Carla Grossetti is one of Australia’s leading food, wine and travel writers. She headed to the Hunter Valley to find 10 of the best boutique wineries.
We drive north from Sydney up the M1 motorway to Maitland before following the signs to Cessnock and then onto Pokolbin. The drive from Sydney takes around two and a half hours.
The Hunter Valley’s world-class wineries are popular year-round for different reasons. Visit between March and May and you will find the vineyards ablaze in all their autumnal glory; in winter, the weather is cool enough for you to cruise around the vineyards by bike and enjoy a roaring fire at night; summer is when garden gigs offer good vibes and music amid the vineyards; and spring is when the first buds begin to bloom on the vines.
Tips for tasty tipples
While some wineries charge a fee to sample wines, others offer one-on-one tutorials with the winemaker. Most places will ship a box of wine home for you (for a fee). To get the most of your tasting experience, take a Taste of the Hunter Wine Tour, or become a member so you get a VIP experience. Many of the boutique Hunter Valley producers rely on cellar door sales to survive and so your server will appreciate your enthusiasm and commitment to a minimum spend.
The Top 10 boutique wineries
Scarborough Wine Co.
So you thought wine tasting was only for couples? Scarborough Wine Co. Cellar Door does a great job of disproving that theory and selling the Hunter Valley as a family-friendly destination. The sun-splashed tasting room at Scarborough Wine Co. is popular with parents who like to toast their good fortune that their children are happy playing giant Jenga, chess and kicking a ball about.
Go for: The tutored sit-down tasting with Mr Obsessive himself, Ian Scarborough.
Signature wine: Scarborough 2013 ‘The Obsessive’ Chardonnay has a crisp, dry finish.
Personal Pick: The Scarborough Wine Co. Obsessive Semillon from the single-vineyard site.
Where: 79 Gillards Road, Pokolbin, NSW
Although Boydell’s is a relatively new boutique brand in the Hunter, the seven-hectare property run by Daniel and Jane Maroulis dates back to 1826. The small-scale vineyard located in East Gresford, near Maitland, is planted with hectares of shiraz, pinot noir, merlot, verdelho and chardonnay. Discover which wines best suit your palate at the cellar door housed in an old slab hut in Morpeth or at Boydell’s rustic restaurant next door, where the full complement of wines can be added to your order.
Go for: A truly memorable wine tasting in Boydell’s restaurant near to the large, open fireplace.
Signature wine: Boydell’s Estate Chardonnay 2020 is a lively integration of stonefruit and citrus flavours.
Personal Pick: Boydell’s Reserve Shiraz Pinot Noir 2020, which is a deeply rich purple in the glass.
Where: 2 Green St, Morpeth, NSW
Hanging Tree Winery
Take a moment to breathe in the countryside at Hanging Tree Wines’ cellar door, which is housed within an old cow shed. Gaze out over the smooth folds of the Brokenback Mountain Ranges to really feel the synergy of the place which sits on rich parcel of volcanic soil and red clay. Visit the pet-friendly cellar door to taste the terroir in the award-winning chardonnays, Semillon, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. Factor in a wander around the rose garden.
Go for: A picnic or a local cheese platter paired with wines and olive oils produced at the Hanging Tree Wines’ estate.
Signature wine: The 2021 Hanging Tree Wines’ Hunter Semillon, which is classic, blended and off-dry.
Personal pick: Sparkling Shiraz which has hints of ripe berry and spice and pairs well with BBQ ribs.
Where: 294 O’Connors Road, Pokolbin, NSW
Count yourself lucky if cellar door manager Steven Pike is on hand to walk you through a wine tasting at this storied Hunter Valley estate. Steven’s passion and enthusiasm for showcasing the Briar Ridge wines is palpable and his playlist (and music knowledge) inspired. The location is also a real draw: you will feel your shoulders soften while looking out over the rolling hills laid out over the landscape like a patchwork quilt.
Go for: The Briar Hill wines and stay for a tasting paired with a gourmet Binnorie Dairy cheese platter.
Signature wine: 2014 Dairy Hill Single Vineyard Shiraz, a great full-bodied shiraz.
Personal Pick: The Briar Ridge ‘Big Bully’ Cabernet Sauvignon
Where: 593 Mount View Road, Mt View, NSW
Winmark means ‘Fields of Wines’ in Danish, the native tongue of owner Karin Adcock. And, wines aside, there are a lot of stories that intertwine with Karin’s heritage and make this lovingly restored property worth a visit. The 52-hectare property is now home to 12 hectares of premium chardonnay vines overlooked by the buttery-hued Yellow Rock Escarpment on the horizon, making Winmark Wines a top spot for a tipple.
