The Southern Highlands boasts 60 vineyards, about 20 cellar doors and many award winning wines, so summon your vino loving buddies and get touring and tasting.
WHEN trying anything new, it pays to go straight to the horse’s mouth. Duncan MacDonald is cellar door manager at Cherry Tree Hill Wines in Sutton Forest and knows a thing or two about wine. When it comes to tour operators, his pick of the bunch is Highlands Food & Wine Tours.
‘It’s run by John Scott and it’s the pick of the local operators for me,’ says MacDonald. ‘John’s a fantastically professional and knowledgeable guide, and his passion for the Southern Highlands makes his tours stand out.’
John Scott is a longtime Hill Top local and a fireman with Fire & Rescue NSW for nearly 35 years. He started Highlands Food & Wine Tours in 2013 and runs the company between shifts at Narellan Fire Station.
‘I started up five years ago when I realised a lot of locals, and Sydneysiders, didn’t know much about all the good food and wine production that was going on here,’ says Scott. ‘I wanted to do my bit to publicise the sector and give people a great day out.’
Reportedly a font of local knowledge, Scott gives a lively commentary as he drives his guests from cellar door to cellar door (turn to page 66 for details of local wineries, vineyards and cellar doors).
‘The wine tours with three and four cellar doors are the most popular,’ explains Scott. ‘These are generally a 9.30 am pick up and go to about 2.30pm. Lunch at the Ealing Forest Winery cafe is included in the price.’
The Grape Stomping Tour at Eling Forest Winery is a chance for some good old fashioned dirty fun. Or for something completely different, the Wine Body and Soul Tour might suit.
‘We start with a group spiritual reading by medium Gail Withers from Heart and Soul Healing,’ says Scott. ‘Each person gets a chance to hear a message from a loved one from the spiritual world before the cellar door visits.’
Bridal parties and hens groups like the Pamper Time Tour, which starts with a facial or massage at Endota Spa, followed by the cellar door visits. And Scott recently began offering the Shoot the Vines tour: ‘It begins with a clay target shooting session at the Berrima Clay Target Club, supervised by licenced shooters in a safe environment, and is followed by cellar door visits. We order the day that way for safety reasons.’
For groups of eight or more Scott offers made to measure tours taking in any combination of cellar doors from the northern cluster of Artemis, Tertini, Bendooley, Joadja and Centennial through to the Highway estates of Ealing Forest and Cherry Tree Hill, to the Sallys Corner cohort that includes Cuttaway Hill, Banjo’s Run, St Maur Wines (read our review on page 48) out to Mount Ashby near Moss Vale.
Mira and Scott Barton are the new owners of The Grape Escape Wine Tours and, according to Duncan MacDonald of Cherry Tree Hill, they have a passion for all things wine and are also offering a variety of new experiences to their groups, such as lunch at a high end restaurant.
The Bartons, who live in Exeter, made the tree change from Sydney eight years ago, and saw an opportunity when the long established Grape Escape came onto the market last year.
‘We are both foodies and share a love of wine, and felt we could bring something new to the wine tour experience,’ says Mira Barton, who formerly worked in banking and finance.
Scott Barton, an electrician by trade, says The Grape Escape can cater for groups of up to 20 people. Tours are from 10am to 4pm or 6pm and on average visit up to four cellar doors, each chosen by their guests. Champagne tours and grape stomping can be incorporated: ‘At the cellar doors the winemakers will spend around an hour explaining their different wines and the making process, so you can truly understand the fruit in their bottles. Or if beer is more the customer’s thing, we can organise visits to Southern Highlands Brewing Company Taphouse or Eden Brewery.’
Customers are consulted in the planning stages about where they would like to lunch, and while most choose a cellar door restaurant such as Bendooley or Sutton Forest Estate at Sallys Corner, other visited venues include Josh’s at Berrima and Southern Highlands Brewing Company’s Taphouse & Restaurant in Moss Vale.
‘We are also in discussion at the moment with other restaurants, such as Birch in Moss Vale. Our focus is taking our clients to the wineries they want to visit for a day they will love and remember.’
Kenny Escapes Food, Wine & Experiences offers the Southern Highlands Wine Tasting Day for up to 20 people. The all day tour departs from Bowral, visits three wineries and includes a two course lunch and glass of wine at a local restaurant or winery, plus cheese and local produce tastings. ,
Meanwhile Jason Humble, owner of Highlands Chauffeured Hire Cars, is set to enter this space after recently purchasing A Grand Day Out, which offers tours such as Secret Gourmet Villages, High Tea and Vines and the Best of the Bunch, for two to 30 people.
Mark Bourne, winemaker and president Southern Highlands Food & Wine Association, says the Highlands’ reputation as a premium wine region continues to grow: ‘Our established vineyards are recognised both internationally and nationally, with particular focus on the traditional cool climate styles such as sparkling wines, riesling, chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot noir.’ Cheers to that!
highlandswineandfoodtours.com.au; thegrapeescape.com.au; kennyescapes.com.au; agranddayout.com.au