On the trail to Lovedale

If you’re looking for a wine tasting experience with that personal touch, it’s hard to go past Lovedale, the region’s best kept secret at the heart of the Hunter Valley.

It’s home to one of the most popular annual events on the Hunter wine region’s social calendar.

But with a dozen cellar doors, over 30 places to stay and countless other attractions within its compact 48.5sqkm footprint, there’s so much more to Lovedale than just a Long Lunch.

A destination in its own right with experiences to savour all year round, Lovedale offers visitors the chance to taste the region’s award-winning wines and mouth-watering menus, meet the people who make them or head off on an adventure to remember.

Perfect for a midweek or weekend escape, Lovedale is only two hours’ drive north of Sydney and 50 minutes west of Newcastle Airport, while being conveniently on the doorstep for visitors from the surrounding regions of Maitland, Newcastle and Lake Macquarie.

History in its vines

The European settlement of Lovedale began prior to 1825, when significant land grants were allocated along Black Creek. The name “Lovedale” is said to have combined the surname of one of the early families in the area, the Loves, with memories of the hills and dales of Yorkshire.

Lovedale’s origins as a major wine-producing area also date back to the early 1800s when local wheat and general produce farmers turned to grape growing.

Its history, like that of the wider Hunter Valley, is inextricably linked with “the father of Australian wine”, James Busby, a Scottish viticulturalist and author of numerous books on winemaking who arrived in Australia in 1824.

In 1831, Busby travelled widely throughout Europe collecting cuttings from more than 500 vineyards, including six cuttings of Syrah from the Hermitage hill in the Rhône.

While he donated much of his extensive collection of European grape varieties to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, around 20,000 cuttings were reportedly distributed to vignerons throughout the Hunter Valley area in 1832, with more than 350 varieties also planted at Busby’s family home, “Kirkton”, located on land between the settlements of Branxton (just north of Lovedale) and Singleton.

Many of the wineries that sprung up in the early years of the region are no longer in existence, such as Love’s Winery in Lovedale Rd, which had 80,000 gallons of wine in their cellars when they closed in 1927.

The current site of Allandale Winery is close to what was originally one of the largest wineries in the Hunter Valley in the 1890s, also called Allandale. The historic winery had a capacity of 518,000 gallons (2.35 million litres) and produced award-winning wines recognised around the world. It finally ceased operations in the late 1920s.

Current crop

Today, Lovedale is home to a range of thriving vineyards and boutique cellar doors offering everything from the local classics of Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz, to exciting alternative varieties such as Barbera and Tempranillo.

Most of these vineyards are located along the three main roads that wind their way through the bushland beauty of the area (Wilderness, Talga and Lovedale roads), with others popping up on the extremities of the suburb along Wine Country Drive.

For many of these predominantly family-owned and operated wineries, a visit to their cellar doors is the only chance you’ll get to taste their award-winning wines (outside of online sales and membership in their wine clubs), making a trip to Lovedale an even more tantalising prospect.

Established in 1985, Emma’s Cottage Vineyard is one of the smallest vineyards in the Hunter Valley, producing premium boutique wines from the seven different varieties of grapes grown on the three hectare Wilderness Road property. Originally planted with Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz and Pinot Noir, a second Shiraz block was added in 1991 when the original Shiraz block was grafted over to Verdelho.

Since then some of the older Shiraz vines have been allowed to grow suckers from their own root stock and are now producing lovely fruit, giving the vineyard two different Shiraz options with distinctive flavour and growth habits. The Lovedale vineyard has utilised a variety of noted winemakers over the years including David Hook, Damien Stevens and James Lusby, with available wines dating from their 2011 vintage through to their latest release, which includes the 2019 Phoebe, a delightful combination of Semillon and Verdelho with a light blush, featuring sweet tropical flavours and tantalising notes of candy apple and watermelon.

Make your way over to Lovedale Road, the main thoroughfare through the region, and you will soon come across the picturesque property of Gartelmann Wines. Like most of the cellar doors in Lovedale, Gartelmann offers the true family-owned and operated experience with founders Jorg and Jan Gartelmann often seen in and around the cellar door talking with guests and answering questions.

Using grapes sourced from the Lower and Upper Hunter regions as well as Mudgee, Rylstone, and Orange, the business has a reputation for producing a wide selection of elegant, quality wines, from the multi-award winning Semillon and Shiraz through to the toffee-citrus sweetness of the dessert Ambrosia and the toasty spice of the Liqueur Muscat.

