Going for Broke

Take a trip down the road less travelled to the Broke Fordwich region and discover the more tranquil side of one of Australia’s oldest winemaking regions.

When you think of Hunter Valley wine country, the first place that usually springs to mind is Pokolbin. But if you’re looking to hop off the traditional wine tasting trail and take the road less travelled, why not head 15 minutes west into the foothills of Brokenback Ranges and discover some of the best kept secrets in the Hunter.

Sensational sub-region

Producing grapes since the early 1900s when settlers first planted vines in its rich, fertile soils, the Broke Fordwich wine region is known as the tranquil side of the Hunter Valley. Major vineyards were planted by Lindemans and Saxonvale in the late 1960s, before the region really started to rise in prominence in the late 1980s and early ’90s when a significant expansion saw more than 475 hectares under vine. Broke Fordwich became the Hunter’s first official wine sub-region – and only the second declared in Australia – in 2003, with a valuable seam of red volcanic clay (the Fordwich sill), free-draining alluvial soils and sandy loams that help produce a distinctive range of wines known for their slightly richer, softer style.

Trying a new trail

These days, Broke Fordwich is home to 35 grape growers and 17 stunning cellar doors, which produce premium quality varietals including the popular Semillon, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Verdelho as well as the more exotic Sangiovese, Barbera, Fiano, Arneis, Dolce and Tempranillo. These boutique establishments are predominantly located throughout the area’s two main villages of Broke and Bulga, and the smaller neighbouring communities of Fordwich and Milbrodale. In celebration of what this region has to offer, the Broke Fordwich Wine Tourism Association has newly launched the official Broke Fordwich Wine Trail, a unique experience that gives visitors the opportunity to meet the families behind the wineries, taste limited run wines, and go behind the scenes of working family farms. “A genuine camaraderie and community spirit amongst vignerons and winemakers is at the heart of the Broke Fordwich Wine Trail,” Broke Fordwich Wine Tourism Association Chairman Jody Derrick said. “(This is the) spirit that we are excited to share, as visitors discover the wines, the people and the landscape that is Broke Fordwich.”

A taste of the region

One of Broke’s most well-known and awarded winemakers, Margan Wines, was established in 1996 by Lisa and Andrew Margan, with a commitment to producing “estate grown and estate made” single vineyard wines. The vineyard covers more than 100 hectares, with a mixture of old vines planted to more traditional Hunter Valley varieties in the late 1960s and some newer vineyards that feature alternative varieties and field blends. The estate also features a state-ofthe- art winery, striking rammed earth cellar door and award-winning restaurant, ensuring it is an essential stop on any visit to the region. For more than a decade, Margan Restaurant has been pioneering the “agridining” movement in the Hunter Valley, basing its menu around what is harvested from their one acre kitchen garden and orchard, while also utilising their own olive trees, free range chickens, honey and lambs. The restaurant was awarded a Chef’s Hat for the fourth time by the Good Food Guide 2020, and was one of only two NSW venues named as a “recommended Wine Country Restaurant” in Gourmet Traveller’s ‘2020 Top Restaurants’.

Another local winery that has made its mark by doing something different is Catherine Vale Wines. Established by Wendy Lawson and her late husband Bill on a 100-acre (40.52 hectare) property at Broke in the early 1990s, Catherine Vale Wines has been at the forefront of introducing new Italian varieties into the region. After originally planting the traditional Hunter Valley white varieties of Semillon and Chardonnay, a desire to expand their range into reds, and a reluctance to join the long list of Shiraz producers already established in the Valley, saw Wendy undertake extensive research into alternate options. She eventually landed on two varieties from the Piedmont wine region in the north west of Italy, planting Barbera and Dolcetto in 1998 before adding an Italian white (Arneis) to the vineyard 10 years later. The spectacularly-located property borders Yengo National Park, a World Heritage-listed wilderness that forms the backdrop to Catherine Vale Wines’ unique cellar door, which was designed in the style of an Australian country church to complement the nearby Lawson family residence (the former Edwardian-style Uniting Church Manse).

Quirky and unusual cellar doors are a hallmark of the Broke Fordwich wine region, with everything from renovated barns and purpose-built rammed earth facades to personal homesteads and stunning Provençal-inspired courtyards. It’s hard to miss the cellar door at the family owned and operated Greenway Wines – just keep an eye out for the big red barn! The once tumbledown old farm building has been transformed with a stylish yet rustic Hamptons meets Queenslander vibe, and features a soaring raked ceiling, stacked stone fireplace, timber topped bar, stunning spiral staircase and vintage leather armchairs The cellar door exudes an ambience of luxurious comfort, while outside a charming white timber pergola and handsome travertine stone pavers provide the perfect spot to sit back and relax with a glass of Greenway’s single vineyard wines.

