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A Shared Passion for a Farm-to-Table Philosophy


The family behind the region’s most luxurious resort, Tower Lodge, and the neighbouring Hope Estate are driven by a commitment to creating the Hunter Valley's penultimate experience and all it has to offer. The Hope family, along with recently appointed Group Executive Chef Anthony Fullerton, have developed a full range of experiences that include a deeply embedded core philosophy of farm-to-table that is designed to showcase not only the garden produce but the dry-aged beef, beer, wine and whiskey that complements the exclusive accommodation offering and the popular concerts that Hope Estate is known for.

 

Originally built in 1999 by Hunter wine legend Len Evans AO OBE and a coterie of his high-profile mates, it was their commitment to quality that saw Tower Lodge win the global luxury lodge category at the World Luxury Hotel Awards in 2010 and then continue to win it four years in a row. In 2013, the property was purchased by Michael and Karen Hope, who converted it into a private residence where they lived for eight years. In 2021, they led a $6 million refurbishment of its exterior and interior spaces, working with Newcastle-based Space Design Architecture and Spicer’s Resorts. In June 2023 the family relaunched the luxury lodge with son Sam Hope looking after the guest experiences and elder son Jonno supplying the Angus beef from the family’s farm in the upper Hunter for the restaurant. Michael and Karen each bring their own personal style and furnishings to the venture that complete the luxury lodge’s welcoming, ‘at home’ feel.


“We’ve created a private gated oasis on 40 acres, smack bang in the middle of Pokolbin – the busiest wine region in Australia,” said Michael.


“We’re in the business of fun and have created a luxurious home away from home for our guests that provides the personal experiences that travellers seek. It’s a new style of luxury experiential tourism for the Hunter Valley, delivered in a unique, high-quality, but friendly manner that makes us different. There are luxury hotels all over the world, but if you want a fully immersive, personally tailored Hunter Valley experience, we believe that we can take it to the next level.”


The property is centred around a warm terracotta plaza, while a striking stucco tower sets a distinctive Spanish tone to the property. A satellite pool, sauna and gardens offer guests options to leisurely explore the Hunter’s countryside, take advantage of personally guided in-house masterclasses and wine, whiskey and gin tastings, or enjoy frontseat access to a world-class entertainment lineup at the estate.


“We have 14 individually styled and generously proportioned suites, some with hot tubs, some with fireplaces, and all have a private balcony or courtyard, and no two are the same. The library and lounge are beautiful, and the wine cellar has been converted into a private dining room. Our antiques include a c1550 four-poster bed from Rajasthan. The bathrooms are quite simply the ultimate sanctuary,” said Michael.



“We curate our guest experiences, which might include in-room treatments, learning from our Chef Anthony about the dry aging beef process, gin masterclasses, and wine, beer or whiskey tastings. In fact, our distillery has just opened, and every guest at Tower Lodge now receives a complimentary whiskey-tasting experience in the distillery. We’ve found that people like learning things in a non-threatening environment – it’s fun and interesting and makes their visit with us memorable. We hope to have guests return regularly as they would to their own country home.”


Set under soaring wood ceilings, the restaurant and its adjoining lounge are the venue for breakfast and long lunches, sunset drinks and canapes, followed by an a la carte dining menu that’s designed either for sharing or more formal dining. Guests and visitors can enjoy lunch and dinner at the lodge.


Group Executive Chef Anthony Fullerton and Michael Hope share a passion for true farm-to-table philosophy. Both grew up on farms in Young NSW. Their similar background has created a shared vision and a commitment that sees Anthony fully involved in the farming of the cattle. The beef's journey from conception to life on the farm takes the highest priority. Anthony has introduced a dry-aging facility onsite and aims to raise different breeds of beef and lamb for diversity. He is keen to build a house-made charcuterie line and has plans for a smokehouse.


