Keith Tulloch Wine Manager's Quarters, Pokolbin review: Winery stay a perfect tonic

Read our writer's views on this property below

Susan Bredow finds French provincial flair complements a cellar door's expansion.

Within a few hours of arriving in the Hunter Valley, my companion says she doesn't feel like drinking wine. A short time later she asks me to pour her a gin and tonic. She's my mother. So, we may drink but we are unlikely to try the rich semillons, sweet shiraz and the wonderful, big buttery chardonnays for which the Hunter is renowned.

I'm a little taken aback but soon recover. There is plenty else to do.

We have booked a two-bedroom apartment stay, the Manager's Quarters at Keith Tulloch wines. Tulloch is a long-established and respected name in the Hunter and the home-paddock vines are thick and gnarled with age, but the apartment and surrounding winery buildings are new.

The apartment's balcony, equipped with table and chairs, overlooks a manicured lawn edged with parterre gardens. Buildings here are sited to create an internal courtyard, which is reminiscent of France's fabulous rose wineries in Provence.

Until building started a little more than a year ago, the vines were about the only thing on the property. But Keith and his wife, Amanda, who doubles as both an interior designer and the winery's general manager, saw an opportunity to create a charming cellar-door experience. While she set about designing the complex, he approached two of the region's best restaurateurs, Muse Restaurant's Troy and Megan Rhoades-Brown, to open Muse Kitchen at the winery.

The kitchen menu is a more casual version of the Rhoades-Browns' fine-dining restaurant at nearby Hungerford Hill. Housed in a purpose-built area under the Manager's Quarters, the kitchen has restricted opening hours, so its operations don't disturb us at all. The apartment itself is well set up, spacious and comfortable. We walk in and feel at ease. Amanda has brought a French provincial style to the interiors, with a rustic marble-topped island bench, recently aged antique white table and chairs, iron beds with white Marcella quilts and Eiffel Tower-shaped table lamps. The space is finished with artwork and mirrors neatly dotted about the walls.

The kitchen has a dishwasher and a fridge packed with breakfast ingredients for several days, including a dozen eggs, muffins and quality conserves. Everything has been well thought out, as though guests are friends the Tullochs want to take particular care of. The bathroom has an ample supply of fluffy white towels and on the beds, the sheets are fine and smooth.

The only thing missing is a bottle of house wine and a DVD player, so the movies purchased for the weekend are repacked and we cosy up. The deep couch takes mum's fancy as the ideal spot from which to oversee the pouring of the G&Ts, while I choose a comfy chair with a footrest. We chat and browse the tourist magazines on a table. Perusing the hefty wine directory, however, seems as close as I'll get to most of the local cellar doors.

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We'd be on the balcony if the early autumn weather was nicer but outside it's mild and muggy and, while not raining, is so humid the sky is leaking a fine mist. It threatens but never comes through with an honest and relieving downpour. For the next few days we drive along the Hunter Valley's Broke Road as we make our way to and from the winery. And as our car bounces over a rugged surface created by a patchwork of filled potholes, we wonder at the road's apt name - and how such an important tourist area could have such an uncomfortable access route.

Our journeys take us to a round of golf, a unique shopping experience at the Hunter Valley Gardens village and to delicious spa treatments at nearby Chateau Elan. In between, I manage a quick tasting of Keith's well-crafted wines. Don't tell mother.

Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.

VISITORS' BOOK

Keith Tulloch Wine Manager's Quarters

Address

Hermitage Road, Pokolbin.

The verdict

A place to feel at home, without rigid arrival and leaving times and with delicious food and wine on tap.

Price

$820 for two nights (minimum stay) on weekends. $280 a night midweek. Maximum four adults. No children or pets.

Bookings

amanda@keithtullochwine.com.au. Phone (02) 4998 7500.

Getting there

It's a two-hour drive north from Sydney on the F3. Exit to Cessnock, drive through Cessnock, then follow Wine Country Drive to Broke Road. Follow Broke Road through Pokolbin and turn at Hermitage Road.

Wheelchair access

No.

Perfect for

A couple of couples or friends wanting a quiet break among the vines.

While you're there

Try Keith's highly rated wines while sitting on the upstairs terrace and admiring the changing light on the Brokenback Ranges. The cellar door and Muse Kitchen have discounts for apartment guests.