Planning a hen’s party?
How to design a tour that even the bridezillas in your group will love!
If you’ve ever tried to organise an event for a group of 10-20 people then you’ll know the pain I’m talking about…. Maddison loves chardonnay (but no-one else does!), Nikki wants to go to her favourite cellar door (however it comes with a $20pp tasting fee that completely blows the budget!) and 3 members of the group don’t even like wine!
Indecision and conflicting ideas can lead to “paralysis by analysis” quite easily, leaving you wondering “why did I get stuck with the job of organising this?”
It’s the kind of job you keep putting off till the last minute but this won’t help either as the venues in the Hunter Valley are extremely busy and advance planning (3-4 weeks or more is ideal) is essential to ensure you don’t get left with a small list of choices. If you’re planning your trip in Feb or March or July, August or September then you really need to enquire as far in advance as you possibly can – there’s a reason why we locals call it “hen’s season”!
The good news is there is no need to stress about how to organise the perfect day. Follow these lessons that I’ve learned from personally helping hundreds of groups to organise wine tours that their friends have loved and you’ll have the perfect recipe for a day of Instagrammable photos and no boredom!
Wine drinkers? Non-wine drinkers? Or a mixture?
The Hunter Valley has way more options than simply cellar doors offering wine tastings so unless the majority of your group are openly dedicated wine drinkers, the “mixture” option tends to work best as there is something for everyone in your group. You can look at visiting a couple of cellar doors in the morning (boutique or large), choosing a casual eats lunch venue (Harrigan’s Irish pub or Matilda Bay Brewhouse or Twine Restaurant are classic favourites) then visiting 1-2 of the brewhouses (Matilda Bay Brewhouse or Ironbark Hill Brewhouse are popular) and then Hunter Distillery for vodka, schnapps and gin tasting.
Keeping your cellar door visits in the morning tends to work best for a couple of reasons. One of the reasons is cellar doors prefer groups when they are fresh (not too drunk) so it is often difficult to get appointment times (appointments are essential at Hunter Valley cellar doors for groups of over 6 people) in the afternoon. Many cellar doors make it a policy not to take groups after 3pm (or even as early as 2pm!).
And many of the cellar doors have completely different rules for hen’s groups. There are some that won’t take them at all and some that charge additional fees. It is a common scenario for someone in your group to suggest their favourite cellar door only to find that when you ring them and mention you wish to book in a hen’s group for a tasting, you are met with disappointment.
Rather than spending a lot of time ringing venues and getting nowhere, it pays to leverage the knowledge of a Hunter Valley wine tour specialist such as ourselves. We can let you know which cellar doors will take hen’s groups, what fees they charge and if they have a dress code (yes some of the cellar doors have a dress code so that “killer bridesmaids” costume theme you were thinking of for the day may effect where you can visit!).
But don’t despair – we know which cellar doors are relaxed and friendly and are happy to let you be yourselves ….. even when you lose all of your plastic wedding rings and get stuck wearing the banana suit?!
Expert tip: Let a tour operator approach the cellar doors to book your group in. Most of the Hunter Valley cellar doors have different rules for groups brought with a tour operator to groups from the general public that perhaps have a designated driver. 99% of the time you will be charged a higher fee as a “group off the street” so let us leverage our relationships and get you the best price at the cellar doors!
Even if you let them know later that you are travelling with a tour guide, they often won’t go back on the original price quoted as they know you were willing to pay the previous price, so leave the organisation to us!
It also helps to have your cellar door presentations in the morning if you have a group of wine drinkers and non-wine drinkers as lots of wine information becomes a little boring over and over again if some members of your group are only curious about the topic rather then being enthusiasts. Not to mention wine will taste particularly tart after a Pina Colada or two at lunch!
Keeping It Flexible So There Is Something for Everyone!
After a couple of morning cellar doors it is time to change things up and let your group “choose their own adventure”! Venues such as Matilda Bay Brewhouse or Ironbark Hill Brewhouse offer both wine tasting and craft beer paddles at the same venue. Matilda Bay also has one of the largest selections of cocktails and beertails available in the valley. An espresso martini is the perfect “pick you up” for that post-lunch food coma!
Hunter Distillery is a huge crowd pleaser with flavoured vodkas (fruit and dessert flavours), schnapps and gins. Their funky test tubes for tasting and Australian natives that you’ve never heard of before such as “butterfly pea” (tastes like pineapple) will keep the spirit drinkers cheering.
