New kids on the block

It takes a great deal of courage and a healthy dose of optimism to open a cellar door during a global pandemic. Here’s to the Hunter winemakers who dared to defy the odds.

Whether you’re a wine or beer lover, a couple, family, or a group of friends, a wine amateur or connoisseur, these new venues offer something for everyone. There is no doubt the continued expansion of cellar door experiences firmly cements the Hunter Valley as a destination worthy of repeat visits.

Mercer Wines: Is there a better way to launch a new brand than to take out the prestigious Alexander Munro Memorial Trophy, for Best Current Shiraz at the Hunter Valley Wine Show? Newly released, the 2021 Mercer Wines Shiraz Nouveau beat all the long-standing industry stalwarts and the appeal is undeniable.

Aaron Mercer has worked abroad and in the Hunter for 20 years – most recently for Tamburlaine. However, during COVID lockdown, Aaron and his partner Alison had time to re-think their future and decided to launch their own wine brand.

Aaron is passionate about sustainability and ensures the different grape varieties he sources from regions around NSW, have a future in the face of climate change.

With a love of creating fruit driven juicy wines, the portfolio of Mercer Wines is both eclectic and high on drinkability.

Mercer Wines started with a bang, taking out the Alexander Munro Memorial Trophy for Best Current Shiraz at the Hunter Valley Wine Show.

His core range are alternate varieties made with a twist on mainstream styles. In his white wines he builds texture, complexity and poise with a line-up that includes a refreshing Pet Nat from an intriguing blend of Picpoul Blanc and Chardonnay, a Vermentino and a lovely aromatic Pinot Grigio. His red wines are all small batch, including a stunning Tempranillo, Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola, Malbec and the trophy winning Shiraz Aaron’s wines are vegan and he also makes preservative-free wines, with a rosé and red blend currently available.

With big plans for a new cellar door as well as a Reserve range of wines, watch this space. Mercer Wines with their striking optical art labels, are available for tasting at The Winehouse in Pokolbin.,

The Farm: The Helé family have a long hospitality history in the Hunter Valley. In the past 12 months they have been busy constructing a new multi-purpose venue, which seats 120 people and takes full advantage of expansive views to the Barrington Top Mountains. The Pokolbin venue hosts a cellar door offering wine tastings, 4 Pines Brewery Tap Room with beer paddle tastings and a bistro. Serving casual pizzas and delicious pub favourites, the bistro is conveniently open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The property also offers plenty of activities and adventures with cooking classes, beer school and wine education classes with matched local cheeses, plus a vineyard tour and grape stomping. They have Segway tours, an animal farm, carriage rides, horse riding and electric bike hire. An Indigenous art gallery, showcasing local Aboriginal art, is also opening shortly.

The Farm is much more than a cellar door. There’s horse riding, vineyard tours, cooking classes and a beer school.

The Farm is co-located with the four-star Hunter Resort which has 40 suites available onsite and provides the complete wine country experience. With 70 acres to roam, this is the perfect destination for families or groups of any size, offering something to keep everyone happily entertained for a day, a weekend or longer.,

Parched Crow Wines: As you drive off Deasys Road up to the Parched Crow Wines cellar door, you can’t help but admire the picturesque views. Local owner Ross Crump and partner Lisa have large agricultural holdings in the Valley, including 40 acres of vines.

Building the cellar door was a COVID project and despite the purpose-built shed being brand new, it’s clad in 100 year old, hand hewn slabs sourced locally. With its rustic charm, the cellar door welcome oozes country warmth, with the wines focused on the traditional Hunter Valley varieties.

Explore three different vintage Semillon and Shiraz to understand how these wines age. For Moscato lovers, the Parched Crow Moscato with notes of orange blossom, exotic Turkish delight, peach and nectarine is an exquisite experience.

With plenty of picnic tables, this cellar door caters for groups and families and is a dog friendly venue too. So bring a picnic lunch and make a day of it.

Jac and Jones: You’ll find exuberant winemaker Jacqueline (Jac) and her partner Ian Jones (Jones) pouring their boutique wines at a tasting room located in the H Hotel on McDonalds Road. With an industrial barn vibe, it’s fitted with luxe white leather couches, bar stools and a large centre table for groups.

