Ten years ago, give or take a pregnancy, Mr. Eats World and I often indulged in sneaky weekends of wining and dining Hunter Valley style, sipping wine amongst the vines and enjoying indulgent evenings over fine food on the veranda of a pretty restaurant.
Who I am kidding?
What would really happen is we’d spend long afternoons swilling shiraz, which would invariably turn into longer evenings of swilling more shiraz back at our digs where we’d empty the bottles we’d purchased “to cellar”. Like that was ever going to happen. The following morning would be all about surviving an epic hangover and eating our body weight in bacon and egg rolls and paracetamol… so we could hit repeat and do it all over again. Because we were not so young and very foolish.
Then along came our beautiful babies and with them an abrupt end to boozy days and brain blistering hangovers. Not only because knocking back bottles of wine is not conducive to responsible adulting, but also because the combination of young children and hangovers is heinous.
So now we find ourselves, after a break in nearby Lake Macquarie, sneaking back to the Hunter, only with a nine-year old and six-year old in tow. And though it turns out the Hunter Valley has oodles of wholesome activities and attractions to keep them entertained, the siren song of those vineyards is proving irresistible. We are torn. Do we turn our back on all the ravishing Rose and sassy Chardonnay that’s jostling for our attention, or do we adult?
It turns out we can do both. There are plenty of kid friendly cellar doors in the area. Some boast playgrounds and cafes, others offer organised activities, and yet others large grassy play areas and activities the kids can run amok in while their parents sensibly sip on a sneaky shiraz or three.
To save you doing the searching, here we share five of the The Hunter Valley’s Best Kid Friendly Wineries, where you can enjoy wine free of whining. All based in Pokolbin, they are all within a short drive (with a designated driver) of the fabulously kid friendly Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort, where we return with the spoils of our winery adventures to enjoy its bright and airy villa accommodation, visiting kangaroos, tennis courts, and three sparkling pools.
1. Scarborough Wine Co, Pokolbin
Scarborough Wine Co has to be the best vineyard in the Hunter to visit with kids. The owners, parents themselves, understand the importance of making the cellar door experience a great one for every member of the family.
There is so much for the kids to do, within our view, that we are able to enjoy a superb tasting flight, complete with a palate cleansing cheese and charcuterie board, with eight wines.
We are particularly taken with the lovely Pinot Noir Rosé and Vermentino and a show stopping Obsessive Shiraz, while the kids were taken with the hula hoops, giant jenga set, chess board, quoits, and chalkboard outside.
They are also offered individual activity packs with puzzles and colouring and a juice to sip on while the adults sip on the alcoholic variety. Kids are also welcomed and well catered for at the cellar door’s excellent restaurant. It really doesn’t get better than this.
2. Tulloch Wines, Pokolbin
Who said mum and dad should have all the fun? At Tulloch Wines, there’s plenty to keep the kids occupied while mum and dad taste their way through their range of shiraz and scoff made to order boards of local charcuterie, sip their way through museum wine tastings, head on mystery wine tours and even partake in artisan chocolate pairings.
One of the Hunter Valley’s most Kid Friendly Wineries, the kids can enjoy the great ourdoors and games including croquet, Connect 4 and jumbo Jenga. Or they can experience their own tasting with Tulloch’s Junior Tasting Experience, where five tasty treats are matched with five carefully paired non-alchololic bevvies. The sensory experience teaches the kids about identifying and combining flavours in a fun and inclusive way.
3. Gemelli Estate, Pokolbin
This small, boutique European-style vineyard has a pretty courtyard that is overrun with riotous pink blossoms on our visit. There’s a splendid weeping willow that is far too tempting for a small boy not to climb as well as pretty shaded tables and chairs overlooking rows of Chardonnay, Merlot and Muscat vines bursting with grapes, almost ripe enough for picking.
The wine produced by Gemelli Estate is lovely, especially the Sierra Grazia Moscato, a blush pink sparkling wine that is light in alcohol and doesn’t tamper too much with our parenting skills. But it is the warm welcome that makes this place so lovely.
This kid friendly winery also offers a cubby house for younger kids, and a grassy area where the kids can play bocce, totem tennis, or kick about a soccer ball. It is warm when we visit, so instead Raffles and Sugarpuff elect to fine-tune their Chinese Checker skills under the shade of a pretty vine and laze on the hot pink beanbags with ice cream.
4. Elbourne Wines, Pokolbin
Another one for the Shiraz lovers, and their offspring. Elbourne Wines is a family-run vineyard with wine tastings by appointment only. While the adults taste their way through the vineyards award-winning Shiraz and Chardonnay varietals, and snack on the freshest of farm produce, the kids can indulge in a frenzy of feathered and furry fun.
There’s a menagerie of farmyard animals just waiting to be oohed and aahed over. And when the novelty of bothering the Black Suffolk sheep, Wessex Saddleback pigs, horses, ducks, chooks and resident English springer spaniels wears off, the Elbourne’s happily share their playground, sandpit and trampoline with the children of visiting sippers.
5. Audrey Wilkinson, Pokolbin
While I’m sure there are folks out there thinking “what are they doing taking kids to a vineyard?”, I’d like to point out that Audrey Wilkinson was only 15 when he took over running his family’s vineyard, and produced some of the finest wines in Australia. OK, so that may have been way back in 1866 but he was still a kid, so there.
Rated by Gourmet Traveller Wine as one of the Top 10 Cellar Doors in Australia, Audrey Wilkinson offer a selection of different tasting experiences including a behind the scenes tour and a lovely picnic tasting and there’s a lovely oak-aged Shiraz that’s worth stopping in for alone.
While we didn’t spot any specific kids friendly activities, the kids were more than welcome and had a ball flouncing and frolicking amongst the vines, rolling down hills and generally running amok.
There are even a couple of gorgeous onsite cottages including the open plan Mulberry Cottage, a modern country house with four queen-sized en suite bedrooms, enormous living and dining areas, an open fireplace, a spacious kitchen, and a verandah to soak up the vineyard views. What could be more family friendly than that?
Disclosure: The Eats World were guests of Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort as we tasted our way through the Hunter Valley’s Best Kid Friendly Wineries, but all opinions, wine wankering and general vineyard frivolity remains our own.