Expert tip: Ready to get creative with your shots? What about a “Bounty Bar” (chocolate vodka and toasted coconut liqueur combination)? Or a “Caramello Koala” (chocolate vodka and caramel vodka)? The folks at Hunter Distillery have certainly taught me a thing or two about flavours so let them show you how to take your cocktail adventures to the next level during your tasting!
If you’re ready to “heat things up” (and take some really cool selfies of your friends “suffering”…haha!) you can try their chilli vodka! The distillery staff are more than happy to help your group find out who is the bravest!
The Hunter Distillery isn’t the only place you can put some fire into your tour. It’s well worth including a visit to Kiss of Fire Liqueurs. Whether you are a chilli lover or brave enough to give it a go, their creative flavours taste just as exciting as they sound. Only half of their range includes chilli (I personally love their coffee butterscotch) and out of those that do, there are plenty of mild options. Perfect for the group who would like to try it but don’t wish to spend the afternoon breathing fire!
Need to break up all of those wines/beers/spirits? Cheese, Desserts, Chocolate and Fudge awaits!
If your group are not dedicated wine drinkers but are not really beer fans either, then you can shake it up with a visit to Sabor Dessert Bar. Again this is a great flexible venue as the Lambloch Estate winery and Pokolbin Cider House (the only dedicated “cellar door” featuring cider tasting in the region) are on the same site. The cider house is quite small and they can only take a maximum group size of 12 people so this works best as an option for smaller groups or if you have a large group, you can taste here in 2 sessions (eg. Half your group enjoys a dessert at Sabor whilst the other half tastes ciders then swaps!). That’s the beauty of private tours – they can be customised and no two itineraries are exactly the same so just ask – if it’s possible, we’ll make it happen!
For those with a sweet tooth who aren’t counting the calories (at least not until tomorrow?), Sabor dessert bar has a tantalising display of more than 30 desserts to tempt you as well as sweet wines, moscatos, liqueurs and rich Italian coffees. You can either purchase your dessert of choice on the day or choose from one of their group packages. If your group consists of more than 12 people it may be possible to book their private group room with floor to ceiling glass walls overlooking the Lambloch Estate vineyard – it doesn’t get much better than that!
Did Someone Say Cheese?
Cheese and wine is a match as old as time and a sure winner for a group of ladies feeling a bit peckish by the end of the day. If you’re after a dedicated cheese tasting then Binnorie Dairy at Lovedale can offer your group a generous journey through their goats and cows milk fettas, cheddar and yoghurt based labna (so tangy and creamy – my personal favourite!) with one of their fromagers (a fancy word for a cheese presenter/sales person … the cheese equivalent of a wine sommelier). Binnorie Dairy also has a small café on site so you can grab a take away coffee or even a glass of wine if you have ladies aboard that are not cheese aficionados.
If some of your group would like to taste wine and others would like to taste cheese, a way to please everyone would be to visit the Smelly Cheese Shop at Roche Estate. The cheese lovers in your group can visit the Smelly Cheese shop (by the way they also make great gelato here!) whilst the rest of your group wanders through the Roche Estate site. The Tempus Two cellar door is here as well as the Goldfish bar. Grab your bestie and share a wicked cocktail carafe for two!
Chocolate – Both tasty and fancy!
A fantastic way to finish off your day is a visit to one of the many chocolate shops in the Hunter. For really friendly people and super creamy Belgian couture chocolate, the Pokolbin Chocolate and Jam Company shop at Pokolbin Village is one of those hidden gems. While the shop looks small, it packs a big punch when it comes to flavour. The ladies are so friendly there too and they never say no to an extra sample of their peanut butter rocky road fudge (you can see why I’ve gone up a shirt size in the last year!).
If you have a group of 20+ people or you’d like to explore one of the largest ranges of chocolates, fudges, lollies, Turkish delight and more then the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company shop (2320 Broke Road, Pokolbin) is well worth a visit too. They also have a smaller version of this same shop on the Peterson House site – who doesn’t love chocolate and bubbles?
And when a truly decadent chocolate experience calls and you wish to indulge in wine and chocolate matching presentations, check out Cocoa Nib/Keith Tulloch wines or Moorebank Vineyard for their artisan gourmet chocolates matched with 2 whites and 2 reds from their wine range.
Ready, Steady, Stomp!
Some groups love to simply eat, drink and relax but if your group enjoys getting active (and proving their prowess in the competitive arena) then a grape stomping competition can be just the thing! Pick your teams (bride and bridesmaids versus everyone else?) and Hunter Resort will do the rest at their Grapestomping activity.
What is grapestomping you ask?
