The Lovedale Long lunch pops up on the wine aficionados calendar around May here in the NSW Hunter region. Run over a weekend it really is a long lunch and one that showcases some fantastic wineries. I have been keen to get up here an experience it first hand for some time now.
My wife and I turned up looking for couple of days of great wines and food across the seven wineries that are part of the experience. What we got was a whole lot more than we were expecting.
The event kick off is at Allandale winery where we pick up our entry kit including the stack of tickets that get traded for food and wine, 3 tickets for a tasting and 5 tickets for a full glass. We were also handed VIP passes which allowed us into the VIP tasting area at Allandale.
Wandering up from the ticket area to the winery itself we get our first taste of the culture of the Long Lunch. A band plays “Wish you were here”, and someone dressed as Spiderman wanders past. There are plenty of “Onesies” and fancy dress abounds. It is not the usual garb that you associate with a day tasting wines in the Hunter, but as I will learn over this weekend, the Lovedale Long Lunch is not really about “tasting wines”.
We make our way to the VIP tent and spend a substantial amount of time chatting to the winemaker and running through their range of wines, all very normal but this really was the first and last true wine tasting experience of the Lunch.
It’s not too long before an older gentleman wanders over and points to the 1.5l magnum “Classic Red” and tells us this is his favourite and we should try it. Obligingly we do and its a fair drop, easy to drink all day and looking at the size of the bottle it was probably designed just for that. He tells us his name is Wally and he likes repairing shoes. We spend the next 30 mins chatting about life and the problems of the world, Wally is also the owner of Allandale as it turns out, and his lovely Matthew Shiraz just happens to be named after his son, Matthew.
For me, Wally and this introduction to the Lovedale Long Lunch captures the essence of the Wine Wankers and why it is we drink wine. I can go to the local bottle shop and drop $50 on something pretty fancy and probably end up with a great drop, but if that is all the Wine Wankers did it would make for some rather drab reading.
We chat with Wally for probably way too long considering we have a whole bunch of wineries to visit, but in the process we take with us such a greater level of understanding of the wonderful tapestry that makes up so much of Australia’s wine industry. Wally shares stories of his family, his life, how he came to be here and some great tales of the Australians that toil away so that we may sit, sip and enjoy. It is these moments that you cannot get from a book or a bottle shop and are worth every minute.
We bid farewell to Wally and his friends and head off to Saltire Wines. It was here that we got a taste of really what the weekend entails as the VIP area (and great choice of wines) was only happening at Allandale, thus with a choice of 4 wines up for tasting some hot food and a live band pumping away down on the grassed area the day quickly changed from a “tasting” day to just enjoying some great wine, food and music.
The crowds seemed to stay away from Saltire so it was lacking a little in atmosphere. We had a quick bite to eat and tasted each of their 4 wines then headed off to our next destination – Sandalyn.
Sandalyn was clearly a popular choice with the party goers with a huge marquee and DJ pumping out solid dance tunes and wall to wall people in various costumes and stages of dress clearly enjoying the day to its most, the vibe here was terrific as was the food with Muse (one of my favourite restaurants of the Hunter) supplying some delicious plates of food for us to wash down with a tasty 2014 Verdehlo, lovely fresh tropical fruits, fig and a dry sweetness. Sitting on one of the many conveniently placed hay bales enjoying the food, the wine and the music as I watched the world go by, I can see how the Long Lunch has evolved into such a great festival of entertainment.
By the time we have finished our lunch and have witnessed every superhero that is in a current state of public popularity, we realise we are running desperately short of time. It is so incredibly easy to get absorbed in just one of these great wineries, and without proper planning and someone paying attention to the clock it is so easy to find yourself chilled out on a patch of grass in the sun only to realise that, like us, you should have left an hour ago if you had any chance of visiting all the wineries on offer.
With that in mind we head over to our last stop for the afternoon, Wandin Valley. The scene one of nothing but entertainment with a stage at one end of their sports ground buried in people of various states of inebriation moshing away to the sounds thumping out from the DJ’s speakers. We grab a few more wines and I sit at a table while my wife gets herself lost amidst the sea of bodies dancing to the tunes of Calvin Harris “When I met you in the Summer” which allows me time to reflect on the day….quite a bit of time actually, but that is really what the day is about.
If you are looking for a lovely weekend of “nose over the glass swoffing whilst you discuss the subtle tannins and leathery nose” then pick another weekend. If you are looking for a weekend to party with some great wine, food and music thrown in for good measure then this is the weekend for you. If I were to liken it to anything I have experienced in the past, I dare say it felt like a B&S ball for the wine crowd. No utes plastered in Bundy doing donuts all day, but people from all walks of life with a similar passion for all that the vineyards can offer coming together once a year to just let their hair down, or put their costume on, in a stunningly beautiful location.
…and while I was sure that my wife would eventually grow tired of all the dancing while I sit and mind all our gear, eventually the wine stops flowing and the music reaches an end and amidst the sea of worn out people starting to make their way back home, I track down my wife who looks like she is still enjoying her Lovedale Long Lunch 🙂