Wandin Estate | Gate-to-Gate Customer Service Excellence
Wandin Estate provides a magical escape from the hustle and bustle of life. It’s a place of tranquillity and serenity that reawakens your senses and provides an enhanced guest experience from gate to gate that will have you returning time and again. Winning awards for its wines, it’s also one of the most highly regarded and awarded wedding venues in the Hunter region, with a reputation for delivering outstanding events – the kind that makes dreams come true. Add a stunning landscape and luxury accommodation for up to 42 people, and it really is the one-stop shop that will exceed the expectations of everyone - from day visitors looking for a wine tasting to couples or families wanting a special lunch celebration to corporate event planners needing the full multi-day experience for their teams. Heading into wine country from Lovedale, it’s the first stop off the freeway and can easily be the last!
Wandin Estate began 50 years ago this year, previously named Millstone Vineyard when local potter and winemaker Peter Dobinson planted the first vines in 1973. The 120-acre estate changed hands in 1990 when James Davern and his wife Philippa purchased the property and renamed it after the fictional town from a television series he produced in the 80s. The television program was called A Country Practice, and the town that Wandin Estate is named after was Wandin Valley. The series attracted 8 to 10 million viewers weekly and was also popular internationally. They set out to create a tourist destination on the estate that included accommodation, a cellar door, winery, and dedicated function spaces. Perhaps most visionary of all was the development of the Cricketer’s Pavilion and Oval, which was a replica of the famous home of cricket, Lord’s in England, and has since become one of the most sought-after wedding and event spaces in the region.
The property would change hands again before current owners Linda and Lipton Tsoi took over in 2016 with a vision to refresh the brand and strengthen customer service delivery. The COVID period presented the usual challenges for the estate in regard to visitation and staffing shortages, but with that now behind them, the scene is set for renewal, spurred on by passionate staff led by General Manager Leona Emeny. Emeny is a hospitality specialist with experience at hotels and resort groups Avani and Stamford and wine labels Levantine Hill Estate, Giant Steps Wines and Penfolds.
“We’ve spent the past 12 months bedding down a deeper level of customer service across the estate,” says Emeny.
“We want our guest experience to be virtually one-on-one interactions from gate to gate. We’ve reinstated local discounts in the restaurant, Wandin Kitchen, to encourage our local Lovedalians to return regularly. We are the perfect location for date nights, and we’ve been reaching out to the bus tour groups to increase mid-week patronage. There’s a new wine club membership with more events and club packs available and a new wedding package launching in mid- November.”
Emeny is well supported by her team, which includes Cellar Door Manager Matt Perry and Head Chef Tim Richardson. Perry is a local who has spent ten years working in restaurants and cellar doors throughout the Hunter Valley, most notably Ivanhoe Wines and Amanda’s on the Edge. He has been at Wandin Estate for just over a year.
Richardson was Sous Chef to the previous Executive Chef, John Rutherford and took over as Head Chef a couple of years ago. He has been at the estate for seven years and was at Hunter Resort before that. He is passionate about locally sourced produce, supported by his own kitchen garden on the estate, providing staples such as rocket, spinach, chilli, and garnishes. The vincotto is made in-house, as is gnocchi and all the breads.
“If Tim has a speciality, it’s probably his pork belly. It is crispy every time, and I don’t know how he does it,” says Emeny.
“He won’t tell me how. It’s included on many of our wedding menus, and to see it so consistently crispy and delicious is astounding. Patrons at Wandin Kitchen also love the Tasting Plate. It’s a Chef’s selection that changes daily and consists of four items in slightly smaller portions all on the one plate. It’s matched with four wines, and we explain why they pair and work so well together. At $45 for the plate and $10 for the tasting, it’s a popular option.
“Our approach with the food and wine here at Wandin Estate is that the wine always comes first. We begin with the wine and then produce the food that best complements that. Tim creates the dishes that suit the wines, so from a restaurant’s point of view, we’re sort of back to front!”
