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As we drove into the famed Hunter Valley, lush green vineyards and big blue skies greeted us with the warmth of a long lost friend. There was a buzz of activity in the air that ignited a sense of celebratory adventure. For we were there to sample the best food and wine that this phenomenal region has to offer. We were about to take part in the famed Lovedale Long Lunch, a progressive menu that would see us enjoy a starter, entrée and dessert, but each in an entirely different vineyard.
We had risen bright and early to catch our plush air-conditioned shuttle bus from Sydney to the Hunter Valley. Now just two hours later, we were surrounded by an array of snappily dressed gourmands ready to gorge themselves on nature’s bounty.
From Where’s Wally? characters, to pirates and mermaids, the party spirit was already in full swing, with or without the alcohol. I decided that my summery dress didn’t quite cut it among the colourful foam costumes and glittering tiaras, so I decided to raise my game next time.
As we drove to our first destination we spotted several couples enjoying an idyllic bike ride between the beautiful wineries. I was smitten with the idea of riding between the vineyards with the wind blowing in my hair. But once we arrived at the first vineyard and say how much wine was free for you to imbibe, I decided that it was probably safer that I used the mini bus.
Hunter Valley is most recognised for the Semillon, which when young, is deliciously crisp with abundant citrus aromas and with age, develops rich vanilla and honey flavours. The valley also produces some outstanding Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Verdelho and Chardonnay.
Our first port of call was Gartelmann Wines in Lovedale. We sat by the lake of the award-winning vineyard and tucked into a mouthwatering summery dish of ocean trout garnished with creme fraiche and salsa verde. This we decided to pair with a refreshing glass of the vibrant and medium-bodied 2009 Gartelmann Jessica Verdelho, named apparently after the owner’s feisty and much beloved mother. My heart skipped a beat when I tasted the delicate ocean trout that was elegantly paired with beautiful ribbons of cucumber and carrot. And the spicy Verdelho was the perfect match.
Next stop was Emma’s Cottage an organic vineyard on the intriguing sounding Wilderness Road. The queues were significantly longer here than at our first stop, but while we were here we had the chance to visit the cellar door, art gallery and walk through the impressive gardens that were filled with the scent of thousands of blooming roses. The long queues also gave me the chance to gracefully negotiate with my husband that I needed to use his dessert ticket in addition to mine. With the highly-renowned Amanda’s On The Edge restaurant behind the menu how was I to decide between vanilla seed panna cotta and a cheese plate of oak smoked Kalamata olives with Binnorie Brie and lavosh? An impossible task. Really.
While I had swiftly moved on to dessert, my husband decided to enjoy his entrée in this picturesque vineyard. The flame grilled tiger prawns that he chose were a seamless match with the 2010 Emma’s Cottage Semillon. And the roasted pumpkin, spring onion and herb couscous – yes, somehow I managed to wangle a taste of this too – was the perfect complement thanks to its sweet and salty undertones. The fragrant Sri Lankan chicken curry with mango chutney and yogurt raita that was being enjoyed by our neighbour, also left us with a little food envy too.
While we only had time to enjoy just one day instead of two at the Lovedale Long Lunch, it didn’t take long for us to embrace the relaxed vibe. With the sun on our face and the soft chatter of the winemakers, chefs and wine lovers in the background, our time in the Hunter Valley couldn’t have felt more blissful. Lunch in the vineyards is simply spectacular, and whether you have just 12 hours or 48 hours, it’s definitely not an experience to miss.
It was clear that it was an experience that everyone wanted to take away with them. As our mini bus rolled from vineyard to vineyard, it clinked and rattled rather than roared, thanks to everyone finding it the perfect opportunity to stock up on their favourite vintages.
Our last stop was Sandalyn Wilderness Estate, a boutique winery nestled in a garden setting surrounded by olive groves. Our progressive lunch had come to an end and it was now officially time for dessert. We shared Redsalt‘s Black Label Scotch Whisky fudge-cake with double cream and chocolate velvet sauce, which was decadently rich and dense.
With live beats from the local band Phonic filling the air, an indulgent full day of wining and dining finally took its toll and we fell into a deep and peaceful nap beneath the shade of a nurturing tree.
The next Lovedale Long Lunch will be held on 16 and 27 May 2020.
From $10,280 pp
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