When Jen, the editor of I Ate My Way Through emailed me to say there was an opportunity to attend a Wine Media Conference in the Hunter Valley (and of course drink bountiful amounts of wine), I instantly jumped at the invite. What better way to start the weekend early by meeting wine media professionals from around the world, sharing ideas about the blogging & marketing industry and enjoy wine from some of Australia’s best and most famous producers.

My best bosom buddy and best friend my Mum, was to be my partner for the trip, so we set off on a Thursday afternoon for an early start to the weekend. The 2.5hr ride from Sydney to the Hunter flew by, and before we knew it we had arrived at the Crowne Plaza, the home to the conference and our dwellings. 

Whilst my mum checked us into our room, I checked us into the conference. We had missed the seminars that afternoon, but I explored the various producers hailing from Mudgee, the Hunter, and various other wine regions. There was olives freshly grown on the vine and preserved in brine for the freshest taste, chocolate balls and of course wine. 

Before long, it was time for the welcome reception which was a short 5-minute ride away. The conference attendees quickly gathered together and hopped into our buses to make our way to Brokenwood Winery.  

Brokenwood Winery, is a Hunter Valley institution with historic roots. The huge complex is rather impressive, boasting beautiful architecture encompassing a cellar door, restaurant, cafe and huge modern shed filled with vats and barrels on show through huge glass windows overlooking exactly where the wine is made. 

Upon arrival, we were greeted by three golden suckling pigs which had been basting on the fire all afternoon. They were literally the tiniest piglets I had ever seen, but you know what they say apparently young meat is juicy meat. The setup was perfect, with an alfresco style terrace, popping with bright yellow umbrellas, wine barrels, and various food stations, with a variety of wine producers ready inside for tastings. 

An incredible cheese station that would have made even the most seasoned cheese lovers weak at the knees, had been setup by the Hunter Valley Cheese Factory. Huge wheels of blue cheese, brie cheese, manchego and cheddar, all locally made, stood waiting to be devoured. A delicious array of condiments such as quince pastes, dates, compotes, honey, grapes and fruit dotted the table, ready to be paired with the cheese. A myriad of crackers, fresh bread and other crispy lavosh snacks provided wide choice for revellers and a constant excuse to hover around the table and try something new. 

Around the tasting room of Brokenwood, many of the Hunter Valley winemakers were stationed, allowing attendees to try the various wines, all of whom included their famous Hunter Semillion’s – the famed varietal for which it is so famous. We loved the McLeish Estate Semillion and Reserve Chardonnay, there was a sexy dessert wine bottle by Audrey Wilkinson. 

My favourite part was the fresh seafood circulating including freshly shucked oysters with a zesty cucumber dressing and meaty prawns with a sprinkling of a sweet salty paprika served with creamy seafood sauce. Plates filled with cute chorizo bites on little croutons were deletable little bursts of flavour. 

To welcome us to the conference, we met our host for the evening, the charming Manager from Brokenwood Winery as well as hearing from three Hunter Valley legends. These gentleman hail from the original Hunter vineyards and often date generations back in wine making history. I loved the recognition of the three Hunter legends, who had dressed up especially for us in black tie with dashing tux’s and striking red ribbons bearing a gleaming gold medal declaring their status. 

I am currently in the process of establishing my own wine company, importing Lebanese wines, particularly rosés. I mentioned this to one of the Legends, who during his speech welcoming attendees from around the world including USA, Spain and Japan, singled me out to jump onstage with him. 

Meanwhile, the little piglets were carved up and circulated as pork sliders. Everyone clambered for a little brioche bun filled with pork meat, crackling and aioli. Before long, we had hit our slider quota and a fragrant smell erupted from the corner of the terrace. 

The piece de resistance of the evening was the gigantic pan of paella. Mouthwatering scents of garlic and paprika wafted through the crowd, with an impressive assortment of ingredients neatly arranged beside the pan, the chef mixed everything together with chunks of chicken and bits of seafood to create a pan filled with goodness. 

Filled with bellies full of food, and tipsy off tasting so many wines, we stumbled onto the bus to make our way to our rooms, ready for a full day of drinking and eating tomorrow. 

The next morning after lining our stomachs with the generous breakfast at the Crowne, I set off to sit in on the presentations. We heard from various wine writers as well as Leos Tian and Jeson Chen hailing from China who described the growing market share of Australian wine there, and the impact of social media on this population. 

Various stalls were set up in the next room with local produce including olives, cheeses, and my favourite chocolate covered nuts from a producer named The Fat Blokes Chocolate Balls. The packets were aptly named Ex-Husband’s Balls which were blue coloured chocolate balls, and Rangga’s Nuts for ginger coated in chocolate

Before long, it was time for lunch and after a recommendation from a girlfriend, I had made a reservation at Bistro Molines. Around a 20-minute drive away in the Mount View region, we drove along winding roads and kicked up some dust on the gravel pathways to arrive at the most gorgeous homestead. 

