Most people know Pokolbin as the heart of Hunter Valley Wine Country. But some might not realise that a distinct section of the southern part of the valley, nestled at the foothills of the Brokenback Range, has its own unique identity: the Parish of Pokolbin.
Officially established in the 1880's, the Parish is the oldest wine region in Australia, encompassing some of the region’s best sites for viticulture. Unsurprisingly, it’s home to many of the area’s most popular places to wine, dine, shop, stay and play – and back in 2010, several such destinations came together to form the Parish of Pokolbin group.
“The group was formed by a small number of Parish pioneers, including Draytons, Tullochs, McWilliams, Tinklers and Stevens, with a couple of relative newcomers including Ernest Hill and McLeish,” explains Ross Wilson, Secretary of the Parish of Pokolbin group and owner of Ernest Hill Wines. “It now comprises in excess of 50 members with varying businesses including wineries, accommodation, restaurants and activities.”
Building on the area’s solid foundation of history, heritage and unique character, the group’s primary aim is to contribute towards the future of Hunter Valley Wine Country. Through partnership and promotion, members of the Parish collectively focus on producing outstanding wines and memorable experiences for visitors.
“The main focus is to preserve the wine-making history of the Parish and to use the combined power of the individual businesses to promote the Parish as a premier tourist destination. We are focussed on preserving the integrity of the area as a wine-producing area and a rural tourist destination,” Ross says. “We also have a keen interest in improving the infrastructure of the area and work closely with the council on infrastructure matters.”
Ross has been with the group since its inception back in 2010. Managed by a small committee headed by Chairman John Drayton of Drayton’s Family Wines, the group has always placed the area’s historical significance at the forefront of its operations. That rich history of grape-growing and wine-making is what gives the Parish and its businesses a sense of pride and unique identity. “Being a newcomer to the area, after discussions with the pioneers, I understood their disquiet about the lack of recognition for the Parish and that something should be done to restore this historical area to prominence,” Ross says. “The Parish is the oldest precinct of the oldest commercial wine-producing area in Australia. This proud history, coupled with the enthusiasm of the people in the area, make it a great asset for the Hunter Valley wine district.”
Along with its top-shelf wineries and cellar doors, the Parish of Pokolbin is home to a range of food destinations, from Hatted fine dining establishments through to more casual (yet equally delicious) café fare. There are also plenty of accommodation offerings, from the cosy to the downright luxurious, and a bevvy of activities and experiences for those who want to make the most of their Wine Country visit. The Parish has also begun branching out into community events such as the End2End Festival. Spread around four venues throughout Pokolbin, End2End combines wineries, gourmet food, live music and all the best elements of the area into one colossal spring day. The second End2End Festival was held this September, following the success of the inaugural event in 2018. “It was bigger and better this year, and we look forward to it becoming a permanent premier event for promoting the Parish and the valley,” Ross says. (The next End2End has already been booked in for September 19th, 2020 – keep an eye out for early bird tickets in the coming months.)
So if you pay a visit to the Parish of Pokolbin area, what are some of the destinations you’ll find? Let’s take a virtual tour of a few must-see spots…
With the striking stainless steel chain sculpture of two giant entwined hands outside its cellar door, Ivanhoe Wines is one of the Parish’s most distinctive destinations. But the sculpture isn’t what the winery is best known for – that would be its gutsy reds, delicious whites and signature hospitality. Located just off Marrowbone Road, Ivanhoe is an 80-acre vineyard whose combination of fertile volcanic soils, 50-year-old vines and generations of winemaking experience produces a unique range of high-quality wines. The estate’s award-winning cellar door is a replica of the 1800's Ivanhoe Homestead, featuring a verandah overlooking the Brokenback Range. It’s the perfect spot to sample the winery’s wares while admiring that stunning wine country view.
