Winery and Wrought Iron
Winery walkabout in a happy valley
BY SHARON FOWLER
Introduced to Australia on a business trip, the Englishman was lured to the Hunter Valley wine region northwest of Sydney with dreams of quieter days. He purchased land at Pokolbin, built a sprawling home in his favourite Mediterranean style and planted a few vines.
Fifteen years later, his Iron Gate Estate, named for its hand-crafted wrought-iron gates, is a thriving boutique winery known for its aged semillon and an unusual sweet shiraz, and is one of a handful in the region that produces wines on site from 100 per cent own-grown produce. Lilliott tells me he works seven days a week.
A shared passion for wine (and food) is the impetus behind a series of occasional dinners at the winery’s atmospheric Tuscan-style tasting room. Presented in partnership with the Sebel Kirkton Park, a sweeping heritage-style property located just a short drive away, the evenings feature menus from the Sebel Kirkton Park kitchen and wines hand-picked by Lilliott. It’s an initiative driven by hotel general manager Ali Hnaien, who over the past two years has been on a quiet crusade to rejuvenate the hotel’s facilities.
The Sebel Kirkton Park has 70 guestrooms and suites in wings that span out from a central rose garden, surrounded by grassy fields, duck ponds, and undulating rises that sweep to the Brokenback Range. My family and I are ensconced in a recently renovated one-bedroom suite in the east wing. The spacious lounge area features high-backed black and white brocade armchairs and sofa, mahogany furniture and sliding glass doors leading to a wide veranda. The suite is equipped with all the usual amenities, including a supremely comfortable king-size bed, spa bath, flat-screen televisions and a well-stocked bar fridge.
We are up early to breathe in the intoxicating views and eat breakfast in the light and airy Conservatory, with its floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the central water feature and rose beds. There are apple and guava smoothies, freshly blended juices, a selection of berries and melons, smoked salmon and tasty, freshly prepared pancakes served with syrup. I am a fiend for the pancakes.
Our day’s vineyard hopping includes Audrey Wilkinson, perched on a hill with long-reaching views over the grid-like vines, an atmospheric tasting room and small wine museum. Nearby, Ivanhoe Wines specialises in rustic reds such as chambourcin, while Robyn Drayton Wines across the road has a wide-covered veranda with uninterrupted mountain views.
Back at the hotel we head to the indoor swimming pool, but not for a dip. Tucked away in a corner of the pool house are two massage rooms where treatments are provided by therapists from Heavenly Hunter Massage.
Owner Sally Margan and her team specialise in Hawaiian-style lomi lomi and ka huna. Jenny massages, presses, pushes and generally scares away all my knots, and I leave feeling slightly pummelled but hugely invigorated (I later discover she has deftly erased an ongoing neck problem).
Then to pre-dinner wine in the hotel’s spacious lounge, an autumn-toned room opposite the restaurant and furnished with classic leather chesterfields, brass lamps and an enormous fireplace, enticing on chilly evenings in the valley.
We have a scamp of a two-year-old in tow and the restaurant provides a children’s menu that doubles as a colouring-in book — a nice start to what could have been an unnerving evening. The food is tasty and the staff are unfailingly friendly and attentive.
On our final morning, we take a quick trip to the Smelly Cheese Shop in Pokolbin Village (there’s a second outlet at Tempus Two Winery) where the danish blue is a winner and it’s hard to resist the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-style gelatos, topped with large chunks of fruit and assorted sweet garnishes.
We also return to Iron Gate Estate and pull up a pew at the tasting bar, decorated with handpainted tiles. A final recommendation: sample that sweet shiraz before and after a bite of an offered chocolate cake, and be amazed at the black forest gateau flavours that emerge.