Bistro Molines is a French style restaurant sitting on a ridge overlooking the vast green surrounds of rolling hills, vineyards and green pastures. Husband and wife duo, Robert and Sally, play host to guests with their stunning restaurant, whilst next door is the cellar door for Carillion wines. As you drive up to the entrance, two gorgeous potted trees surrounded by little posies greet you with perfect symmetry. A rustic wooden table topped with cast iron candelabra sits at the entrance, crisp white table clothes cover the alfresco tables, which are shielded from the sun with canopies of growing vines overhead and a dashing chandelier crafted from branches. 

Inside the restaurant, you feel like you may have been transported to a French chateaux in Provence. Vintage bird cages, assortments of vases, impressive pots, silverware and classic lamps decorate the room and the banquets. Flowers inject subtle bursts of colour amongst the off-white homestead. We started the meal with a wonderful glass of sparkling wine from Carillion Wines the cellar only 5 meters from where we sat, luckily proving the optimal location for a wine tasting and some purchases after lunch. The sparkling had a beautiful rosy tone to it, thanks to the keeping of the skins during pressing. 

We enjoyed a complimentary snack of smoked trout mousse and toasted baguette, to line our stomach, and some incredibly yummy bread served with a locally produced olive oil. This was accompanied by a bottle of delicious sparkling white wine from the cellar door next door. 

For the entree we enjoyed a crab roulade with fresh spring vegetables including radish, tomato, cucumber, miniature capsicum/pepper berries, topped with black caviar. It was fresh, light and filled with flavour! 

Four our main we shared the Braised Goat Shoulder for Two with Roasted Vegetables and Rosemary Jus ($75). This slow-cooked piece of meat, fell apart softly from the bone with the flavourful rosemary jus, proving delectable. It came with an assortment of roasted carrots, radish and potatoes which were utterly delicious! 

Finally, considering we were on a role of indulgence we opted for the signature dessert of the house, Tiramisu. My gosh, this is probably one of the top three tiramisu’s I’ve ever had. Soft homemade coffee soaked sponge, between layers of coffee cream, topped with a generous dollop of mascarpone and some coffee gelato, was intoxicating! I was in heaven and we were scrambling for the last bites! 

On the verge of deep food coma’s, we quickly ordered an espresso to perk us up. Of course, just when we thought there was room for no more, we had no choice but to nibble on some cute little petit four brownies!

On the way back to Crowne Plaza, we stopped by a favourite winery of ours Macquariedale, an organic boutique style winery. With a driveway lined with lavender, blue umbrellas, tall green hedges and a striking pink homestead, it certainly is one gorgeous cellar door!

The husband and wife owner’s are delightfully sweet, and we later met them that night at the Around Hermitage dinner (below). I am obsessed with the NBG wine, ‘nothing but grapes’ which is 100% organic with a deep body and plenty of character.

That afternoon we enjoyed wine speed tasting with many different producers from around the Hunter region who brought us a variety of wines to taste. These included Tyrell’s Hunter Valley Shiraz, Tulloch Pokolbin Dry Red Shiraz, Tintilla Estate Saphira Sangiovese, Taylors Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Scarborough ‘The Obsessive’ Shiraz, Mount Pleasant Rosehill Vineyard Shiraz, Leogate Estate Wines Brokenback Vineyard Shiraz, Ivanhoe Shiraz. 

A quick break to freshen up to my room, and we were back with the group boarding busses to take us to our dinner destinations. Conference attendees were split into four different groups and each would set off to their respective destination for a curated dinner. I was lucky enough to be treated to the ‘Hunters & Gatherers’ themed dinner which included hand picked wines from each of the wineries within the Around Hermitage collection. It was hosted at the Tintilla family’s winery, where they had welcomed almost 50 of us into their home for a long table dinner. Before that we were invited to mount some horses and take a ride. Despite the cold weather put a little dampener on the situation, it was still a fun experience. 

Robert & Mary Lusby, owners of Tintilla Estate Winery

Arriving at the Tintilla family home, we were treated to glasses of sparkling wines accompanied by some circling h’or deuves homemade by the host such as vol au vents and Tintilla Estate Olive Tapenade and hand picked table olives. 

As we were seated at one of the longest indoor tables I’ve ever seen, we started on the wines of evening. The first course consisted of Holbert’s Port Stephens oysters served with lime & lemon vinaigrette, smoked Rosebrook Eel, pickled ginger & roe with a light of young and various aged semillions from areas of differing terroir within the Around Hermitage collection. 

