Remember the days when you eagerly headed up the F1 to the Hunter Valley, a mere two-hour drive from Sydney, boot empty, friends in tow, ready to hit as many wineries as you could in a day and do some serious wine tasting?
Well, COVID-19 has put the hand-brake on much of that, and while the Hunter Valley is very much open for business, it’s a matter of planning ahead, and understanding the new Post COVID-19 wine tasting etiquette.
On the back of what’s been described as a trifecta of outstanding vintages (2017, 2018, 2019) came 2020... A vintage troubled by drought, tormented by bushfires, and then came COVID-19 which shut down the Valley for the best part of three months.
Regional travel restrictions lifted in June and with that came a flurry of winemakers and marketers working out how to best navigate the tricky but necessary legalities of serving and selling wine in a post COVID world. That’s not to mention the mass flurry of regional travellers keen to support the regions and get back out into the world.
The Hunter, being on Sydney’s doorstep, and the oldest and most visited wine region in Australia, is a great example of what post COVID-19 wine tourism looks like. And while it might take a bit of getting used to, it’s likely here to stay. We’re here to help you navigate what that looks like.
The new normal looks a bit different to the old, but it’s actually meant that some incredible new tasting experiences have come out of adversity. You can now book ahead (and its absolutely recommended that you do) for most of the cellar door offerings, and with each brand having to reinvent the way they run their cellar doors, it’s incredible to see what’s on offer.
With the 4 square metre rule applying just as it does to restaurants, and the requirement that all guests must be seated, comes the need to offer finite spaces for tastings at Cellar Doors, and with that has come the rise of the online booking system and paid tastings. Paid tastings have slowly crept into the wine tourism experience over the years, but now it’s a genuine need. With limited spots available to taste, and the huge increase in resources required to manage the hygiene and social distancing measures in place, there is no other way for these winemakers to exist. And we salute this decision, after all where else in the world can you go for a free wine, right?
In addition to the need to be seated, the law requires that wineries gather contact details from a person within your group attending a tasting be that by pre-registration or signing in on arrival, and are asked to encourage visitors to download the COVID tracker app if they haven’t done so. Operators are empowered to refuse entry to anyone who presents unwell, with cold or flu like symptoms or with a fever or temperature. They’re required to provide floor markings and designated order, pay, collect areas as well as single entry and exit points if feasible. There’s sanitiser, disposable utensils, single use spittoons, laminated or single use tasting lists, and no communal water on offer, and unless the winery has a commercial grade dishwasher on the premises, the glassware must be either disposable or yours to keep. It’s a whole new world.
So with the School Holidays and the peak period upon us, it’s essential that we’re all aware of the new etiquette when you’re planning your visit to the Valley. It’s trickier than ever to taste with kids in tow too so best to check ahead if you’re booking a tasting experience as many can’t accommodate kids under these new rules.
Our top tips for visiting the Hunter Valley this winter
Book ahead, do your research on which kind of wine experiences you’re after.
Please understand that these aren’t “our” rules, but they are state government restrictions placed upon us, designed to keep us all safe.
Winemaker Andrew “Thommo” Thomas’s Top Tips for bookable Tasting Experiences
Is it an in-depth experience of the Hunter’s two signature varieties you’re after? If so make a bee-line to us at Thomas Wines on Hermitage Road where no one will ever give you a better Semillon and Shiraz only experience that encompasses soils, vineyards and a tasting of up to 17 single vineyard varietals. The Discovery tasting just $10 per person, or the one hour Journey $20 per person /Visit-Us
If you’re a collector, head to one of David Hook Wines two tasting locations, the quaint cellar door that everyone knows and loves next to Café Enzo off Broke Road, or the tasting room at the winery with expansive views over their vineyards in Belford conveniently located just off the Hunter Expressway. Your $15 tasting will reward you with a take home Riedel glass valued at $25. Take up to 6 friends and collect the set. https://bookings.davidhookwines.com.au
Is it a food and wine experience you’re looking for? You’d be hard pressed to go past Margan, who are offering a range of Limited Release wines from 100 hectares of Sustainably Farmed Margan vineyards with a range of casual grazing options with your wine flights, seven days a week or dine in the acclaimed one hat restaurant Friday through to Sunday. Our pick is the Hunter Heroes tasting which includes 6 wines, a board of local artisan cheeses and salumi, 75 minutes $40. https://www.margan.com.au/hunter-valley-restaurant
For a cheese matching experience and a family friendly offering, you can’t beat Scarborough Wines on Gillards Road, and a view that’s hard to beat. With 5 levels of bookable tastings ranging from $30-$45 there’s something for everyone. You’ll be seated and served by your own private host while you taste through individually portioned small bottles. Taste your set, and take your mates set home. Or if you don’t have the full hour that’s recommended to enjoy these experiences they’ve cleverly created the Sip on Inn experience which showcases 6 wines chosen by your host for just $20 per person https://www.scarboroughwine.com.au/Visit-Us/Our-New-Tasting-Experiences
If you’re simply after a great tasting of a full range of Hunter varietals while taking in the view then head to Bimbadgen and try their full Signature Experience for just $15. https://www.bimbadgen.com.au/cellardoor/
At Brokenwood the options are just as fancy as their new Cellar Door with tastings ranging from $25 to $110 depending on where your budget and palate is at. Their pod seating is as COVID safe as you can get and allows your group a relative privacy. https://www.exploretock.com/brokenwoodwines
For a family friendly tasting experience, the 125 year old institution, Tulloch Wines on Debeyers Road has created a full spectrum of tastings from Wine & Chocolate ($30) through to their premium Aged Wine & Cheese experience ($100), plus there’s a special kids tasting of three soft drinks matched with three kids snacks all for just $10 to keep the kids occupied while the adults taste. There’s even a Kombucha tasting for the designated driver! https://www.tullochwines.com/discover/
Introducing the inaugural release of Thomas Wines “Like a Version” Braemore Semillon.
