Once upon a time weekend escapes to the wine regions of Australia were the top of our destination list. My husband, friends and I loved to spend all day sitting tasting wines, talking to the cellar door staff or winemakers and eating out at the regional restaurants.
But when the kids come along that all came to a grinding holt and weekends became full of zoo visits and park play dates…. We have a three and a five year old and since they were born we’ve had the odd escape to the wineries but not really done the tasting circuit – the thought of keeping the kids entertained with their 2 minute attention spam and the temptation for them to run and explore in an environment where others are trying to seriously taste makes the scenario far from relaxing. So when our good friends (also with a one year old) suggested a weekend in the Hunter Valley to go wine tasting we were nervous. It’s easy for a baby in a pram to be entertained, but with our little rebels, not quite so simple.
So off we ventured…
Given I work in the wine industry my kids are exposed to wine daily – they know what vineyards are, see regular deliveries of wine to our door and I’ve even had an instance of my daughter foot- stomping strawberries in the kitchen after she saw a Youtube video I was editing for a client. They are curious and as kids growing up in the city a trip to the winery is a great opportunity for us to talk about agriculture – the process of growing a product and the process of which it’s made whilst reinforcing that until they are older this is something for adults.
We came prepared (although never factored in torrential rain all weekend!). There were new ipad games downloaded, drawing kits in the handbag and even lollies for bribes as a last resort if we needed it. We had a great base to stay in at The Vintry – perfect for 2 families so that everyone had their own bedroom and bathroom and the kids were so excited to start the day with Kangaroo’s feeding on the lawn out the back.
Thanks to the kindness of a few Hunter Valley locals we had a lot of fun and managed to visit the Small Winemaker Centre, Tyrrell’s Wines, Scarborough Wine Co, Audrey Wilkinson, McWilliams Wines, Lindemans, De Iuliis and Tulloch’s – about all the ipad battery would allow. A few more photos up on my Pinterest Board of the Hunter Valley
We came home with four cases of wine after doing a speed tasting and sampling a small part of the best wines the Hunter Valley had to offer. Here are some of the stand out favourites that we enjoyed and some tips of places to go and see in the Hunter Valley if you are visiting with young children:
Wineries to visit:
I’ll be upfront and disclose that I work with the fabulous team here but their cellar door team had no idea who we were and the service was exceptional. The Cellar Door staff made sure that the kids were given poppas, and something to do before they took us through the range of wines. You really are made to feel welcome in a fun and relaxed environment where the whole family had a great time.
Sally Scarborough had also kindly given the kids a book called “George the Clever Grape” by Peter Healy which explained the winemaking journey through characters such as ‘Henry the Harvester’ or ‘Bertie the Barrel’ and it was a great way to contextualize what was happening in the cellar doors and wineries around them. They were excited to see the tanks, the barrels and understand a bit more about the winemaking process.
Wine Highlights – Scarborough 2010 Yellow Label Chardonnay, Scarborough White Label Chardonnay 2010 and the new release of the 2011 White Label Shiraz.
The kids highlight of the weekend – the Tyrrell’s Cellar Door team were quick to find some paper and pens and make sure that the kids were busy drawing away whilst they took us through the range. Wines were exceptional and the kids enjoyed the tour through parts of the winery.
Chris Tyrrell then earned himself “hero status” in my 5 year olds eyes by allowing her to be his assistant and the mere job of turning an on/ off button on the pump and tasting one of the ferments will be something she talks about for years too come – I hate to think about what she tells the teacher for news this week! Thanks Mr Tyrrell – future vintage worker happily in training.
Wine Highlights – 2009 Vat 47 Chardonnay, 2011 Johnno’s Shiraz and Johnno’s Basket Pressed Semillon.
This winery has one of the most spectacular views of the Hunter and wines to rival the views! You can feel the energy of the cellar door team who genuinely looked like they were having a ball passionately telling the stories of the wines they were showing. Fabulous Semillon, Shiraz and some great Chardonnay too. Worth taking the time to explore the museum to explore some historical artifacts from a brand that goes back to 1866.
Wine Highlights – Audrey Wilkinson 2009 The Ridge Reserve Semillon, Audrey Wilkinson 2010 The Lake Shiraz, Audrey Wilkinson 2010 Winemakers Selection Merlot Cabernet.
A visually stunning cellar door with well-informed and friendly staff. Whilst we were impressed with the consistency and quality of all of the wines, the kids loved climbing up to the top of the top of the Belltower (thinking they were Rapunzel).
Wine Highlights – 2011 Cellar Release Tempranillo and 2011 Cellar Release Sangiovese. If you want to splurge and find something for the cellar then we loved the 2009 Limited Release Hunter Valley Shiraz
A speedy visit to Tulloch’s on this trip on our way back to the accommodation so we only tasted a small amount of the range. Always a great winery to visit full of history.
Wine Highlights – The 2012 Pinot Gris from Orange and we stocked up on some Hector Shiraz 2009 given it was my son’s year of birth and we know this will last for some time to come.
Places to see and eat:
A must stop destination if you’ve got younger children. The Storybook garden is lots of fun and my children always ask to go back.
We’d not been to the Beltree before but had been highly recommended and worth the visit. The salt roasted pork belly and home style Roast Chicken were superb and small touches to accommodate the children and make sure they were well looked after also greatly appreciated.
Fabulous coffee and let’s face it – if you have little kids with you there’s no sleep in going to happen so by 8am in the morning you’ll be in need of a good coffee and they serve Campos coffee and great breakfasts.
We did not get there on this trip, but the Hunter Valley Chocolate factory is also a fun place to stop with the kids.
Where we stayed:
Luxurious and the perfect venue for 4 couples or families. There are 4 bedrooms each with their own ensuite and host Greg Mincher goes out of his way to make sure you feel welcome.
A fabulous kitchen and dining facility means that you can sit back and enjoy a bottle of wine with friends without having to venture off the property. The kids loved being able to get up in the morning and see the Kangaroo’s feeding on the lawn outside and despite it being pouring rain they had an absolute ball.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay check out the Wine Country website that has lots of great options – . There’s also a new wine country app that you can download with suggestions on places to see and where to go
So that’s our weekend of indulgence….
FOOD FOR THOUGHT FOR WINERIES…
Families may not be the core target market for wineries, but those who think about how they look after the children so that the parents can taste will definitely reap the rewards. There’s a large market out there to cater for and whilst most families are unlikely to visit the number of wineries that we visited, many are keen for a getaway. If you’re a winery reading this, worth thinking through what small steps you might be able to make to cater for all types of visitors as something as small as a poppa or something to colour in will mean parents have more time to appreciate your product and no doubt purchase more wine.
We’re off to Mudgee and Orange over Easter weekend so if we survive the trip in the car with little people, will report back with some more great options.