Famous for wine & coal
Inland north-west from Newcastle. This region is famous for wine and coal. If you wish to visit the coalmines, instead of touring the vineyards and sampling the wine, perhaps you should look elsewhere. But just to set your mind at rest, every now and again (especially in the upper region of the valley) huge open-cast mines add their touch of colour to the unrelenting greenery. And at Burning Mountain, north of Scone, there’s even smoke from a perpetually smouldering subterranean coal seam. (Geologists reckon that this was probably lit by an earthquake. Scientific estimates date the fire has burned for approx. 6,000 years.)
Fortunately, the best vineyards are in the lower part of the valley. The chief town here is Cessnock, just off the main valley, amidst pleasant rolling countryside watered by running streams. Here you can pick up an excellent map of the Hunter Valley wine region at the Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism Association at 2090 Broke Road, Pokolbin (www.winecountry.com.au).
Harvest time in Australia is around February and March, and Cessnock stages a suitably bacchanalian Hunter Valley Wine Festival every October.
Cessnock makes a useful base if you’re planning a comprehensive sampling of the vineyards and their products. There are more than here dozen wineries in the area, mostly a few kilometres to the north-west of Cessnock. (Head for Pokolbin, and take McDonalds Road north; at the crossroads with Broke Road there are vineyards in every direction.) Most of these vineyards are opening for tasting. Remember, though, that this delightful custom is intended as a prelude to some actual purchasing. These are not charity organisations for roaming oenologists. (Though you’ll find the wine talk here can be as knowledgeable as anywhere, and without too much of the superfluous stronzo.)
Almost all the wineries in the Hunter Valley offer tastings. A highly recommended winery is Reynolds Yarraman on Yaraman Road, and it is worth searching for. Here you’ll find some of the finest wines in the entire region in a superb setting. On Marrowbone Road you’ll find McWilliams Mount Pleasant, a historic spot that has been renowned for its wine for well over a century.
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