The New Normal – What to expect when visiting the Hunter Valley

The New Normal

Well 2020 keeps throwing us the curveballs here in Australia and while we’ve been emerging from lock-down across many states of Australia, the city of Melbourne (Australia’s 2nd largest and capital of Victoria) has just been returned to Stage 3 lock-down and the state borders physically closed due to a dramatic spike in the number of cases of COVID-19.
This serves as a very timely reminder that this horrid virus is still out there and that if we get lax or careless, then many other areas of the country could return as such.

The Hunter Valley, being on Sydney’s doorstep, is the oldest and most visited wine region in Australia  and is a major drawcard for both local New South Wales residents and visitors alike. While a lot of Australia is currently on school holidays, visiting this region will be on people’s agendas as they start to re-explore their own backyards, in lieu of travelling to exotic locations.

It is also 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 this format may be here to stay.

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 is absolutely recommended that you do to secure your space) 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.

In addition to the need to be seated, the law requires that wineries gather contact details from a person attending a tasting: be that by pre-registration or signing in on arrival. Visitors are also encouraged to download the COVIDSafe app if they haven’t done so.

Venue 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. A whole new normal.

Top Tips For Visiting The Hunter Valley:

  1. Book ahead, do your research on which kind of wine experiences you’re after.
  2. If you’re travelling with a group, check with cellar doors can accommodate your group size.
  3. If you’ve got kids in tow, check if children are allowed, or if there’s any activities for them to do while you taste.
  4. Please understand that these aren’t “our” rules, but they are state government restrictions placed upon us, designed to keep us all safe.
  5. Arrive on time for your pre-booked tasting experience.
  6. Allow the time recommended to best enjoy your tasting experience.
  7. Adhere to NSW social distancing laws.
  8. Stay home if you’re at all unwell!

Here’s what to expect if you’d like to visit some of Hunter’s top producers:

Thomas Wines
Thomas Wines on Hermitage Road. 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

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 our 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.

David Hook Wines
If you’re a collector, head to one of David Hook Wines two tasting locations, the original quaint cellar door next to Café Enzo or the new tasting room at the winery in Belford 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:

Scarborough Wines
For a cheese matching experience and a family friendly offering, you can’t beat Scarborough Wines on Gillards Road. Oh there’s a view that’s hard to beat too! 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

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.

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.

Tulloch Wines
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!



The majority of this article was created by Kylie White from White Ink, wine specialist marketing & communications consultant on behalf of Thomas Wines. For further comment or information contact


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