Plan ahead to maximise your 'new and improved' Hunter Valley wine tasting experience this winter

BE PREPARED: The Hunter Valley is a hive of activity this winter. Here is a guide to making the most of your experience.
BE PREPARED: The Hunter Valley is a hive of activity this winter. Here is a guide to making the most of your experience.

The winter sun has been shining and business booming for restaurants, accommodation providers and cellar doors in the Hunter Valley.

Tired of being housebound during the COVID-19 lockdown, NSW residents are keen to stretch their legs and open their wallets. All are welcome however there are a few requirements that need to be adhered to, says wine specialist and marketing and communications consultant Kylie White.

"The region has had to change the way they do business incredibly quickly," she told Food & Wine.

"Almost every winery is now only offering seated, paid, tasting experiences and some may never go back to the old way, and I think it's important that consumers understand why.

"Many day trippers are assuming that they can just turn up like before."

Planning ahead - and booking ahead - is a crucial part of today's wine-tasting etiquette.

"The new normal looks a bit different to the old, but it's actually meant that some incredible new tasting experiences have come out of adversity," she said.

"With the four-square-metre rule applying just as it does to restaurants, and the requirement that all guests must be seated, comes the need to offer finite spaces for tastings at cellar doors, and with that has come the rise of the online booking system and paid tastings.

"Paid tastings have slowly crept into the wine tourism experience over the years, but now it's a genuine need. With limited spots available to taste, and the huge increase in resources required to manage the hygiene and social distancing measures in place, there is no other way for these winemakers to exist."

Also, be prepared to share your contact details. You are now required to do so by law.

"Operators are empowered to refuse entry to anyone who presents unwell, with cold or flu-like symptoms or with a fever or temperature," White explained.

"They're required to provide floor markings and designated order, pay, collect areas as well as single entry and exit points if feasible.

"There's sanitiser, disposable utensils, single-use spittoons, laminated or single-use tasting lists and no communal water on offer, and unless the winery has a commercial grade dishwasher on the premises, the glassware must be either disposable or yours to keep.

"It's a whole new world."

This story The 'new normal' of Hunter Valley wine tasting explained first appeared on Newcastle Herald.