But it’s not just Gartelmann’s wines that have won the awards over the years, with their striking cellar door taking home a 1999 Lower Hunter Civic Design Award.

Located towards the other end of Lovedale Road, Allandale Winery is renowned not only for its quality wines, but the breathtaking view over the vines from which they are produced!

The panoramic scenery certainly makes quite an impression on visitors making the most of the outdoor tasting areas, especially as the sun sinks down over the distant Brokenback Ranges, throwing the last golden rays of the day across row upon row of grapevines. Allandale’s other tasting areas put the focus on the wine production process itself, with the tanks and press in view from the cellar door, while guests are surrounded by wine in the barrel room.

Established in 1978, Allandale Winery has built a reputation over four decades as one of Australia’s premium Chardonnay producers, while also boasting an acclaimed portfolio of distinguished boutique wines.

Other notable stops along Lovedale’s tasting trial include Wandin, whose cellar door is housed in the original Wandin winery with gangways and plumbing giving it a historic vibe. Fellow Lovedale Long Lunch destinations worth returning to for a more in-depth visit include Saltire Estate, Sandalyn Wilderness Estate and Tatler. Those keen to add a community-minded flavour to their visit should check out Stomp Wines, with 10 per cent of all sales of their Cape Series 2020 Rosé being donated to the Broke Rural Fire Brigade. Plenty of other cellar doors in between these stops ensure you’ll have to come back more than once to sample all Lovedale has to offer.

There is so much more to explore

Many of Lovedale’s wineries feature attractions beyond the cellar door, including everything from onsite galleries and art studios to fine dining restaurants and well-regarded cafes.

The Deck Café at Gartelmann’s is operated by renowned local chef Matt Dillow and offers mouth-watering restaurant-style meals at a truly unique location overlooking the water lily-covered dam and surrounding young forest bushland.

Lillino’s Bar & Trattoria, located on-site at St Clements Estate, offers traditional Italian food with Sardinian/ Mediterranean influences, while casual meals with a resort-style feel are served up at The Lovedale Bar and Restaurant at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley, located on the ground floor by the pool and next to the Lovedale Brewery and Distillery.

Redsalt is Crowne Plaza’s signature restaurant famous for its premium grills, while meat-eaters will also enjoy the Lovedale Smokehouse Café on Majors Lane, an owner-operated, small batch artisan smokehouse specialising in both charcuterie and barbecue.

The onsite cooking school also caters for those who want to go home with r latest release, which includes the 2019 Phoebe, a delightful combination of Semillon and Verdelho something other than a full stomach. Learning new skills is also the focus for Wilderness Art Retreat with resident artist Jacquie Mather carrying out a range of workshops in the on-site art studio overlooking the vines at Thirsty Palette with its rustic cellar door.

Those looking for adventure during their visit to Lovedale can take to the skies for an unforgettable hot air balloon ride with Beyond Ballooning or Balloon Aloft. Or maybe you would rather explore the region using two very different types of horse-power, thanks to Hunter Valley Horse Riding and Hunter Trike and Motorbike Tours.

Linger longer

You’ll also find many beautiful places to stay among the vineyards and on leading resorts at Lovedale, from fully self-contained houses or luxury cottages to bed and breakfast accommodation and the opulent Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley, where you can tee off at a beautifully-curated golf course or feel refreshed and relaxed at the indulgent Ubika Spa.

With more than 30 accommodation providers in Lovedale, and options for couples, families and groups, there are styles to suit every taste and budget.

As the name suggests, Emma’s Cottage Vineyard appeals both to wine lovers and those looking for the perfect place to stay while they explore the surrounding area.

Overlooking the vineyard, there are gorgeous two, three, and four-bedroom cottages to choose from. Lovedale Cottages offers six rustic and character-filled cottages featuring cosy log fireplaces, large spa baths and covered timber verandahs perfect for sitting back and enjoying the tranquil bushland views.

If you are looking for a more secluded escape where you can immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the region there are plenty of options available such as Lillians on Lovedale, a spacious and elegant country house set on 25 acres once used as a dairy property.

With more to do than you can possibly fit into a short stopover or a single weekend away, Lovedale is the best kept secret at the heart of the Hunter where you’re sure to discover something new every time you return.