This approach has seen Anthony, classically trained in the French tradition, win multiple awards, including the Australian Hotels Association Australian Chef of the Year in 2022 for the Bull & Bell Steakhouse in Griffith, which came in #92 in the World's 101 Best Steak Restaurants in 2023. He is committed to sourcing all his produce within a 300-kilometre radius, working hard to develop relationships with local farmers and producers and is heavily focused on the dry aging process of the beef.


“It’s a labour of love,” said Anthony.



“Once the cattle have reached a certain weight on a grass-fed diet, they are brought to the pastures adjacent to Hope Estate for a 120-150 day grain-based feed up. The grains are the byproduct of the other onsite operations, such as the brewery, winery and distillery, which creates a sustainable production approach across the Hope outlets.


“The process involves a sterile, climate and humidity-controlled storage facility and a lot of dedication. You have to look after it, rotate it, check it every week, and you have to know what you’re doing. It’s like cheese or wine. I’ve been known to dry age for up to 300 days. It results in a phenomenal flavour and tender meat. From the breeding program to the plate, it’s a two-year process. It’s a major investment, and I’m lucky that Michael sees it as being like producing a good wine. Anything good takes time, and we’re the only place in Australia that does this with this level of intensity.”


Anthony also believes in letting the produce be the star of the plate and utilising old-school techniques that develop multiple layers and dimensions of flavour. The sauce is always served on the side, sharing is encouraged, and every dish is delicious, with diners looking forward to trying something else on the menu at their next visit.


Despite the commitment to dry-aged beef, the restaurant at Tower Lodge is not a steakhouse. At the time of writing, the menu includes beef dishes such as Hope skewered Angus beef over the woodfire grill with sumac spiced aioli for lunch or Chef's hand-selected cut of beef grilled over the Mibrasa woodfire grill with celeriac, asparagus and porcini mushroom glaze for dinner. It also includes dishes that feature seafood (crab and prawn arancini, black garlic aioli and petite garden cress); lamb (duo of Alba Australian White Lamb, oven-baked rack, pressed shoulder, heirloom carrots, green pea, black garlic jus); chicken (corn fed chicken ballotine, crispy skin, fondant potato, pumpkin, chicken stock reduction) and vegetarian options (eggplant parmigiana with La Stella buffalo mozzarella, pecorino Romano and basil finished in a tomato prosecco).



Did someone mention steakhouse? By the end of 2024, Hope at Honeysuckle will open at The Wharf building in Newcastle, showcasing the wine, spirits and craft beer the Hope family is known for. Hope at Honeysuckle will also offer wine tastings, cooking masterclasses or beer matching experiences and upstairs will be steakhouse Nioka (indigenous for green or grassy hill and named after the farm that Michael Hope grew up on in Young). The beef for this venture is already being planned for.


With such expansion across the Hope Estate and Tower Lodge businesses, it is a surprise to learn that Michael Hope still works as a pharmacist and considers his Hunter Valley businesses a fun hobby. He and his wife Karen began their Hunter Valley tale in Broke after they purchased a farm that “accidentally” included 30 acres of grapes, leading them to winemaking.


They moved to Pokolbin in 2006 to Hope Estate and had solid success in the wine export market. To draw crowds to their winery, they built an arena for live entertainment – a first for the Australian wine industry and opened with Eric Clapton in 2009 with 11,000 people in attendance – the biggest audience in the space has been 38,000 people. As the wine export market declined, they decided to experiment with brewing decent beer and now have an extensive range. Distilling spirits was a natural extension and with a background in farming, so was the 400 head of cattle. They have decided to play to their strengths from a wine perspective, focusing on the Hunter Valley’s reputation for Semillon and Shiraz. Tower Lodge and the soon-to-be-built Hope at Honeysuckle are the proverbial cherries on the top.



“Covid had an impact on our thinking,” said Michael.


“It became more important to do things locally, to focus on what we enjoy doing, what our boys want to develop for the business and not to be 100 per cent reliant on wine. At the end of the day, family and living a good life, having fun with each other and creating that for others is what we’re about.”

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