From Newcastle we took the jail bus to the Hunter Valley Gardens in Pokolbin where our wine tour was scheduled to begin. When I say "the jail bus" I mean the bus where everybody on the bus who wasn't us had to get off half way through to switch to the actual jail bus which, I presume, takes you to the jail so that you can visit your incarcerated loved ones.
Once we got to the Gardens, we walked across the street to meet up with Annette, who runs the horse-drawn carriage tours at Pokolbin Horse Coaches, and Clyde, the clydesdale who would be pulling us around that day. Clyde was adorable; he knew exactly where to go at each winery. He had a favorite tree or post or whatever that he would sidle up to and then stop, waiting for Annette to get out and tie him up. Annette is bubbly and enthusiastic and totally loves what she's doing. We were lucky enough to have arranged a private tour, but they also do larger tours, up to 10 people at a time I believe. So, we started out our tour at Tamburlaine, an organic winery which had a nice Verdelho. Wine connoisseurs, you should probably stop right here because you are going to get no useful information out of this. I can't tell you what year anything was unless I have the bottle in front of me. I can't tell you if anything was fruity or oaky or well-aged or robust. I can tell you that I drank wine, I liked it, and we bought some, and that's about it. I CAN tell you that the Verdelho that I tried at Tamburlaine tasted like grapes. That's not as dumb as it sounds. What I mean is it was kind of dry up front but after you swallowed it, it was very clean and refreshing and it tasted like you had just eaten a white grape. Unfortunately we did not buy any of the Verdelho here because we had just gotten started and I did not yet realize that that was going to be the one I would want to go back to later. We did buy their 2005 Late Harvest Riesling though.
Next we went to Polkobin Estate where we tried everything they offered us. We also gorged next door at the Olive Centre where they have samples of all their olives, olive oils, tapenades, vinegars, and various other yummy condiments available for sampling. I probably ate about 5 slices of bread one sample-sized chunk at a time trying to taste everything. I wasn't trying to be greedy, I was trying to avoid drunken nonsense later in the day. But back to the wine...we bought a 2004 Semillon and a George's Tawny Port which, interestingly, doesn't have a year on it. I think we also bought a Semillon Viognier here as well, but we already drank it so I can neither confirm nor deny this information at this time.
Our last stop was at Meerea Park where we bought 4 bottles of wine, for a total of 8 for the day! In our defense, 2 of them were gifts. Also in our defense, we'd had a lot of wine by then. We bought ourselves a 2007 Verdelho and one The Aunt's Shiraz which we already drank, so I can't tell you the year, but it was great!
We had a wonderful time, and I highly recommend touring the Hunter Valley with Annette and Clyde if you get the chance. If they are booked, there are other operators you could try, but I can't vouch for any of them. You don't get to hit as many wineries when you're traveling by horse, especially if you have to make it back to the Gardens in time to catch the jail bus back to Newcastle; but it's so much nicer than being stuck on a bus with a bunch of drunkards you don't know, like the crowd on the Pub Crawl Bus that passed us on the highway when we were headed back to Newcastle. Our bus driver looked over, shook his head and said, "You couldn't pay me enough!"
On the way back to Newcastle, we were with the same folks that were on the bus with us in the morning. Apparently there is only one jail bus per day. We bitch about a lot of things, but when you're sitting on a bus with $300-$500 worth of wine in a box (there was a third person in our party; it wasn't ALL ours) and everyone else on the bus has just come back from visiting their loved ones in jail, it kind of puts things in perspective.