Head a little further down Marrowbone Road, and you’ll find Mount Pleasant Wines. Established in 1921, this richly historic winery operates under the lasting legacy of its founder, Maurice O’Shea. Almost 100 years on, the award-winning wines produced at Mount Pleasant pay tribute to O’Shea’s talent and toil. And Mount Pleasant’s cellar door is a scenic place to sample them, with mountains and rolling vineyards providing a stunning backdrop to the patio and garden terrace. Tasting experiences are conducted by a passionate cellar door team, who provide insight into the Mount Pleasant winemaking style and philosophy, and tours of the estate are also available if you’re keen for a glimpse behind the scenes.
Turning right into Marrowbone Road and just further up the road you will find Kelman Vineyard and Saddlers Creek Wines, both well-established boutique vineyards nestled in a quieter corner of the Parish of Pokolbin below Mount View and renowned for providing a superbly relaxing personal wine experience and for the quality of their wines.
Back up on McDonalds Road, Tamburlaine Organic Wines (pictured top) is well worth a visit for both regular wine lovers and fans of organic fare. This unique winery’s award-winning range includes organic, vegan-friendly, low-sulphur and no-added-sulphur products. Leading the way in contemporary organic wine production in the Hunter, Tamburlaine’s process is focused around sustainable production and the long-term health of their vineyard and soil. The rustic cellar door showcases all its best products, while a behind-the-scenes winery and vineyard tour gives visitors an inside look at the beautiful venue and its environmentally focused winemaking processes. Tamburlaine is also home to various special events, long lunches and scenic weddings.
Those seeking something sweet to top off their wine tastings should venture up to Broke Road for a stop at the famous Sabor Dessert Bar. First opened in Lovedale back in 2011, Sabor is now located on Lambloch Estate, adjacent to the Lambloch cellar door. Its mouthwatering menu features over 50 different desserts – from Sabor’s multi-award-winning Portuguese Chocolate Mousse to decadent cakes and pastries, handmade chocolates and gourmet ice cream. Sweet treats can be paired with a coffee and tea, or (of course) a glass of local wine. And for those who can’t quite decide between the showstopping treats on offer, there are tasting plates available featuring five mini boutique desserts!
Across the road from Sabor, you’ll find an extensive list of red, white, sparkling and fortified wines at Petersons Wines, the Pokolbin cellar door of the Peterson family winery first established at Mount View in 1971. Those who are bigger fans of bubbly than of white or red might wish to follow that family name to Peterson House – a picturesque venue with a gourmet breakfast/lunch restaurant (Restaurant Cuvee), an oyster bar and a cellar door specialising in all things sparkling.
Heading back down McDonalds Road, you’ll discover Tulloch Wines, whose cellar door offers several wine tasting experiences including wine and chocolate pairings, a mystery wine tour, and a ‘museum’ showcase of highlights from the private Tulloch cellar. Just around the corner on DeBeyers Road you’ll find McLeish Estate, 11 hectares of vineyard surrounding a boutique cellar door offering tastings accompanied by cheese platters, regional tasting plates or even a BBQ in the winery grounds.
Another Pokolbin staple is Drayton’s Family Wines on Oakey Creek Road. One of the oldest winemaking families in the Hunter Valley, the Draytons have over 160 years of experience across six generations, clearly on display in their award-winning wines.
If you’re looking to stay overnight, Elfin Hill offers private and stylish accommodation in a bushland setting with a choice of a self-contained villa or one of six newly renovated studio rooms – with a saltwater pool and guest pavilion with cosy couches and a wrap-around verandah providing that welcoming space for relaxing after a day wine tasting. voco Kirkton Park Hunter Valley is yet another stunning accommodation option, featuring boutique rooms and suites on a stylish manor estate – or you can simply visit for fine dining at Locavore restaurant or a spot of high tea in the sun-drenched Conservatory.
These are just a handful of the 50+ places to wine, dine, stay and play in the Parish of Pokolbin. But no matter which destination you visit, you’re sure to get a sense of the pride and community spirit that permeates the entire Parish collective. “We have a great and diverse group of people who have a passion for promoting the history and facilities of the Parish,” Ross sums up. “They are also a sociable group who enjoy a spirited meeting – especially when the wineries bring some samples!”
For more information on Parish of Pokolbin, its history and its businesses, visit www.parishofpokolbin.com.au