Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Scone Horse Festival

Every year, the Upper Hunter Valley town of Scone, Australia's Horse Capital, hosts the Scone & Upper Hunter Horse Festival, we are yet to attend the Festival, however have it on our ever extending 'To Do List'!
Official Programme of the Scone Horse Festival - photo by Katrina Partridge
The Festival has entered it's 3rd decade of celebrating the horse, in an area of Australia where Horses and Horse Industry play a part in the lives of many.

This year the festival runs from Thursday 28 April - Sunday 15 May, the main events of the Festival are:

  • Festival Cocktail Party
  • King of the Ranges
  • Horse Training & Campdraft Clinic
  • Scone Equine Hospital  Festival Parade
  • Grammar School Fete
  • Busking Competition
  • Charity Rodeo
  • Horse Sports
  • Calcutta
  • Gala Day
  • Scone Cup
  • B & S Ball
  • Picnic By The Lake

For more information visit the Festival website -  or download the Festival booklet (PDF).

We're hoping to get along to some of the festivities, at the very least, we will be attending the Scone Races on 14 May.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Action Aerobatics - for the thrill seeker

For the thrill seekers out there who find the wineries and other attractions a bit slow paced, here’s something for you.

My (Cam) father is an aircraft nut. He has flown radio controlled aircraft his whole life and last year came up and stayed with us when we went to the Williamstown air show.

He’s been up in a Tiger Moth joy flight with the Red Barron that use to fly around Sydney, he’s flown Tandem Gliders and dreams of a Spitfire joy flight but they are a bit out of the budget at the moment.

Mel was glancing through those special offer emails you receive every day when she spotted a special deal for Action Aerobatics (, who are based at Rutherford Airport at Maitland.
They were offering discount acrobatic flights in there Pitts Specials. I knew this was right up dads ally so we forwarded the email on to him and we received a reply five minutes later that he had signed up for a flight.
Pitts Special - Action Aerobatics
The day arrives and it’s a perfect clear day with just a bit of breeze but that doesn’t worry these pocket rockets.  The pilot runs dad through the options for the flight from a cruisy scenic tour over the vineyards to the full blown acrobatic flight involving loops, rolls, stall turns plus a few other tricks. Dad turns 69 shortly and there was no way he was doing anything but the full blown acrobatics.  So they get him kitted up for the flight with his biggles pilots helmet on, they run him through all the drills on what they will go through on the flight and they are off.
About to taxi for take off
They go on a quick cruise over some of the wineries then come back close to the airport and start the thrill seeker part of the flight. The way these guys throw these little rockets around the sky is amazing, he seemed to spend as much time upside down as he did upright. 

The fifteen minute flight seemed to go on for a lot longer than that as we waited for them to land and taxi back to the hanger.

You should have seen the grin on dads face when he squeezed himself out of the cockpit. He told us it was everything he expected and then some and was ready to go right back up and do it all again.
Happy flyer post flight
So for those of you who need a bit more action in your weekends away give these guys a ring. My dad didn’t stop buzzing about it for the whole weekend.

Cam's father was a paying customer at Action Aerobatics

Action Aerobatics
Rutherford Aerodome
New England Highway, Rutherford NSW
Tel: +61 (0) 408 474 307

Monday, April 11, 2011

Kid friendly - Aqua Golf @ HV Gardens

Anyone looking for something to do to entertain the kids for a couple of hours should give the Aqua Golf at Hunter Valley Gardens a go. 
Aqua Golf at Hunter Valley Gardens
The thing that sets Aqua Golf apart from most golf driving ranges is that the balls are driven into a lake instead of a fairway. What kid (or big kid!) doesn’t like throwing or hitting something into a lake.
Teeing off at Aqua Golf
We took my family (Cam) there when they last all came up for a Hunter weekend. My then 8 yr old nephew and 3 yr old niece had a ball driving and sometimes throwing the balls into the water. Even the youngest nephew who was only crawling at the time had a ball scooting around chasing the balls rolling around on the ground.

The good thing about the Aqua Golf is that it is something the whole family can have a go at. My Dad is a keen golfer and he showed most of us up driving it right to the other side of the lake, and those of us who aren’t golfers all stepped up and had a few goes with mixed results.

Another feature of Aqua Golf is the floating targets that are scattered all over the lake which contain different prizes from food vouchers to entry tickets for the gardens. Luck as much as talent is needed to hit these targets so everyone has a chance to hit the jackpot.
Hit a target, get a prize!
For those who aren’t interested in the driving range there is an 18 hole Putt Putt course right beside the lake. The kids will have a ball and we see just as many adults playing putt putt as we do kids.
Putt Putt is another option at Aqua Golf
All this is set in the park at Hunter Valley Gardens which is perfect for a family picnic with tables, BBQ’s and a children’s playground along with all the cafĂ©’s and shops of the Hunter Valley Gardens Village right next door.
BBQ Area looking out to playground & village
It seems a lot of people think the Hunter Valley is not a place for family weekends but there is more to do up here than just visit the amazing wineries.

