Sydneysiders eating and drinking their way across town post-lockdown have had to get used to a few changes: booking ahead, paying a deposit, and preparing for the possibility of not being able to snag a table at their first, second or even third-choice pub.
But it’s not just Sydney’s dining and drinking scene that’s been forced to change radically. If you’re planning on road-tripping to the Hunter Valley for a spot of wine tasting – and to support a region that desperately needs visitors after being hit by drought, bushfires and Covid-19 restrictions – you might have to be a bit more organised than usual.
Whether you’re sampling natural drops at Harkham, organic vinos at M&J Becker, a funky modern semillon from Usher Tinkler, or dropping into big-name cellar doors such as Brokenwood or Tyrrell’s, here’s what you need to know.
You can’t just show up anymore
The majority of wineries in the Hunter now require bookings for tastings so they’re able to adhere to the four-square-metre rule. This means you can no longer spot an interesting winery as you’re driving past and stop in on an impulse – but on the plus side, you won’t need to push your way through scores of hens’ and bucks’ parties to get to your next tasting.
Booking lengths vary, but most run between 45 and 60 minutes, including time to make your purchases. You’ll also need to give your contact details so you can be traced if another visitor is diagnosed with the Covid-19, and group sizes may be limited depending on how much space the winery has.
No more free vino
One of the great draws of wine tastings used to be the opportunity to sample a bunch of wine for free. But no more – most wineries in the Hunter Valley now require payment. Fees were becoming increasingly common pre-Covid, but now payment is even more common because it helps cover the costs of necessary safety measures (and also helps ensure patrons actually show up to their bookings).
Wineries have set their own prices, and some offer a range of tasting options. Thomas Wines in Pokolbin (which makes exemplary vino), for example, has one tasting experience for $10 per person, which includes four semillons and four shirazes. It also offers a $20 “journey” experience, guiding guests through 17 of the company’s wines.
You’ll have to remain seated
We’re all used to sticking to our seats when visiting pubs and bars in Sydney – and the Hunter’s cellar doors are no exception to those rules. No more roaming tasting rooms to examine barrels and spit into spittoons. Those now-familiar floor markings that tell you where to stand might also be present near payment points. Wineries are also encouraged to have single entry and exit points – so make sure you pay attention to signs.
Single-use is back
We’ve all worked hard over the years to wean ourselves off single-use coffee cups, plastic bags and the like. But unfortunately, that has to stop for now – public-health concerns mean single-use products are essential for everyone’s safety. No more fancy metal buckets for spitting – you’ll be hoicking into a single-use spittoon instead. Also expect single-use or laminated tasting lists, and, if a winery doesn’t have a commercial dishwasher, glasses must also be disposable or kept by patrons. At David Hook, for example, guests will get to take home a Riedel wine glass worth $25 (not bad for a $15 tasting).