It doesn't feel like we went away. How can it? It was only really a pause in the mayhem of family life. A very brief pause from thinking, planning, wiping, making, doing.
But a lovely pause.
When we booked our guest room on Hermitage Road, we had no idea we'd be walking distance from most of the Pokolbin wineries, not to mention the second best meal we've had in Australia.
The hour-and-a-half drive made us realise even more that we live in such a wonderful part of the country. A short drive to bigger open spaces and even bigger skies. Hotter too, I might add.
Patchworks of vineyards flanked by the Brokenback Ranges were a real sight especially the rows of green against the dusty brown of the land. It hasn't rained here since February. The horses in the neighbouring property came to us for food and we picked the last bunch of green grass we could find for them.
Even the kangaroos were desperate and at sunset we walked along a dirt road towards dozens of Eastern Greys gathered around a nearby billabong. We watched them for a few moments before my red dress scared them away.
We had dips in the pool and read to the sound of very excited birds above our heads. Pink galahs were the only ones I recognised.
We walked to Restaurant Botanica on the first night. Every once in a while, something magical comes along when you least expect it. I wasn't expecting to find somewhere to eat that grows its own heirloom vegetables or somewhere that believes in organic gardening. I certainly wasn't expecting to find Black Berkshire pigs in the backyard. And yet this is what we found when we popped by earlier in the day to have a look at the menu. A beautiful kitchen garden and three very friendly muddy pigs – Chop Chop, Salami 2 and Crackle – who all loved a good scratch. Coming across it in that moment brought tears to my eyes. 'This is where we're eating tonight', I said to Graeme.
It was perfect. All of it. We oohed and oh-myed over the duck and the pork belly. The brioche-crumbed pork rillettes came from Salami number 1 and their marinated fetta was the same amazing fetta we tasted at Binnorie Dairy that afternoon. We even tasted beautiful artisan sourdough made from the same flour these guys use.
If that wasn't enough, we had a lovely lunch at Panino in Wollombi. A simple organic chicken burger and pizza is all we wanted that day. I loved seeing glass bottles of Udder Farm milk for sale inside the café.
We were wise to visit just a few cellar doors and not go over the top with expensive all-day wine tours. It's what most people do when they visit but I hated the thought of being a captive audience. So we went at our own pace and fell in love with a bottle or two (not surprising with floor-to-ceiling views, Ella Fitzgerald's voice and tasting notes that read like poetry).
I know the Hunter Valley is all about the wine. It's what everyone goes for. But it was all about the food for me. Always the food.