The Parish of Pokolbin, the roots of wine country

While Pokolbin is the vibrant heart of the Hunter Valley, its southern part, the Parish of Pokolbin, is where its roots lie.

With some of the richest soils and the best viticulture conditions in the Valley, many of the region’s most iconic winemaking families have their vineyards and cellar doors in the Parish of Pokolbin.

There’s the Draytons and the Tullochs, Audrey Wilkinson and the legendary Maurice O’Shea’s legacy at Mount Pleasant. But the Parish of Pokolbin isn’t about the accomplishments of yesteryear. A new generation of viticulturists and winemakers, of chefs, hoteliers and artisans is busy writing the next chapter of excellence.

Nestled against the foothills of the awe-inspiring Brokenback ranges, the area between Wine Country Drive to the east and McDonalds Road to the West is home to some of the Valley’s finest wineries, resorts and restaurants.

Here’s but a small selection of our favourites.

For a complete package of luxe boutique accommodation, delightfully decadent fine dining and (of course!) multi-award-winning wines start your journey at PEPPER TREE WINES, a recent addition to the prestigious James Halliday Top 100 cellar door list.

Sample some of their highly rated vintages and treat your palate to formidable wines, crafted with precision and passion. The 2022 Alluvius Single Vineyard Semillon has achieved an impressive 96 points in the Halliday Wine Companion, showcasing the winery’s skill for creating elegant and nuanced whites.

Meanwhile, the 2013 Museum Release Tallawanta Single Vineyard Semillon steals the spotlight with 99 points, securing its place as Halliday’s 2023 Semillon of the Year.

Their 2013 Museum Release Single Vineyard Reserve Coquun Shiraz has earned a remarkable 98 points, testament to the winery’s prowess in producing red wines of character and depth.

The family and pet friendly cellar door shares stunning grounds with The Convent Hunter Valley. Once home to the Brigidine order of nuns, the renowned hotel exudes a ‘European luxe meets Hamptons Long Island vibe’. It is within a short stroll to hatted restaurant Circa 1876 where chef Trent Barrett draws upon produce from the organic kitchen garden to bring his farm to fork ethos to life.

A bit more off the beaten track, over at PARCHED CROW WINES on De Beyers Road, owner Ross Crump has created a rustic cellar door with a relaxed, authentic country vibe. Keen to support other small local businesses, he exclusively uses fruit from high quality, locally owned and run Hunter vineyards to make his single vineyard wines.

Make sure to try their exciting new releases. There’s the 2023 Hunter Valley Moscato with its subtle spritz and lychee-filled palate, a refreshing delight for the warmer months. The 2019 Vintage Muscat offers a sensory journey with caramelised fig and dried apricot aromas, complemented by a palate rich in golden syrup, raisin, and spice flavours.

Parched Crow have also recently introduced ‘Picnic in the Pasture’, deliciously curated so you can indulge with local wine and cheese. It’s the perfect way to unwind amidst the Parish of Pokolbin’s sweeping paddocks and vineyards.

Set in the historic Pokolbin Schoolhouse, at GUNDOG ESTATE’S HUNTER CELLAR & GOURMET PANTRY, owner and winemaker Matt Burton combines a passion for sustainability with the relentless pursuit of making high quality wines.

After a rigorous carbon footprint assessment and the implementation of both carbon mitigation and offsetting strategies he is proud to have achieved carbon neutrality without compromising the impressive quality of his vegan friendly wines.

This boutique winery continues to showcase the terroir of the region through meticulously crafted wines, including its recent releases from the exceptional 2022 vintage.
Book in for a Semillon or Shiraz Masterclass and explore different vintages of these classic Hunter varietals.

Poured in Riedel glassware for a world class tasting experience, wines are served alongside cheese or a plate from their new Small Bites Menu.

And don’t forget to browse their handpicked selection of wine-inspired artisan gourmet products ranging from jams and chutneys to sauces and even a dog friendly Tail Ale beer.

TOWER LODGE, owned and operated by the Hope family, is a luxury boutique estate built with warm, earthy textures and colours. Each of the luxurious suites is unique and tells its very own story of refined, rustic elegance.

The on-site restaurant is undergoing a culinary renaissance under the skilful guidance of recently appointed, renowned chef Anthony Fullerton. His vision for Tower Lodge Restaurant revolves around a ‘farm-to-table’ philosophy, highlighting beef from the Hope family’s own Upper Hunter Barrington Valley farm. During a 40-day grain-based feed up on the pastures near Hope Estate, cattle are being fed grains from the on-site brewery, winery and soon-to-open distillery.

The hyper local, sustainable approach extends to locally sourced vegetables, olives and olive oils and herbs and greens from the Lodge’s own kitchen garden.

“With the Hunter’s rich and diverse food bowl delivering such a wide variety of premium produce, we are all about celebrating the products themselves. We let the food do the talking,” Anthony said.

“We prefer to offer shared plates to create both a real sense of conviviality and a spirit of generosity,” he said.

Set under soaring timber ceilings, the restaurant and its adjoining lounge are open for breakfast and long lunches, for sunset drinks and canapes, followed by an à la carte dining menu that’s equally suitable for sharing or more formal dining.

Ambitious future plans include a dryaging facility, exploring diverse breeds, and creating a house-made charcuterie line, with a smokehouse on the horizon.

Take your pick!

You want to savour the delights of Parish of Pokolbin, but are pressed for time? Check the calendar and make the trip when Handmade in the Hunter Markets are on. Held most Saturdays and occasionally on Sundays at Sobel Wines you will find stalls from a variety of local makers, perfect to pick up a gift or a special, unique treat for yourself.

A haven for those with a sweet tooth, drop into Hunter Valley Chocolate Company for a sensory feast with the aroma of chocolate wafting through the air as you step inside to browse their fine range of handmade chocolate products and freshly made fudge.

If you are more into a savoury indulgence, check out the Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop down the road.

You’ll find a diverse selection of artisanal cheeses, carefully curated to showcase the best of local and international varieties and to satisfy both the seasoned cheese enthusiast or a novice eager to explore.

Of course, no visit to the roots of Hunter wine country can be complete without a tasting of some award-winning Hunter wines.

We recommend an Epic Tasting at HUNGERFORD HILL’s iconic, barrel shaped cellar door for a mini degustation of Hungerford Hill wines matched to bitesized dishes created by award-winning, two hatted Muse Restaurant next door.

With the festive season approaching, add a sip of their Cardinal Sparkling Shiraz to your tasting experience. Made from the Hunter’s ultimate classic red varietal, it offers a captivating fusion of the region’s terroir driven characteristics and the exuberance of sparkling wine.

You might even want to grab a few bottles before leaving the Valley. It’s a delightful choice for sharing moments of cheer and fun with loved ones during the holiday season or to make any occasion a memorable one.

More stories in the Summer Edition of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.