SYDNEYSIDERS escape the rat race in droves every weekend and flock to the Hunter Valley. Do they know something we don’t know?
Wine country is worth visiting even when a big-name band isn’t performing in the vineyards. In fact, more of us ‘‘locals’’ should do it, and more often. It is less than an hour’s drive for most of us living in Newcastle or Lake Macquarie, thanks to the new expressway, but it truly does feel like a world away.
Where to stay? Spicers Vineyards Estate is a hidden gem that is well worth a look.
Leaving Newcastle on a Friday afternoon and chasing the sun west towards the vineyards is a joy. On the way, try to recognise the names of various wines on the wine country Monopoly board. You might be surprised – or concerned – at how many you are familiar with.
Spicers Vineyards Estate is perched on the high side of Hermitage Road at Pokolbin looking across rows of grapevines to the picturesque Brokenback Mountain Range.
The attractive 12-room guesthouse looks cosy and inviting as we drive up the pebbled driveway to the main entrance. Just as inviting is the friendly receptionist, who gives us a brief tour and walks us along the front verandah to our suite.
The Luxury Spa Suite certainly lives up to its name.
There are four of these 50-square-metre suites, all of which were built just last year. They have separate living and bedroom areas, each with a flat-screen television and reverse-cycle airconditioning.
The huge, tasteful bathroom has underfloor heating and heated towel racks, twin basins, an overhead rain shower and directional shower, and a spa bath underneath a large bay window.
Contents of the mini bar in the main living area are complimentary (you pay only if you want it to be restocked) and thoughtfully stocked, and there is a Nespresso coffee machine. There is also a DVD player, a CD player and an iPod dock with remote control.
Doors open from the northern side of the living area to a private courtyard with a sunbed and tables and chairs. Another set of doors opens to the front verandah, where firewood is in a box, already chopped for your convenience.
The fireplace is a bluestone beauty, and the perfect place to relax of an evening (aided and abetted by the comfortable couches).
Helping ourselves to the complimentary bottle of Bimbadgen sparkling wine, we take a seat in the courtyard and enjoy a cheese platter. Before long it is time to walk the 10metres or so to Spa Anise for an hour-long facial. The lovely Zoe greets us and, as we fill out the mandatory customer information sheet on a clipboard, she treats us to a foot wash and massage.
Zoe suggests a spa and a glass of bubbly as my companion enjoys a facial, and I happily oblige. Answering a knock on the door, resplendent in my Spicers gown and slippers, I am handed a surprise ‘‘complimentary evening cocktail’’ by staff. The free Wi-Fi on-site is handy when you feel the urge to gloat to your friends.
So, the fire is on, the iPod dock is being put to use, and too quickly it’s time for dinner at Restaurant Botanica, a short stroll from the guesthouse. Not hearing many cars arriving at Spicers during the afternoon and early evening, I was surprised to find every seat at the restaurant taken and the venue buzzing with conversation. Apparently guests from other venues hear about Restaurant Botanica on the grapevine (no pun intended) and make the pilgrimage every weekend.
We opted for a three-course meal, with wines personally matched to each dish by attentive and knowledgeable restaurant staff. Highlights of our feast include: the artisan bread; the zucchini flowers filled with herbs and ricotta with prosciutto and smoked corn veloute; seared scallops with citrus butter, garden peas and shaved fennel; and the orange duck confit with peppered beetroot, garden potatoes and roasted garlic.
The wine list is a thing of beauty with pages dedicated to spirits, liquers, vintage and non-vintage champagnes, wines by the glass, and even a cigar list.
And then there was breakfast.
It is served at the restaurant between 8am and 9am (however it can be delivered to your room), and the moment you arrive and are shown to a table the first course appears. Fruit with yoghurt and a freshly squeezed juice, and a cuppa. Then it’s time for delicate house-made pastries with jam, a house-made bacon and egg tart with tomato relish, and poached eggs with bacon and artisan bread. Everything is made fresh, with herbs and other goodies sourced from a garden on-site which you are encouraged to inspect.
It was a little chilly to take a dip in the on-site pool but it would be perfect for guests during the warmer months.
When staying at a boutique venue, it’s the personal service and the attention to detail that counts. That’s their selling point over large hotels or resorts. Guests want to be pampered, they want to feel special, they want to feel that they are welcome.
Spicers Vineyards Estate ticks every box.
The writer was a guest of Spicers Vineyards Estate
Thanks to Spicers Vineyards Estate, the Herald is offering our readers the chance to win a one-night Gourmet Getaway Prize: a night’s luxury accommodation for two people at Spicers Vineyards Estate, complimentary arrival mini bar and cheese selection, a five-course signature menu dinner in its multi-award-winning Restaurant Botanica, and a gourmet breakfast in the morning (value $699). To enter, email ‘‘Spicers’’ to weekenderfreebies@ theherald.com.au or text ‘‘Spicers’’ to 0427369610 with your name, address and phone number. Entries for the competition will close on Wednesday at 9am.