Next was Pokolbin wild rabbit and Branxton pork terrine with local chutneys and pickled vegetables with a light of Chardonnay from Around Hermitage. I’m not personally a terrine fan, but the chardonnays did make up for that!

Course three was a roasted local wild red deer with smoked potato puree, locally grown vegetables roasted in Belebula extra virgin olive oil, and salads from various gardens nearby dressed with Thomas Wines Verjus and Hunters Dream extra virgin olive oil. These were matched with a Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from the Around Hermitage wineries, as well as young and aged Sangiovese from 2 vineyards with different soil profiles. 

The final course was local cheeses with Rosemary and sea salt crostini, Peppercorn crostini, Poppyseed Lavosh from The Mill Restaurant with Tintilla Quine paste and chilli tomato relish. This was paired with Honey yoghurt and shortbread from Ridgeview Restaurant. 

After a jolly good time, and too much wine, we loaded the bus and tipsily set off back to the comfort of our bed’s at the Crowne Plaza, ready for the final day of the WMC 2019 Conference. 

The next morning we enjoyed some educational sessions about content, writing and unexplored wine regions of the world. One such region is Lebanon, which is enjoying a wine boom with a growing number of wineries becoming established there, and yours truly starting her very own business to import such exotic wines to Australia. 

After our morning sessions we enjoyed a beautiful buffet lunch hosted by Pernod Ricard inside the hotel. The spread was luscious with salads, antipasto, fresh cheeses, and of course some wine from Pernod’s wonderful portfolio. We sampled a Cava from Campo Viejo, Jacob’s Creek Le Petit Rosé, a Lyndale Chardonnay from the Adelaide Hills and a Johann Shiraz Cabernet from the Barossa Valley. These paired wonderfully with our lunch and allowed us to pair what we choose with our food. This was now to be the end of the conference, however we were lucky enough to stay on an additional night and explore the Hunter further. 

We rested that afternoon, before setting off to EXP Restaurant for a tasting menu. The menu is ever changing, with a focus on delicious, entertaining and interactive dining experience. It is situated on a pretty property at the same location as the Oakvale Wines cellar door, which proves convenient if you want to do a tasting before your meal!

The first course is a small bite of four dishes including an Appellation oyster, Duck Ham on garlic focaccia toast, lightly golden pan fried haloumi. The next course was the most beautiful cooked Hiramasa Kingfish that was wonderfully tender paired with some perfectly cooked and crunchy sugar snap peas. There was a lightly roasted duck breast with pear, which was cooked to wonderful medium rare perfection. With the savoury courses finished off with some fatty wagyu cut beef with mushrooms, edible flowers and a smokey sauce. 

The finalé with the restaurant’s decadent take on the Magnum ice-cream, aptly named the Exp. Ego. It was rich, decadent and utterly delicious with a thick layer of dark chocolate coating a sticky caramel sauce encasing some creamy ice-cream. This was followed by a range of bite-sized petit fours to finish it all off. Needless to say, we waddled home!

The next morning, we were struggling, all the wine and food had seriously got to us. Nonetheless we made our way to Brokenwood, the scene of the original day’s event. We were here to enjoy a lovely brunch at their in-house cafe Cru Bar & Pantry. 

The dishes we picked were seriously on point and the kitchen absolutely nailed it. We choose the Wood fired local pumpkin, thick cut chargrilled bacon, tahini yoghurt, dukkah and sourdough and Poke bowl of cured salmon, seaweed, green noodles, Kewpie mayo, sesame, chilli and avocado. The pumpkin was a huge wedge roasted to softness with a smoky bacon slab, middle eastern inspired tahini sauce & sukkah herbs – it was what breakfast dreams are made of. The poke bowl went far beyond your average perception of the dish, with a generous portion of cured salmon, fresh ginger, radish, chives, shallots creamy Japanese mayo, soft soba noodles, and sesame crusted avo. Both dishes were generous portions and outstanding! 

We were so exhausted from an action packed few days, we stumbled back to the car and set off home. Our car filled with wine purchased, and our belt notches a whole size bigger, we journeyed back to Sydney sleepily. 

I Ate My Way Through attended WMC 2019 as guests of Destination NSW.

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Nicole hails from a half Lebanese, half Australian background. Since a young age, Nicole has maintained a deep passion for the food and wine industry, coupled with over 8+ years experience in five star hotels and Michelin restaurants across the world. Using her finance degree, she entered the corporate world, but it wasn't long before her wanderlust set in. After a trip to Lebanon, she was amazed by the incredible wines the country had to offer. Nicole has since started Vins Du Liban - Wines of Lebanon, a business where she endeavours to share the amazing wines of her Lebanese heritage with the Australian market.