WHEN WE think of Down Under in terms of drink, an ice-cold can of lager under the cloudless skies by the beach springs to mind. However, the country goes beyond the stereotype that we associate with, for Australia is currently preparing itself for the celebrations of the Hunter Valley Wine and Food Month over the course of June. Hunter Valley sits just North of Sydney within the region of New South Wales. The region has a diverse selection of terrain, which have been used to produce an array of unique, delicious wines.

In an interview with Qantas (www.qantas.com/travel/airlines/nsw-wine-industry/gb/en) wine specialist Sally Cantelo explains that the Hunter Valley is just one piece of a much larger picture. “New South Wales has a great cellar door culture, with over 300 cellar doors to choose from.” Sally recommends that you pick an area that interests you, grab a map and go! So, Essential Journeys has put together a selection of the region’s best producers that you should go and experience for yourself.

BurnbraeBurnbrae Vineyards, Mudgee – One of the most respected vineyards in the area is Burnbrae, a family-owned business that is experienced in traditional agricultural farming and has been growing the vines for ten years. According to Trine Bryant, daughter of owners Tony and Jill Bryant: “For us, a boutique wine is something that is nurtured with care and that comes from the heart. Everything we do here at Burnbrae gets given the same amount of care and thought from our vines to the winery, our cellar door and wines and even our guests’ experiences.” You can really taste the care and attention in the wine they produce. Trine recommends trying their Clive Gale, Burnbrae Cuvee and the Jilly’s Pick Chardonnay. They hold the ‘Best Shiraz’ and ‘Most Outstanding Red’ titles from the local Mudgee Wine Show for their Shiraz, which was only bottled last August. Trine’s wine-tasting tip is: “If you like it, drink it!”

CassegrainCassegrain Vineyard, Hastings River, Port Macquarie – The vineyard, named after the owner John Cassegrain, boasts having the perfect climate and conditions for growing French-like vines that neighbours Port Macquarie along the coastline. Their philosophy is to produce high-quality wine, focusing on traditional French winemaking techniques combined with the latest Australian technology, and using online the best grapes. John Cassegrain suggests having their Fromenteau Chardonnay. “The bouquet is vibrant and lively with a delicious infusion of apple blossoms, cinnamon spiced pears and lemon curd. The rich and opulent palate explodes with a focused core of creamy fig and white fleshed peaches, entwined with a lashing of buttery oak that lingers on the lengthy, lingering finish.” It should be partnered with Australian East Coast rock lobster.

KrinklewoodKrinklewood Vineyard, Hunter Valley, Broke – This vineyard take an alternative approach to their farming – making organic produce the heart of their business. Owners Rod and Suzanne Windrim ensure the family business focuses on techniques of produce that do not have any non-organic elements, to ensure their wines are full of flavour. Peter Windrim, son of vineyard owners, explains that their philosophy is “to love the land, learn that there is no quick fix for the plants growth, nor for their survival. But there is magic in manure.” Peter recommends visitors try their Basket Press Chardonnay, which should be matched with a ploughman’s plate that has lots of pickled veggies and chillies. When people visit the area, Peter suggests going for a morning hike into the ranges. “I’d find an old pub for lunch. Then I’d go wine tasting at one or two places that you like the sound of, buy a couple of bottles, pick up some cheese and bread, and then head to the river with a blanket for dusk. There’s never a bad sunset in the Hunter.”

MoppityMoppity Vineyards, Hilltops, Young – You will find this particular vineyard at the highest point of the Hilltops region, where the warm meets the cool; there is also a second vineyard situated within Tumbarumba in the Snowy Mountains. For owners Jason and Alicia Brown, this prized vineyard has achieved over 800 awards since 2009, including some of the biggest in Australia. However, this is only the beginning for this family-owned business. Two favourites from this vineyard are the Moppity Vineyards Reserve Hilltops Shiraz and the Tumbarumba Chardonnay. The latter wine should be enjoyed with some freshly shucked oysters.