Before I visited the Hunter Valley for the first time I did not think too much about wine, and where the wine I drank came from. Back home I never drank nice wine. As a student in the Netherlands I only drank rose. Cheap rose. The cheapest rose. I only tried red wine for the first time when I lived in New York, about a year before I moved to Australia. When I discovered New York's small little wine bars I also tried some of the better white wines and even some good rose.
But when I moved to Australia I had to go back to university, and I was back where I started. Drinking the cheapest of the cheapest wine. But then cheaper. Did you know that you can get cleanskin bottles of wine in Australia for $2!?! And something called "goon", which is wine from a bag. Yes, you read that correctly. Wine from a bag.
Fortunately over the years my taste in wine has improved. As has my knowledge of wine. But I still don't know much. I hardly know anything about wine. Struggling to make some money whilst studying (and having to comply with the 20 hour work restriction of my student visa) I worked for Cellarmasters for a while, selling wine over the telephone. One of the things that I did enjoy was the compulsory wine tasting course I had to complete.
Slowly I started learning more about the wine. I also got to try a fair bit of wine. Every month I got to take home 12 bottles of wine to try. I thought that the wine was good. I thought it was great. Until I actually went to the Hunter Valley and tried some of the wine made by the small boutique wineries. Then I thought that the wine I got to try every month while working at Cellarmasters wasn't that good after all. I mean, it wasn't bad. Sometimes it was OK. Sometimes it was nice. But it was never amazing.
From that first time I went to the Hunter Valley I was hooked on nice wine. Special wine. Small boutique winery wine. Wine with a story. Wine with a view. Because nothing is better than drinking wine on the porch of one of those small boutique wineries. Listening to how the wine was made. Meeting the person who made it. Stories about why it tastes the way it tastes.
I have been to the Hunter Valley five times now, and only once to the Barossa. And every time I go away for a weekend of wine tasting I get excited about hearing nice stories about the wine, and about sitting down with an amazing glass of wine and a cheese platter. Right at the spot where it was made.
But every time I also hear some sad stories. It is not easy for small wineries to compete with larger wineries. One bad season or a few weeks of rain or different weather and a harvest can be ruined. Or it can be ok, but not good. And then there are people like me at 25 who want to drink cheap wine. Because they don't want to spend the money on a nice bottle of wine, because they don't have the money, or because they have never tried a really nice wine.
In addition to not having 'a big name', smaller wineries have less money for marketing and a lot of wineries do not sell their wines at bottle shops. They sell some wine at their cellardoor and they have members who receive a wine delivery a couple of times a year. MrBehomeforT and I went to the Hunter, and came back with three wine memberships. Oops..,, Some of them organise yearly events for members like a nice dinner to celebrate the release of a new vintage, and some even let their members help harvest the new vintage.
Whether you are in the Hunter, in the Barossa, or near another amazing winery, and if you have a spare weekend, give it a go and spend a weekend walking between the vines, tasting wine and eating cheese. Visit the smaller wineries, meet the winemakers and "accidentally" become a member of a winery (not a wineclub). And trust me, you will never want to buy that cheap bottle of rose or $2 cleanskin again.
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