public transport – both in terms of getting there and getting around the sprawling vineyard area. And this means that, without military style planning, you’re probably going to have to go there by car.

There’s an obvious flaw to this – if you want to go round tasting wine, then you’re very quickly going to be over the drink driving limit. 

The easy way to deal with this problem is to take the car, park it up and go out tasting on a tour. There are numerous tours available, and the general rule is that the bigger the bus, the more bog standard the wineries you’ll go to. Going for smaller local operators who have relationships with the wineries is more rewarding. The Hunter Valley YHA does its own tours for from $55 – usually with small groups, visiting the smaller wineries.

Splashing out a bit more (think $400 per couple), Aussie Wine Tours will take you round in a private car, tailoring the wineries visited to your tastes. 

But if going it alone, it’s that selectiveness that is key. One of the Hunter’s great selling points is that there’s very little wine snobbery. The wineries know that the whole gamut will walk in through their doors – from serious wine buyers to people who basically know it’s made out of grapes and nothing else. The people at the cellar doors will happily guide you through the best ways to taste, and point you in the direction of the sorts of wines that’ll suit your palate.

As a general rule, you’ll get to taste five (roughly) 20ml samples at each winery. That comes out at approximately one standard drink. So for drivers, a rule of thumb is that men can get away with two full tastings, and women one. Add an extra one if you spread it over a few hours and eat in between. 

So you can’t go OTT, but you can still do a few tastings while driving yourself round.

The key is in picking the right wineries. I dropped into the tourist information centre on the way in and asked which wineries do the big, gutsy reds I prefer and which do unusual varietals – such as Zinfandel and Viognier. The woman recommended Piggs Peake, Ivanhoe and Peterson’s – which proved to be spot-on choices. 

 

 

It’s worth asking similar questions at the wineries themselves. Most cellar door workers will happily make suggestions for the best of the rest.

The other, and probably rather obvious tactic, is to extend the day by limiting the number of wines you sample at each winery. 

Three wines at five wineries will give you a better sample (and day out) than five wines at three wineries. Narrow it down to the ones you’re most likely to buy or enjoy – if you’re not a white wine drinker, just stick to the reds for expediency’s sake. Similarly, there’s no point trying ones that are out of your price range if you’re narrowing down which to buy. It’s also worth asking the person serving them which three in particular they’d recommend trying.

And, if you want to extend beyond the drink driving limit, check which wineries are within walking distance of your accommodation. Tackle them last, after you’ve visited wineries further afield and parked the car up, on foot. 

 

Handily, you can get Australia included as a stopover on a Navigator RTW

We also sell breaks in the Hunter Valley

by David Whitley