Running Horse Wines offers a more modern take on a unique cellar door experience, featuring a complex constructed using six shipping containers that have been stacked purposefully to elevate the cellar door above the level of the vineyard. The modern facility offers a nice contrast to what’s inside the bottles, with Running Horse Wines one of the few winemakers in the region specifically producing aged wines, dating back to the 2005 vintage.

The Broke Fordwich region is full of winemakers doing things differently, so it’s no surprise the area has a number of organic and biodynamic vineyards. Ascella Organic Wines is the largest organic vineyard in the Hunter Valley, with 32 hectares under vine. Owners Barb and Geoff Brown have been applying organic principles since 2005. Located at Broke, Krinklewood is a certified biodynamic organic, family-owned vineyard offering biodynamic wines to be enjoyed with cheese platters in Provençal-style gardens with an abundance of beautiful birdlife. Over 40 acres of organicallygrown grapes form the basis of traditional Hunter Valley reds and whites produced by Sommerville Wines, while some of their Italian grape varieties such as Barbera hark back to the owner’s Italian roots.

Aside from being home to some of the region’s best boutique wineries, Broke Fordwich is also renowned for its fine dining, World Heritage wilderness, ancient rock art and amazing accommodation options designed to make the most of their stunning surrounds. The region features 12 acclaimed eateries and 69 accommodation houses, providing plenty of opportunities to stay a little longer and savour every aspect of the experience.

With a selection of premium wines to taste, magnificent grounds featuring landscaped gardens, eye-catching landmarks, and an art gallery, as well as three luxury residences for those who want to linger longer, Winmark Wines is the complete package. The former Pooles Rock estate has been completely refurbished and lovingly restored to create a truly memorable destination for visitors to explore and enjoy.

Glen Eden Cottages are set on 25 acres hugged by the golden hills of Pokolbin State Forest, with views across open paddocks and vineyards to the spectacular Brokenback Ranges beyond. While the naturally rugged beauty of the place is evident, it is the overwhelming sense of calm that ultimately grabs you when you arrive at the tranquil Broke property. Featuring self-contained two-bedroom and three-bedroom cottages, as well as a studio apartment for short-term stays and the owner’s private residence on request during peak times, Glen Eden Cottages combine a cozy country vibe with all the modern day desires. An inground swimming pool with cabana is centrally located and available to all guests, while each cottage has its own private fire pit, gas barbecue and fullsize kitchen, as well as satellite television, NBN wi-fi (except the studio) and spectacular views from every window.

Red Tractor Retreat is another charming country-style offering less than 10km down the road, with three acres featuring beautiful established gardens, and a small vineyard, backing onto Wollombi Brook. It offers the delights of true country hospitality including full country breakfast provisions and wine on arrival, and can cater for up to 12 guests as well as their pets, with a fully fenced yard as well as a dog bed and toys in the house. Relax and unwind while taking in the magnificent rural outlook from the wraparound verandah or sitting by the saltwater pool, or use some of the produce you’ve picked up locally to cook up a storm in the chef’s kitchen.

Guests who’d rather leave the cooking to someone else can call the local catering business also run by the owners of Red Tractor Retreat, Melissa and Paul O’Toole. Motty’s Farm Cuisine offers a fresh, country-style service where Melissa will come in, cook, serve and clean up in the comfort of your accommodation, whether you’re looking for a hearty pot of soup or a special three-course dinner for up to 15 people. Wherever possible the meals feature seasonal vegetables and herbs from the O’Toole’s own garden, meat from their farm or selected local suppliers, and top quality condiments and olive oils from Hunter Valley local producers.

While Melissa is kept busy cooking up flavoursome, home-style meals, Paul spends his spare time giving new life to old timbers through his business Pots Recycled Timber Tables. Paul is passionate about reusing whatever materials he can find, and in the past 20 years has recycled everything from ex-BHP timber beams and railway sleepers to old French wine barrels and slabs from River Red Gums, crafting a variety of furniture and homewares including dining tables, coffee tables, cheeseboards and even benchtops. ¯

To find out what else is on offer across the Broke Fordwich area, including accommodation, events, tours and local producers, visit www.brokefordwich.com.au

Read more in the Summer issue of Hunter&Coastal Lifestyle Magazine.  

Story by Michelle Meehan