RIPE FOR THE HARVEST
February marks the beginning of the grape harvesting season, and the Hunter Valley literally bristles with activity and excitement. Now is the time to take a morning wander through the vines as the dew evaporates with the morning sun. Sit in the shade of a tree at midday, cool glass of wine in hand, and let the heady aromas and tastes of a Semillon wash away the summer heat.
The two hour drive north to the Hunter Valley is a well warn path for Sydneysiders seeking a reprieve from the pressures of city living. As one of Australia’s premier holiday destinations, the region has a lot to offer, especially for food and wine enthusiasts. The Hunter is one of the largest river valleys on New South Wales coast and the oldest wine producing region in Australia. Whilst it’s well known for its epicurean delights, the Hunter Valley also has a proud heritage of horse breeding that spans 150 years. Recognised internationally as Australia’s horse breeding capital and home to the world’s leading thoroughbred breeders, the horse breeding industry in the Hunter is another important part of the local economy. It is also and an increasingly important part of the Australian heritage, another feather in the cap of a region that is every bit a cultural experience as it is a relaxing holiday. Hunter Valley is divided into two areas; the Upper and Lower Hunter, both having a very similar climate and landscape. Summers in the valley can be extremely hot, so much so that the delicate styles of wine cannot be produced in the Upper Hunter. The average annual rainfall is quite low with most of the rains falling during the harvest season, effectively diluting the sweetness of the grapes. These conditions, coupled with gentle sea breezes have graced the wine producers of the Hunter with a unique advantage that has lead to the production of the trademark wines of the region — the best Semillon and Shiraz in the world.
The diversity of the Australian continent never ceases to amaze me. It exhibits such a variety of climates, flora and fauna, even within the same species. A good example of this is the vast difference in taste between the grapes of one wine producing area when compared to the same grape variety of another. Take Semillon, the Semillon produced in the Barossa Valley has the sweetest of characteristics, coming with a dark yellow colour and strong aroma of peach and mango, then later on, vanilla. Semillon from the Hunter Valley however, is a completely different thing altogether. At first it looks almost too clear and chilly, a little dull, but let time weave its magic and years later you will be rewarded with a fantastic bottle of wine that has an aroma of honey, toast and nuts.
Oenophiles from all over the world have made the pilgrimage to the Hunter Valley, drawn by the promise of world class wine tasting tours. February marks the beginning of the grape harvesting season, and the valley literally bristles with activity and excitement. Now is the time to take a morning wander through a vineyard as the dew evaporates with the morning sun, or sit in the shade of a tree at midday, cool glass of wine in hand, and let the heady aromas and tastes of a Semillon wash away the summer heat.
There are of course, any number of ways to fully appreciate the Hunter Valley. You can float above the grape vines in a hot air balloon, or sample your favourite local wine and produce on a horse-drawn carriage tour. Whichever way you choose to enjoy this region, make sure you do it with a wine glass in your hand, and raise it in a toast of gratitude for the bounties of the magnificent Hunter Valley, and the Australian way of life.