It’s the colour I notice first as I slide behind the wheel of the convertible Ferrari California T for a leisurely two-hour drive from Sydney to the Hunter Valley. The car’s California Rosso colour (an optional $20,500 special paint) has a subdued maroon tint that catches the sunlight, reflecting magenta sparkles from its glossy exterior. I’m naively relieved it isn’t blood-red, hoping to attract less attention. However, people smile, wave, admire – one man gives a thumbs-up. This is a Ferrari, after all, designed to stand out from the pack.
Before long, I’m hitting my stride in this luxury sports car, supremely comfortable in the beige tradizione leather interior, roof down on a beautiful winter’s day. The ‘prancing horse’ guides me effortlessly along the freeway in sports mode, and I become ever more at ease with the 3.8L twin turbo V8 engine power of this burgundy-coloured beast beneath my fingers. I have a cream pashmina draped around my face and neck, although I hardly need it for warmth, as even though it is winter, the heated seats and the low-set design create a cocoon-like effect. However, the scarf stays as I imagine myself a vintage movie star, perhaps from California, out touring on the weekend.
The LED navigation display tracks our course. Our destination: Hermitage Road in Australia’s oldest wine region, the Hunter Valley. We’re booked in for lunch at Restaurant Botanica at luxury getaway Spicers Vineyards Estate. Driving into the tranquil heart of vineyards and country estates, I shift the car into ‘comfort’ mode so as not to disrupt the serenity.
Arriving, we tuck the Ferrari safely away, with the help of the rear parking sensors, and settle in for lunch. Botanica’s natural interiors are warm, inviting and cosy, the large windows giving views of the vines and the dramatic escarpments of the Brokenback Mountains. As restaurant manager Clare seats us, I’m more than ready to relax and sample the modern European creations of head chef Josh Duncan.
Botanica sources many herbs and vegetables from its own kitchen garden. After a serve of the house-made sourdough bread (a traditional recipe from San Francisco using organic stone flours), it’s time for our entrée. The Chef’s Garden salad (made from a collection of organic root spring vegetables and globe artichoke) resembles a bouquet of flowers, a bursting rainbow of colour and flavour.
The wine list is curated by Belinda and Mark Stapleton, (managing director and director/executive chef, respectively) who manage both the restaurant and accommodation to the standard for which the Spicers Retreats are renowned. The wine list is naturally made up of some of the Hunter’s best vignerons including Tyrrell’s, Thomas Wines, Scarborough and Brokenwood. From their own vines, Spicers also make a small batch of house wines utilising some of the region’s best winemakers.
Our mains follow, herb-roasted lamb rump and duck breast with white bean jus. They have a hearty appeal. For dessert, we cannot go past the milk chocolate, parfait, coffee, orange and fudge, artfully presented (as is the vanilla sabayon with cocoa and buttermilk) on a tiny tower of kiwi and strawberries.
Chatting with Josh Duncan as other patrons head outside to play bocce on the lawn, I remark there’s a refinement to his cuisine where despite the wintery ingredients, you’re not overwhelmed. “There’s a fundamental lightness to my technique,” he explains. “That’s why we’re here, to challenge ourselves.” Previously, Josh has worked at the renowned Burj Al Arab and at Jumeirah Emirates Towers in Dubai, at two Michelin-starred St Hubertus in Italy, and as head chef at One&Only Hayman Island. With his family based in nearby Nelson Bay and with a new baby, he loves being close to home, with the opportunity to carve his own niche at the restaurant.
For a full weekend, an overnight stay at Spicers puts you among the best cellar doors in the Hunter Valley. If you want to give the Ferrari a well-earned rest, Spicers can organise a personalised and private wine tour.
However, after your drive, you might prefer to relax with a treatment at onsite Spa Anise – or just unwind by the fireplace in the luxury spa suites.