At the time we visited Aqua Golf the cost was $7 per person including a bucket of 40 balls.
Aqua Golf
Aqua Golf
Cam & Mel of Hunter Valley Grapevine were paying attendees at Aqua Golf @ Hunter Valley Gardens

Aqua Golf
Hunter Valley Gardens
Broke Road, Pokolbin NSW
Tel: +61 (02) 4998 7896

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ernest Hill Wines, Nulkaba, NSW

Living in the Hunter Valley it can be difficult to commit to becoming a member of a winery as you want to try them all. There is so much variety (120 cellar doors at last count) that you don’t want to fill your wine rack with any one particular brand.

Having said that we were introduced to Ernest Hill Wines ( through a family member who has been a long time member, and when we moved here we enjoyed the wine so much that we decided to become members ourselves.

Ernest Hill Wines - Tasting Room
Just a few weeks back (Saturday 26th March 2011) we were lucky enough to take part in one of their complimentary monthly member’s lunches, held in the Alexander Room at the vineyard. We were greeted upon arrival with our first glass of wine which we enjoyed as we introduced ourselves to the fellow members who we were to spend a long lunch with.

Lunch was hosted by Ross Wilson who runs Ernest Hill along with his son Jason and the whole family. Ross is about as down to earth as you get amongst Vigneron’s and whilst helping educate us as to which wines match best with what food he kept the afternoon very light hearted.        

Lunch consisted of a five course banquet with matching wines.
Menu for Members Lunch
The 5 courses began, after a delicious canape of mini crostini with persian fetta, caramelised pumpkin, sage & copa (which Mel forgot to photograph), which we would have happily munched on all afternoon, teamed with the 2010 Cyril Semillon. We were served our canapes at the wine barrel tables while last minute prep work was underway in the Alexander Room.  We then moved into the room and were seated with 10 other lucky members.
Perfect setting for pre-lunch introductions
The clean table before festivities began
1st course was our favourite wine, 2010 Rosalie Joan Verdelho which was matched with Smokey Paprika Prawns, Spinach and Red Onion Salsa and a Romesco sauce. The Verdelho is a fantastic match with spicy food, we often have it with Thai & Indian, so was a perfect starting point with the beautiful Spanish style prawns.
1st course - paprika prawns
2nd course was the 2009 ‘Chickenshed’ Chardonnay (The wines are either named after family members who are no longer with us or as in this case where the grapes come from on the property, eg near the chicken shed). The Chardonnay was matched with BBQ Miso, Sake and Nori Chicken with a Mirin and Coriander dressed Japanese Coleslaw. Chardonnay is usually a wine we seem to stay away from but matched with this style of food we quite liked the wine and even walked away at the end of the day buying a bottle. The chicken was so tender and moist, we're hoping to steal the recipe from the chef (Ross' daughter) on our next visit.
2nd course - miso chicken
3rd course was the 2009 ‘Andrew Watson’ Tempranillo. Ross informed us this was a relatively new (Spanish style) wine to the Hunter Valley and they were amongst the first to produce it. The Tempanillo was matched with Fetta, Ricotta and Romano Empanada’s with Spicy Seared Chorizo and a Chimmichuri sauce. The wine is very nice on its own and was even enjoyed by a few who don’t usually drink red wines but when it was matched with the spicy chorizo it really came into owns. The chorizo really had a zing to it after a mouthful of the Tempranillo, not too hot, just a nice zap of spice to keep your tastebuds tingling. Highly recommended for those whose partners don’t allow them to open to many bottles of red on their own (not pointing fingers at Mel here at all!).
3rd course - empanadas
4th course was the 2009 ‘William Henry’ Shiraz which we enjoyed with Slow Braised Oyster Blade with Stout, Onion and Porcini mushrooms, Pea and Watercress Salad and a Sweet Pumpkin Mash. Real winter in front of an open fire stuff this. I love a Shiraz and it was a really good match for this hearty European style food. All that was missing was the cold weather and the fire but you cant have everything.
4th course - oyster blade
5th course was the 2009 ‘Silver Moon’ Desert Semillon which was served with a Golden Syrup, Almond and Lemon Tart with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. What a great way to finish off what was already a fantastic lunch. The lemon tart was as good as I have ever had and the vanilla bean ice cream was great with the sharp lemon. I can drink a bottle of Silver Moon just on ice but it was even better with the desert as intended. On reading the description of the dessert we thought it might be a bit too sweet for Silver Moon, but while it was a very sweet combo, it was still delicious. A few at the table thought it was too sweet, so Ross bought out a bottle of the ultra luscious 2010 'Moondance' Dessert Gewurtztraminer, which combines some of Mel's favourite flavours, rosewater, honey & turkish delight.  The match with the dessert was even better than the Silver Moon, not as sweet, and allowed the flavours of both wine & dessert to sing.
5th course - golden syrup tart
This was the first time we have attended a members lunch in the two years or so we have been members and we now hope to make it an annual occurrence. From the expertly cooked food and the perfectly matched wines through to our great host and the company of some great fellow members it was one of the better dining experiences we have had in the Hunter.
Always a sign of a good meal!
If you find a winery that you really enjoy, give some thought to becoming a member as the benefits outside of the great wines really make it worthwhile.

Cam & Mel of Hunter Valley Grapevine were guests of Ernest Hill Wines - (we also bought several wines on the day!)

Ernest Hill Wines
307 Wine Country Drive, Nulkaba NSW
Tel: +61 (02) 4991 4418
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