Hunter Valley

Hunter Valley

The 'new normal' for tasting wine in the Hunter Valley

I have a confession to make.  Every time I drive past a cellar or restaurant in the Hunter nowadays, I do a little fist pump.  As a local, it’s just so good to see people coming back to the Valley and businesses getting back on their feet. 

And, while you can still expect a great wine tasting or dining experience, there are a few changes to the way we used to do things here that you should be aware of.

To get the run down, I caught up with Christina Tulloch, President of the Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism Association (HVWTA), to discuss the ‘new normal’ for the Hunter Valley and in particular, cellar door etiquette.

Christina Tulloch - Photo credit: Elfes Images
Christina Tulloch - Photo credit: Elfes Images

As President of the HVWTA and CEO of Tulloch Wines, you must be thrilled with the love visitors are showing the Hunter Valley right now.  When did things start to look up here?

It was the long weekend and since then its been crazy.  It’s been wonderful to see the Valley come back to life though so quickly and the community getting on board with the new government requirements.

What new measures have Hunter Valley cellar doors and wineries had to put in place?

The main change is that everyone’s had to convert to a paid tasting experience so we can control the numbers in any given location and to help with tracking. 

“Booking ahead means we’re able to log visitor’s contact details, which is essential to ensuring venues comply with the new regulations.”

At the moment, collecting visitors contact details can be done digitally, at the time of booking or via a ‘sign-in’ process, when visitors arrive at cellar door.  Soon the requirement to collect information digitally will be mandatory however. 

The way we manage the physical space in the cellar door environment has also changed.  There’s a lot of extra work from an operator’s point of view to make sure everything stays safe and clean. 

Nowadays, everything has to be single-use including wine glassware, spittoons, water glasses and jugs, unless the venue has a commercial-grade dishwasher. 

“Even the pencils people use to make notes with during their wine tasting, need to be sterilised after each use.”

From a visitor’s perspective, the social distancing requirements means that patrons now need to:

  • be seated at all times during tastings
  • use the hand-sanitiser provided
  • follow signage in high-traffic areas like wine payment and pick-up points
  • use payWave to minimise contact

From next Friday, as with pubs and hotels, a designated COVID Safety Hygiene Marshall must also be onsite at all times to ensure the new hygiene practices are complied with. 

And restaurants?  How have they had to change their operations?

Most restaurants and cafés already have booking facilities but they have to follow the same protocols as cellar doors and wineries with regards to sanitation and single use items.  

I think the main one however is social distancing, which again means people need to remain seated and the venue can’t serve share plates. 

Do cellar doors, wineries and restaurants have the ability to refuse entry to visitors who present unwell?

Yes, absolutely.  Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

What else should food and wine lovers consider when visiting the Hunter Valley?

“Bear with us and plan ahead.”

Think about the places you want to visit and book in advance so you don’t miss out.  On occasion some venues have had to turn down visitors which is heartbreaking. 

The other big thing is that people are getting frustrated when things are taking a bit longer than normal.   Please understand that we’re doing our absolute best to serve you and first and foremost, make sure our venues are safe.

Any final tips or advice?

Download the COVID tracker app and just respect the social distancing practices implemented by each venue.

Lastly, don’t come if you’re unwell.  We want to continue to provide safe and enjoyable food and wine experiences for everyone, well in the future.

Hunter Valley