As we all know, Hunter Valley Semillon is one of the world's most unique wine styles. The 51-year-old Braemore vineyard, situated on the sandy alluvial flats along Hermitage Road, consistently produces Semillon featuring freshness, vibrancy, and remarkable longevity.
This wine is not like that at all.....
Yes, Thommo has borrowed the 'Like a Version' concept from Triple J radio's Friday morning segment, but here the idea is to present the ‘original’ and a ‘cover version’ from one of the Hunter Valley’s most iconic Semillon vineyards.
Last year Thommo invited Tassie winemaker and all-round top bloke Joe Holyman (Stoney Rise) to come up and have some fun with a small parcel of Braemore Semillon. The brief was simple - make a completely different style of wine to mine with the same grapes. Those of you who know Joe will appreciate his sense of mischief and no-nonsense approach to winemaking.
The fruit was foot trodden and left overnight before pressing the next day.
No SO2, no finings, no settling the juice. Spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts on full solids. No temperature control. The ferment was finished bone dry in just two days. Racked only twice over the next 8 months. A minuscule SO2 addition just prior to hand bottling in December 2019 without fining or filtration.
Only 1296 bottles produced.
Being a completely different style to what we would normally offer, Thommo wanted a completely different label. He commissioned Newtown artist Sindy Sinn to create the label artwork and we think he's absolutely nailed the concept behind the wine.
Thommo says "Whilst I personally find the wine a little “confronting”, that’s not the point. It’s the CONCEPT and the difference that I love, and I know there are many, many people out there who will dig this wine much more than I do…"
2019 Like a Version Semillon and 2019 Braemore Semillon can be purchased online here or via Cellar Door. Thommo suggests chilling one of each to taste them side by side.
We specialise in Hunter Valley Semillon and Shiraz. Why? We love the precision, the purity of these wines ... they're the Hunter Valley's signature varieties.
Our Cellar Door experience offers an indepth wine tasting and understanding of Hunter Semillon and Shiraz. We are the only producer that specifically focuses on these two signature varieties.
We have curated two seated tasting experiences The Discovery and The Journey.
We'll take you on a journey of the Valley, sharing the textures and colours of the soils, explaining how these influence the taste of our Single Vineyard Semillon and Shiraz. You'll walk away having learned what it is that makes these two varieties so unique, when grown in the Hunter Valley.
We invite you to join us and book the one most suited to your level of enthusiasm.
THE DISCOVERY - $10pp
Thomas Wine Club Members complimentary (please contact us for your voucher code)
The Semillon and Shiraz Discovery experience is a fun and informative tasting, highlighting the stylistic diversity that can be achieved within the Hunter Valley's two signature varieties. During this seated tasting your host will take you through four Semillon and four Shiraz including a couple of our premium single vineyard wines.
Please allow approximately 30-45 minutes for this tasting.
THE JOURNEY - $20pp
Thomas Wine Club Members complimentary (please contact us for your voucher code)
This premium single vineyard Semillon and Shiraz tasting experience is a fun and informative tasting, highlighting the stylistic diversity that can be achieved within the Hunter Valley's two signature varieties.
Your host will guide you through a structured journey of our entire range, focusing on the influence of the soils and other aspects that contribute to the unique personality of our single vineyard Semillon and Shiraz, some of which have become modern benchmarks for the region.
We currently have up to 17 wines available for this tasting, although (of course) it is not a requirement to taste them all.
Please allow approximately 60-75 minutes for this tasting.
We look forward to seeeing you in Cellar Door soon.
The vintage, declared to be “exceptional”, follows hot on the heels of the “excellent” 2017 vintage. We experienced another warm and dry vintage in 2018 with the ongoing drought resulting in slightly lower yields, and extremely high fruit quality.
Across the Hunter most of the vineyards had relatively small berries with fantastic depth of colour and incredible intensity/concentration of fruit. The stylistic diversity between our single vineyard wines in the 2018 range is more evident than ever, providing a wonderful insight into the nuances that exist between the different soil types of the Hunter Valley.