There are 40 acres of vineyard at Wandin Estate, with plantings of Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet and Malbec. The Bridie’s Block Shiraz vines are 50 years old this year and go into the Reserve wines. Semillon is sourced from the Hunter Valley, but the winery also sources Sauvignon Blanc from Orange. The winemaker is Liz Silkman, three times Hunter Valley Winemaker of the Year, and the philosophy behind the winemaking practices is that of minimal intervention, with the fruit as the hero.
“Our wines are a true representation of what Mother Nature delivers,” says Emeny.
“Each vintage faces a different environment, and you can taste that in the wines. For example, the 2019 Estate Shiraz is rich, deep and bold, and that’s because we had a hot, dry year that year, but the 2021 Estate Shiraz is light and floral because it was a wet year.
“We do a beautiful Reserve Fortified Malbec that is a unique and wonderful dessert wine, very light in style with sweet flavours of blackcurrant and vibrant raspberry. You won’t get that anywhere else. It’s used in our Wandin Affogato dessert in the restaurant and is a customer favourite that I highly recommend.”
With such beautiful food and wine available, it is no wonder that the estate has won multiple awards over many years as the wedding venue of choice for those in the know. The wedding packages have recently been updated and will be launched in mid-November. The new package will include a fourth ceremony location on Vineyard Hill with a mountain range background. The other three locations are Eucalypt Grove by the cricket oval, on the timber pontoon overlooking the dam or for a more rustic atmosphere, The Barn, which offers breath-taking views with an ambience of oak barrels and chandelier.
“We’ve also created a new space for smaller events; the Barrel Room under the Cellar Door is ideal for cocktail parties, catering for up to 40 to 50 guests. It can be a bit more casual and relaxed and is often used the night before a wedding when guests have arrived to stay and don’t want to have a huge night. They can get together, enjoy a BBQ and a few drinks and then wander off to their luxury accommodation. Of course, these spaces are not just suitable for weddings but are ideal for corporate groups or large family celebrations of any kind. We’ve had school formals, club Christmas events, gala dinners, you name it, and we can make it happen.”
The Cricketers Pavilion is a dedicated function centre with a separate kitchen that can cater for 120 guests banquet style or 150 cocktail style. It features beautiful glass sliding doors with expansive views over the vineyards and the adjacent cricket pitch. The ideal indoor/outdoor space, dance floor, high ceilings, chandeliers, exposed timber and natural light provide the perfect backdrop to bring any bride’s or corporate event planner’s vision to life. And yes, many weddings and events feature games on the cricket pitch with special soft cricket gear – sometimes while the bride and groom are being photographed or sometimes the day after in post-wedding celebrations and fun.
Of course, one of the biggest advantages of events at Wandin Estate is the onsite luxury accommodation featuring seven vineyard villas that can sleep up to 42 guests at a time. Featuring mountain, vineyard or secluded bush views, the recently upgraded villas are reminiscent of Tuscany and are all self-contained – each with its own unique charms. Guests have access to an estate pool, picnic and breakfast hampers can be ordered, and there’s plenty of wildlife to be spotted in the grounds. Couples looking for a romantic getaway, families celebrating something special, wedding parties or corporate teams can all be accommodated.
“We want people to realise there’s so much to see and do here, and the quality is exceptional,” said Emeny.
“People can pop in for a wine tasting any day of the week. We’ve got a grassed area that’s ideal for the kids, an undercover courtyard, we’re dog friendly, and our wrap around verandah is simply the best place to sit and enjoy the views with a glass of wine. The kitchen is open from Thursday through Sunday, our prices are affordable, and our servings are generous. Our welcome mat is well and truly out, and we want you to leave your worries behind and enjoy the tranquillity of our beautiful estate.”
Bookings for the cellar door, Wandin Kitchen and accommodation can be made at www.wandin.com.au.