A Long & Fruitful History at Iconic Estate
With a vineyard that dates back nearly half a century and a name linked to one of Australia’s most iconic television series, Wandin has had a long and fruitful history.
But with a reinvigorated focus on creating sensory experiences and a rejuvenated offering across the cellar door, restaurant and accommodation, the 40-hectare Lovedale property also has an exciting future ahead.
Wandin has been a part of the renowned Hunter Valley wine region since 1973 when local potter and winemaker Peter Dobinson decided to plant a vineyard in the rich, fertile soil on the slopes of the Molly Morgan Mountains, which he named Millstone.
The property changed hands – and names – 17 years later when it was purchased by noted television producer James Davern and his wife, Philippa.
The couple renamed the property Wandin Valley in honour of the fictional village in the much-loved television series James had created in 1981, A Country Practice, and set about turning it into a bonafide tourist destination with a winery, cricket pavilion, restaurant, manager’s cottage, modern cellar door, function rooms and tourist accommodation.
Wandin Valley went on the market again two decades later and was snapped up by Mosman couple Russell and Katrina Leslie, who already owned other vineyard properties on Wilderness Road.
The site’s evolution continued when current owner Lipton and Linda Tsoi took control of the estate in 2016 with long-term plans to strengthen the brand’s offering.
General Manager Manda Duffy said that the owners had invested heavily in rejuvenating the property and vineyard during the past few years, which is now known by the updated, abbreviated branding of Wandin.
“The current owners bought Wandin with a long term view to improve the site and return the brand to a strong position from a complete wine tourism perspective,” she said.
“Significant investment was required in all the buildings, particularly the accommodation and this has been successful. Like fashion, we keep updating the rooms to fit the style of the buildings and complement the surroundings.
“Wandin has the luxury of two kitchens, which also require constant updating and together with the team, we continue to make changes to suit our team and our customers.”
With most of the building and cosmetic changes already complete, Manda joined the Wandin team at the start of 2020 with plenty of plans for the future; however, the onset of COVID-19 soon saw the team shift their focus.
“I remember signing on to start on January 6 with a bundle of plans and ideas. We reset opening times for the cellar door, we named the restaurant Wandin Kitchen and launched a range of new menus. Then COVID hit, and it was devastating for all.
“Once the place was cleaned from top to bottom during lockdown it was the brand’s opportunity to focus on the wines, the way the wines and accommodation were presented and of course, the awesome food.
“Our new direction has been so rewarding and, more importantly, our visitors enjoy all we have on offer.
“It’s an authentic space run by a team who love the Hunter and appreciate that every customer has chosen the place we call home as their tourism destination.”
Wandin’s rejuvenated direction is based around the idea of creating sensory experiences for their guests, as the website itself proclaims: ‘We exist to create an experience for you that takes you on the ultimate sensory journey. From outstanding wines for every palate to the hospitality of our estate, let us shower you with the true country charm that is the Hunter Valley and Wandin’.
Manda said this promise encapsulates everything Wandin has to offer, from the visual appeal of the property itself to the seamless melding of its mouth-watering food, and highly renowned wines.
“When you drive through those big sandstone and iron gates and gaze down to the first of many water views, it is blissful and very calming,” Manda said.
“The entrance road dotted with kangaroos and birdlife takes you up to the high point on the property, which provides the most amazing views back over the valley right across to the Brokenback ranges.
“The centrepiece of the site is, of course, our cricket pitch, which is always ‘game ready’, while the adjacent cricket pavilion ticks all the boxes for weddings and for corporates who want the benefit of privacy.
“The sensory experience is heightened by the sounds of the wildlife, the sight of a kangaroo bouncing past you, the geese waddling down to the dam and the beautiful buzz of the workers in the Wandin hives producing our vineyard honey.
“Then you mix in the beautiful aromas of the flourishing kitchen garden, and as you wander past the kitchen, the smell of the sourdough baking in the ovens is truly lovely.
“Someone is always having coffee here with friends, which is delicious and then as lunch commences you start noticing the sizzling sounds and smells.
“All of this is then topped off by the wine – it’s very easy to be delighted by what you see, hear, taste and smell around here.”
When it comes to the tastes on offer at Wandin, the renamed Wandin Kitchen is nothing short of sensational.
Manda said executive chef John Rutherford and Tim Richardson had done an incredible job with all the menus, although she admitted the Friday and Saturday night degustations are her top pick when five courses are calling you. Of course, 2 and 3 courses are on offer as well.
Other favourites included the Togarashi tempura king prawns with black garlic mayonnaise and wakame herb salad wrapped in a crisp lettuce leaf, the Woodville duck breast lightly roasted over pecan, charred cauliflower puree, shitake mushroom and quince jam, and the brown butter and popcorn parfait, five-spiced apple, hazelnut praline, candied popcorn and muscat caramel.
“John brings an excellence to the kitchen, he raises the standard and loves refreshing the menu to take advantage of what our Hunter providores have on offer,” Manda said.
“He’s also keen to make sure the wine and the food match well and that the plates are a treat for the eyes as well as the tastebuds.
“If you haven’t been to Wandin Kitchen you are missing out.”
For those more interested in tasting the fruits of Wandin’s wines rather than its kitchens, a visit to the refreshed cellar door is a must.
“Fortunately, wandering into the cellar door and making friends with the various staff as they take you through the favourite wines of the day is still allowed to happen, albeit in a COVID safe way,” Manda said.
“Seated tastings are more fun and something I started doing nearly 20 years ago. Where possible, you should taste the wine varieties in flights so as you can choose what suits you best. Our ranges extend from all the varieties the Hunter does well.”
Most of the wine produced at Wandin comes from the grapes grown on-site, with the original vines planted by Peter Dobinson in the early 1970s still bearing fruit alongside more recent additions to the vineyard.
A deep understanding of the site, soil and regional history has a strong influence on Wandin’s wines, with sustainable viticulture practices complementing a gentle approach in the winery to ensure expression and refinement are the signatures of the brand.
“The vineyard hosts 12 acres of vines, predominately Shiraz, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and a tiny parcel of Malbec,” Manda said.
“My vintage wish for the year is that we put to good use our estate fruit, as we have invested heavily in bringing the best out in the vineyard in 2020 and it looks set to pay off.
“I will need to buy some lovely Semillon from a friend here in the Hunter, and I will have a small parcel of Sauvignon Blanc come from some of our cooler vineyards in NSW, but outside of this, I hope not to need much more fruit to set us up for sales over the next 18 months.
“This year I am also delighted to have the talents of Liz Silkman making the wine for Wandin. Quality over quantity is undoubtedly our focus for the year and keeping an estate-only focus where we can.
“For us, Chardonnay and Shiraz will be our heroes, and I can’t wait for the 2021 vintage, which is looking terrific at the moment with the grounds cared for by long term team member Greg Hardy.”
For those who want to indulge in Wandin’s wine and food tasting experiences without worrying about how to get home afterwards, the property also has a range of luxurious accommodation offerings nestled amongst the vineyards.
“The seven vineyard villas have all been updated with various features and are very popular for all types of visitors,” Manda said.
“They’re a great option for brides and corporate groups, however, they’re also perfect for groups who want a few days away with close friends or family, and for those that prefer self-contained accommodation.
“It is, however, becoming more and more popular for visitors to choose to stay and dine with us at Wandin Kitchen - there’s nothing nicer than a moonlight stroll back to a villa after a stunning meal, no taxi required and just watch out for wombats!”
To find out more about what’s on offer at Wandin, which is also among the Hunter’s most sought-after wedding destinations, visit www.wandin.com.au