Placing the hand picked grapes into a barrel and stomping on them with your bare feet was the traditional way that vineyard staff would press the fruit to get the juices to later ferment. While machine presses do all the work today, it certainly is fun to relive this experience and verse each other in teams to see who can produce the most juice in the shortest amount of time. Whoever fills a 750mL wine bottle with juice first is the winner of some delicious wine prizes from the Hermitage Road cellars.
And of course you get to keep your bottle of smushed grape juice (unfermented…. unless “toe jam” counts?)
Time to make it just a little bit fancy? High Tea anyone?
If all that grape stomping sounds like a bit too much work then sit back and relax at Voco Kirkton Park and enjoy tea (or a glass of Peterson House bubbles), with either a traditional high tea or a cheese inspired high tea. A look at their menu makes you realise that these are “finger foods on steroids” with raspberry mini cheesecakes, macarons, chocolate mousse and ganache minicakes, apricot jelly and pistachio cakes, smoked salmon blinis, caramelised onion tartlets with goats curd and more. The Cheese High Tea swaps the mini cakes above for a cheese platter including 3 Hunter Belle Cheeses (Hunter Belle cheeses are brought to you thanks to the talents of Annie and Jason… aka. “Mr & Mrs Cheese” from My Kitchen Rules Season 6), a woodfired cooked brie, olives and fetta with scones and some hot items such as chicken skewers, beetroot arancini and curry puffs.
Personally I would find it hard to choose one menu or the other!
You can also include bowls of strawberries and cream for a small extra fee.
What I also love about most Hunter Valley restaurants is they clearly label what is vegetarian or gluten free on their menus and they are more than happy to modify their menus for vegans or other special dietary requirements if we let them know in advance.
No two groups are ever the same so let us know and we’ll make sure you’re covered!
Know your group’s budget and numbers
Budgets can be a tricky thing when it comes to groups. If everyone is going to “go dutch” and pay their own way then you’ll need to know what range of prices even the most cash strapped person in your group can accommodate.
As you’ve gathered by now, private tours are fully customisable so we give you a price for the bus charter and then a price for each of the activities so you can put together an experience that focuses on being the most economical or the most lavish affair that you wish. For more tips on how you can keep costs down, have a look at our suggestions for how to do the Hunter Valley on a budget.
As private tours are usually charged per bus exclusively hired rather than per person you’ll need to know your numbers as well. We have 13, 20, 24 or 27 seat buses and I’ve seen groups book a 20 seat bus thinking they will have 15 people, but when it gets closer to the day a few drop out and now they have only 12 people (and could have used a smaller and cheaper bus)!
Expert tip: As a rule of thumb you’ll lose around 20% of your anticipated numbers when it comes time to commit to the date or fund your tour. So you can get an accurate idea of the size of your party, ask each person for a deposit (something with a low barrier to entry such as 10% of the anticipated cost or $50 etc) which gets them to commit financially to the trip – it’s a great way to work out who would “like” to come and who will actually be there!
The bus charter and any tasting/event fees are usually paid in advance (many cellar doors allow you to pay these on the day and will subtract these fees from the bottle price if you make a purchase so essentially you get your tasting “free”).
You’ll also need to remember to budget for lunch on the day (the cheapest casual eats/pub-style lunches in the Hunter begin at around $20-$25 for meals), any wine/beer/cocktails you purchase by the glass on the day and of course your trip wouldn’t be complete without purchasing a bottle of wine or 2 to enjoy that evening! Most bottles of wine from boutique cellars will set you back around $20-$25 a bottle. That being said, what you’ll taste leaves “desperate dan’s” ie. Murphy’s (haha!) for dead and is well worth the indulgence.
All of the cellar doors and experiences charge a different tasting/event fee based on the occasion, the group size and even where they get their ingredients (if food is involved). There isn’t a solid rule for determining these prices and there can be a lot of variation from venue to venue for what looks like the same thing, so calling on the local knowledge of a Hunter Valley tour specialist such as ourselves can save you a lot of wasted time making phone calls and researching options.
Whether you’re after an affair that is classy or casual, whether you’re on a budget or the sky is the limit for your ultimate hen’s wine tour experience, whether you have fussy eaters or you just want a quick bite to eat so you can get back on with the tasting, the above tips will help take the headaches out of organising a hens party wine tour in the Hunter Valley.
We know what types of venues appeal to various styles of hen’s parties and we want to share Hunter experiences that we know our groups have loved in the past. We aim to take the guesswork out of putting together a hen’s party wine tour so we’d love you to get in touch, tell us about your group and let us design, book and run a tour that has something for everyone in your party – being the organiser shouldn’t mean you miss out on the fun and spend all your time stressing about making it happen!