Why has the Hunter never quite been in the hunt? Despite the fact that it's the oldest wine-making centre in the country, is conveniently linked to Sydney by expressways and boasts more restaurants listed in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age Good Food Guide than anywhere outside of the big smoke, the Hunter Valley hasn't been the apple of the eyes of Sydneysiders compared with the Barossa Valley and Margaret River. But limitations on travel thanks to the pandemic has meant the Hunter, which offers excellent accommodation choices, including the 12-room Spicers Vineyards Estate, is receiving renewed, and these days to a large extent deserved, consideration from sceptical city-slickers, including your reviewer.
Perched on a eucalypt-topped hillside with views of the Broke Back Range that traces its way through the lower extremities of the Hunter Valley, Pokolbin's Spicers Vineyard Estate is a notch over two hours north of Sydney. It feels much more like a genuine retreat than its much larger, more glamorous stablemate, the 49-room Spicers Guesthouse down the road, which tends to overshadow it. But this more low-key option is regarded as having the superior restaurant with an unbeatable setting overlooking the private (decoration only) vineyard.
All of the rooms at Spicers Vineyards Estate, which bills itself as a boutique retreat independent of any particular winery, are spread out across a single-storey complex which affords an easy connection with the serene bushland and vineyard environment.
My 45-square metre king spa room, one of two types of suites not including the sizeable Vineyard's House cottage, is large and luxurious. Facing the vines and shaded by gums, it features an open-plan bedroom and lounge with fireplace, a spacious granite bathroom with spa tub and a courtyard and terrace.
The Spicers group, which hails from Queensland (though don't hold that against it), rightly prides itself on the outstanding restaurants that form an integral part of its properties. One of the main attractions for a stay at Spicers Vineyard Estate is Restaurant Botanica which is set in a separate pavilion-style building overlooking those vines just a short stroll from the rooms. This modern Australian-themed fine eatery is one of eight Hunter Valley restaurants, including eRemo. Four of them have coveted hats and made the cut in the Good Food Guide.
Staying more than one night at Spicers Vineyards Estate? Do include a visit to Spicers Guesthouse for dinner at eRemo, its snazzy contemporary Italian restaurant and bar. If you're heading there for lunch (weekends only) you may want to forego the car and take one of Spicers' Vineyards Estate electric bicycles which you'll appreciate on the hilly return journey. Factor in a ritual cellar door visit, with bookings essential these days, to Tyrrell's Wines. Hard to believe as it may be, it vines, having been spared the phylloxera epidemic that wiped out European vineyards in the 19th century, rank as among the oldest in the world. The historic Tyrell's estate also includes a collection of preserved winery buildings that are worth exploring - keep an eye out for the resumption of group and private tours.
Sophisticated Spicers Vineyards Estate is a perfect match for the Hunter Valley wineries and a great place for a relaxing escape relatively close to town. It's a beautifully-located retreat with a fine restaurant. If you dislike crowds, consider booking a mid-week stay which will deliver a rather different impression of the Hunter Valley.
Four and a half out of five
The retreat's nature-rich hilltop setting and locale is one of the finest in the Hunter Valley
The restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays so time you may want to time your visit accordingly.
Anthony Dennis stayed as a guest of Spicers Vineyards Estate