Australia's oldest wine region
The Hunter Valley – or just 'The Hunter' as it is affectionately known – is Australia's oldest wine region, dating back to the beginnings of European settlement when New South Wales was a penal colony for the British Empire. The Hunter River was discovered by accident in 1797, when British Lieutenant John Shortland was searching for escaped convicts.
The first larger planting of The Hunter began in 1825 when James Busby purchased land here. Busby had travelled through Spain, France and South Africa collecting cuttings from more than 500 vineyards. When he returned to NSW, many of the cuttings were planted in The Hunter. Not surprising, Busby is known as the ‘Father of the Australian wine industry’*.
Heading for The Hunter
You'll find The Hunter just three hours’ drive north of Sydney. As such, it’s a popular weekend getaway for Sydney-siders and one of Australia’s most popular wine tourism destinations. The region is separated into the Upper and Lower Hunter. Most wineries are found in the Lower, in the foothills of the Brokenback range.
Hot and wet!
With a sub-tropical climate, The Hunter has the distinction of being one of the hottest and wettest regions in Australia. Summer days can reach 40°C, but as its close to the coast, it also benefits from maritime influences when the Upper Hunter acts like a funnel and Pacific Ocean breezes are ‘pulled’ into the region. Without this cooling effect, grape production would almost be impossible. Soils vary, with much of it unsuitable for grapes. The Lower Hunter has sandy alluvial soils suitable for Semillon, and deep loam planted in Shiraz. In the Brokenback range you’ll find volcanic basalt strips sought-after for their concentrated minerality notes in the resulting fruit.
Wines to try
Hunter Valley is best-known for its Semillon and Shiraz (you’ll find Merlot and Cabernet here, but it is overshadowed by the successful Shiraz). Chardonnay has long historical roots in the region and Hunter Verdelho is also a stable, albeit a lesser-known, variety. Other, experimental varietals include Tempranillo, Barbera and Vermentino.
The Hunter Valley Food & Wine Festival
Held every May and June, this major event is a celebration of all things Hunter in food and wine. You can dine with Hunter Valley winemakers and chefs, attend a cooking class, or swap stories with friends around an open fire, a glass of fine wine in hand, a cheese platter by your side. The festival is possibly the best way to experience this diverse, and oldest, region.
*Busby was appointed ‘British Resident of New Zealand’ in 1833 and sent to the Bay of Islands. He was instrumental in drafting the 1835 Declaration of Independence of New Zealand and the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi. He brought with him some of his European wine stock and planted a vineyard in Waitangi in 1883, making his first vintages by 1840.