Go for: The wines, rose garden, sculptures, art gallery, and cellar door housed in rustic wine storage sheds.
Signature wine: The Winmark 2019 Single Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay
Personal pick: The 2019 Winmark Rusty’s Run Chardonnay, which is a great example of classic Hunter Valley fruit.
Where: 189-229 Wollombi Road, Broke, NSW
Usher Tinkler Wines
It’s fitting that an old church in Pokolbin has become somewhat of a gastronomic temple in the Hunter Valley. Every wine tasting at the quirky Usher Tinkler Wines cellar door is accompanied by a platter of local cheeses, salumi, honey and house-made pickles. Next-gen winemaker Usher Tinkler pushes the limits when it comes to winemaking, blurring the boundaries between innovation and tradition. The whole experience is an epiphany.
Go for: The experience of sipping on wines in the old 1905 church, which has been faithfully restored, or the brand-new VIP tasting room.
Signature wine: Usher Tinkler Wines’ The Chicken Semillon Chardonnay Blend
Personal pick: Usher Tinkler Wines’ The Pig Shiraz Merlot Blend
Where: 97 McDonalds Road, Pokolbin, NSW
Never judge a wine label by its cover unless of course it falls under the umbrella of the Vinden Wines brand. Trailblazing second-gen viticulturist Angus Vinden has taken over the reins of the family-run business and given it a refresh under the Vinden Wines label, which produces traditional Hunter-style wines as well as more experimental minimal-intervention wines under the Headcase and lignée labels. The estate presents like an idyllic Tuscan farmhouse, albeit one run by real-deal Hunter Valley hipsters.
Go for: Wines that are an evolved expression of the Hunter Valley accompanied by a killer cellar door playlist.
Signature wine: 2021 Somerset Vinden Wines Verdelho
Personal pick: 2021 Vinden Headcase Shiraz Nouveau
Where: 138 Gillards Road, Pokolbin, NSW
Wild Ren Wines
You will see the familiar through fresh eyes at Wild Ren Wines’ cellar door, which reads more like a wine bar than a place for a tasting. Owner Renee Burton (ex-Gundog Estate and known as Ren to her friends) couldn’t resist branching out in this evocative sandstone building located in Peppers Creek Village. The chic space, which has new navy cabinetry and halo lights, is matched by the bold and beautiful designs splashed across each label. Rene has collaborated with winemaker Scott Comyns (Comyns & Co) to produce the wines on offer in the contemporary cellar door.
Go for: The experience of popping in and out of all the dinky boutique businesses dotted around Peppers Creek Village.
Signature wine: 2021 Wild Wren Wines Off Dry Grüner Veltiner
Personal pick: 2019 Wild Wren Wines Reserve Shiraz
Where: Peppers Creek Village, 1946 Broke Road, Pokolbin, NSW
The 1813 Cellar Door is one of the must-dos when it comes to Hunter Valley wineries. Arrive here in the early afternoon when the sun is bursting over the Yellow Rock sandstone escarpment and linger all afternoon in the elegant steel-framed glass atrium, which is so close to the vines of Tinonee Vineyard Estate you could offer to help out during the annual harvest. The cellar door feels like it fell straight out of The Hamptons via Manhattan and as well as producing quaffable drops is a dreamy destination in its own right.
Go for: The romance of lingering at a cellar door with a difference in the heart of the Hunter Valley.
Signature wine: All wines are estate grown and the 1813 Reserve Shiraz The Governor, is their flagship.
Personal pick: The 2021 Fiano
Where: 1273 Milbroadale Road, Broke, NSW
Comyns & Co
You might want to devote an entire weekend to visiting the cellar door at Comyns & Co, a Hunter Valley winery run by Scott Comyns (winemaker) and his manager wife Missy (cellar door manager). Sit at the bar, linger in the lounge, or book a tutored tasting around a table with friends to sample Comyns & Co’s stellar Hunter Valley wines made from small-batch parcels of locally grown fruit. The Comyns have made their mark since they first opened in 2016 by producing vintages that are set to become increasingly complex.
Go for: The impassioned discussions about wine in the stylish and contemporary cellar door, which is filled with local artworks.
Signature: 2021 Grüner Comyns & Co Off Dry Grüner Vetliner described as “all Granny Smith apples and honeysuckle”.
Personal pick: The Sparkling Grüner, Popsy, named in honour of the couple’s two daughters Polly and Topsy.
Where: 1946 Broke Road, Pokolbin, NSW