The Hunter Valley is looking pretty good right now. It's lush and green and most wineries believe they've dodged a vintage bullet after ill-timed rain stopped just in time.
Over the next few weeks, the Hunter will host several concerts; including Rod Stewart. It remains, as ever, Sydney's playground.
But the vignerons of the Hunter would like you to turn your thoughts towards winter; and an open fire, glass of shiraz in hand on a crisp evening.
Last week I was lucky enough to join talented young chef Troy Rhoades-Brown, of Muse and Muse Kitchen, and rising winemaking superstar Gwyneth Olsen of Briar Ridge for a sneak peek at their collaboration on June 14 for the month-long series of themed activities throughout June.
The menu featured dishes like sashimi with verjuice, pickled gingerdashi and whitebait, paired with two 2014 Briar Ridge whites; the stunning Dairy Hill semillon and The Briar vineyard blend.
That was followed by pressed Berkshire pork neck and jamon with pickled mussels, black garlic, flowers, wild fennel and buttermilk, paired with a 2014 Briar Hill Chardonnay.
Next came Mandagery Creek venison with the 2013 HRB Shiraz Pinot Noir, which shone with the dish, followed by pink Milly Hill lamb with Briar Ridge 2013 Shiraz. The night ended with a remarkably - and very pretty - coconut dessert.
The menu may be tweaked between now and then but what is certain is that the Dine with the Dynamic Duo lunch will be held at Muse at Hungerford Hill with a four-course menu designed to match the Briar Ridge wines for an all-inclusive price of $125 per person.
If you miss out on this particular delight, the program offers several choices to wam away the winter blues and wine and dine with leading Hunter Valley winemakers and chefs, take part in interactive classes to fine-tune your culinary skills, or just curl up beside a fire with a glass of Hunter wine and a cheese plate.
Here are some of the other Hunter Valley Wine and Food Month program highlights:
Tuesday June 2 at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley
Come and view the showdown as the Hunter Region takes on the Southern Highlands with the best chefs form each of these culinary regions battling it out. Hosted by Matt Kemp.
WHISPERING BROOK OLIVE LONG TABLE LUNCH
Saturday June 6 at Whispering Brook Winery
The annual Whispering Brook Olive Long Table Luncheon features a Mediterranean-inspired menu prepared by Andy Wright, wine, live music, a tutored walking tour in the olive grove and a special guest speaker to talk about the properties and applications of extra virgin olive oil.
EAT DRINK RUN
Saturdays during June & Sundays by appointment for groups of 12 or more
Start your day with a Tour of First Creek Wines with seafood duo and wine to match then travel by bus between another three of the Hunter Valley's leading venues, sampling Hunter wines paired with tasty morsels prepared by renowned local chef Matt Dillow.
THE ART OF GNOCCHI
Saturday June 6, 13 and 27 at Il Cacciatore Restaurant
A fun, hands-on gnocchi making class followed by a two-course lunch with a small group who enjoy Italian food, wine, a fun time and don’t mind getting down and dirty.
THE ORIGINAL MARGAN 100-METRE MEAL
Daily throughout June at Margan Estate
The original Margan 100-Metre Meal is back! Enjoy estate-grown Suffolk lamb served with heirloom garden vegetables and accompanied with a glass of White Label Barbera. Everything is grown on site within 100 metres of the restaurant!
FIRESIDE WITH THE WINEMAKER
Each Friday a different Hunter winemaker will be on hand to host a four-course dinner limited to 20 guests. June 5: Andrew Margan, June 12: Lisa McGuigan, June 19: Andrew Thomas, June 26: Matt Polin.
A full calendar of events is available online at www.winecountry.com.au.