Jac balances her love of European varieties with her modern winemaking style. Offering a Sparkling, Moscato, Pinot Grigio and a Chardonnay for Burgundy lovers, she also makes Veneto Rosé from an unusual grape variety called Rondinella, which is a delicious summer sip. In the red line-up there is a light, crunchy Barbera, Cabernet from 60-year-old vines in Orange and a Hunter Shiraz. She also has a tasty Verjuice and luscious Limoncello made from bush lemons.

‘Lovely’ is their super-cute and fun purpose-built van they imported from the UK. They use it as a mobile tasting room for festivals and events. It can also be hired. They often set up Lovely next to the fire pit at the Hotel, where guests can enjoy a tasting or grab a glass of wine and soak up the welcoming country atmosphere.

Don’t miss their Food and Wine Experience, which is great value at $25 for nine wines, each matched with tasty morsels.

Wild Ren Wines: Housed within the charming group of stone buildings in Peppers Creek Village Pokolbin, this barn-like space has undergone a glamorous transformation. You could be forgiven for thinking you’ve just stepped into a stylish Sydney bar, as you enter the newly opened Wild Ren Wine Room.

With more than 20 years of experience in wine and tourism, Renee Burton is now the proud CEO of her own wine business. “After working on joint projects and other people’s passions, Wild Ren Wines is 100% me. My message to my two daughters and other girls out there, is about empowerment and taking control of your destiny,” Renee said.

With a range of Hunter classics as well as diverse varieties like Gruner Veltliner, Vermentino, Sangiovese and GSM, the wines are contemporary, well made and delicious. The wine labels are stunning works of art and also feature on a range of stylish merchandise. Renee has added a gin to her range, which is proving wildly popular and is available for tasting.
Make sure to include the moreish, crowd-pleasing Wild Ren Untamed Semillon as part of this all-around delightful tasting experience.

Charteris Wines: As a highly respected winemaker, consultant and in-demand wine show judge, PJ Charteris barely needs introduction. Starting his eponymous label focussed on Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot made in Central Otago, New Zealand, in 2008, PJ may just be the Hunter’s “oldest new kid on the block.”

After successfully selling his small production of premium wines mainly to restaurants, COVID shutdowns led him and partner Chrissi, to re-evaluate their distribution options. Opening just months ago, Charteris Wines co-inhabits the other side of the stone barn with Wild Ren Wines.

With a Scandi vibe, “the intent was to make customers feel like they are stepping into our home,” according to PJ. Expect an intriguing trans-Tasman line-up covering Central Otago wines, Hunter classics of Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz and the Le Chauve range, with varieties sourced from other regions. The wines have a beautiful purity about them, guaranteed to thrill any wine lover.

With different tasting options to choose from, expect to find PJ or Chrissi behind the counter, enthusiastically helping you explore wines from different regions.

Hunter Wine Lab: You’re guaranteed a personalised experience from winemaker Nathan and his partner Leonie at Hunter Wine Lab, which is based away from the bustle on Hermitage Road. With lovely vistas, the new wine shed cleverly doubles as both a cellar door and a fully functioning winery.

Jumping on the ‘drink pink’ trend, their first release was a Rosé Prosecco. With lashings of strawberries, cherries and a crisp finish, this wine is ‘summer in a bottle’ and it’s easy to see why it’s their most popular wine.

While they offer some classic Hunter varietals like Shiraz and Chardonnay, their wines are made in a “new-world” style. There’s also a great range of alternate varieties like Vermentino, Sangiovese and Tempranillo which are sourced from other regions, allowing Nathan to be creative and to experiment. Hence the name “Hunter Wine Lab.”

Nathan also has experience in brewing, so you’ll find a Pale Ale, Pilsner and Chocolate Porter beers made from his own recipes on tap for tasting. Take them home in a 750ml bottle or a growler.

Sit outside admiring the views for a relaxed experience, with the educational option of a full tour through the winery with Nathan, to explore the different techniques and methods used to create the wines.

Read more about the new cellar doors in the Winter issue of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.

Story by Cathy Gadd, photography courtesy of cellar doors