The full range of Thomas Wines 2018 Shiraz include the following wines
• 2018 Synergy Shiraz
• 2018 Two of a Kind Shiraz
• 2018 DJV Shiraz
• 2018 Sweetwater Shiraz
• 2018 The Cote Shiraz
• 2018 Dam Block Shiraz
• 2018 Belford Shiraz
And the iconic 2018 Kiss Shiraz.
The wines have been very well received to date with much debate over which vintage is best….. the 2014, 2017 or 2018.
You've purchased your Wineflix + Chill Wines and now it's time to sit back and join Thommo for a Virtual tasting. Just click on the image below.
If you haven't purchased our Wineflix + Chill Pack you can still join the link to hear Thommo as he discusses Thomas Wines Synergy Semillon, Braemore Semillon and Sweetwater Shiraz. If they all sound delicious you can buy a pack by clicking here.
No strangers to doing things differently, these three likeable Hunter Valley winemakers are set to enliven the lounge rooms of self-isolaters over the autumn months, providing not only 18 bottles of the Hunter’s finest, incredible value, but more than an hours-worth of entertainment in times of lockdown.
Take Mike De Iuliis, Andrew Thomas and David Hook; three of the Hunter’s most notable winemakers, put them in front of a camera, and lights-camera-action, we have what they are loosely calling a ‘Virtual Wine Tasting’. Yep, they are all the rage. But as always, these guys like to do things differently.
This 18-bottle bundle contains 6 bottles from each of the 3 lads; famed Hunter Valley Semillon and Shiraz from Andrew “Thommo” Thomas, to Hooky’s infamous Italian varietals, plus Rose, Chardonnay and more from De Iuliis.
As quick as you can say abracadabra, as your wine arrives, you’ll be sent a link to where the magic happens. Each have created a 15 minute light-hearted, yet super informative tutored tasting of the wines contained in your pack, open your three bottles with your house mate, settle back and be entertained. Save the other 3 for when this forced isolation is lifted, show off to your mates at your next House Party, or try them again the next night (or day!) – the choice is yours.
The best thing about these guys apart from their ability to make some of the country’s best booze, is that none are afraid of the camera, and almost certainly makes for an hour more enjoyable than Netflix as it requires wine…
Your $399 investment will return you more than $550 worth of value, delivered conveniently and safely to your door and guaranteeing you hours of fun.
You can choose just to take Thommo’s Wineflix pack containing 2 bottles of each of his current favourite three Thomas Wines valued at over $180, for $150 delivered to your door.
WHAT WE ARE DOING RE: COVID-19 CORONAVIRUS
We are committed to delivering and maintaining the highest standards of cleanliness and hygiene in our cellar door.
For the protection & health of our visitors & staff, additional preventative measures have been put in place as follows:
• LIMITED CAPACITY - no more than 15 guests at any one time allowing the recommended ‘social distancing’.
• ADDITIONAL CLEANING - all tables and surfaces are wiped down with sanitising spray between groups.
• SINGLE USE TASTING SHEETS - Replaced after every use. Please feel free to take yours with you.
• TAP & CARD PAYMENT ONLY We ask that you pay by tap and pay card, as we are not taking cash payments for now.
Our team is aware of the importance of monitoring their own health and staying away if they show any signs of illness. We ask that you respect the health of our team, and others, and stay away if you show any cold or flu like symptoms.
If you are well and haven’t been in recent contact with anyone who has the virus, please come in, we’d love to see you.
HOME DELIVERY AVAILABLE
We will continue to monitor the situation and will keep you updated with any changes to trading.
Stay healthy & cheers!
The Thomas Wines Team
THE EXCEPTIONAL 2018 SHIRAZ RELEASE TOUR DINNER DATES
Tuesday 21st April - Mode Restaurant & Bar- Sydney
Wednesday 22 April - Juliet - Melbourne
Thursday 23rd April - The Flotilla - Newcastle
Wednesday 29 April - Pilu at Freshwater - Sydney
Thursday 30 April - Blackbird Restaurant - Brisbane
Saturday 2nd May - Release Lunch - Yellow Billy Restaurant - Pokolbin
The range of Thomas Wines 2018 Hunter Valley Shiraz will be expertly paired with four courses at each venue and will be hosted by Andrew Thomas.
Numbers at these venues are very limted. We'd recomend gathering your friends & booking as soon as possible, we'd hate you to miss out.
Friday 3rd January 2020 saw the first Semillon grapes harvested from the Braemore Vineyard, but it wasn't for wine, it was for Verjus.
Verjus is the pressed juice of unripened grapes. It is not fermented (and therefore non-alcoholic) and is harvested much earlier than wine grapes to capture crisp green characters, high acidity and before the sugars fully develop.
A favourite in kitchens and cocktails bars it's used to deglaze pans when making sauces, in salad dressings and is a popular ingredient in contemporary cocktails. The Cellar Door team recommend adding a dash to an icy glass of water or sparkling water on a hot day, as a refreshing beverage for your AFD's (alcohol free days).
Thomas Wines Verjus is sold via Cellar Door ($15/500ml bottle) and wholesale. This year's Verjus will be available from late February.