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  • intouch Magazine

A Private Oasis in Pokolbin



The family behind the region’s most luxurious resort, Tower Lodge, and the neighbouring Hope Estate are driven by a commitment to creating the Hunter Valley's penultimate experience and all it has to offer.


 

The Hope family, along with recently appointed Group Executive Chef Anthony Fullerton, have developed a full range of experiences that include a deeply embedded core philosophy of farm-to-table that is designed to showcase not only the garden produce but the dry-aged beef, beer, wine and whiskey that complements the exclusive accommodation offering and the popular concerts that Hope Estate is known for.


Originally built in 1999 by Hunter wine legend Len Evans AO OBE and a coterie of his high-profile mates, it was their commitment to quality that saw Tower Lodge win the global luxury lodge category at the World Luxury Hotel Awards in 2010 and then continue to win it four years in a row. In 2013, the property was purchased by Michael and Karen Hope, who converted it into a private residence where they lived for eight years. In 2021, they led a $6 million refurbishment of its exterior and interior spaces, working with Newcastle based Space Design Architecture and Spicer’s Resorts. In June 2023 the family relaunched the luxury lodge with son Sam Hope looking after the guest experiences and elder son Jonno supplying the Angus beef from the family’s Nioka Farm at the foothills of the Barrington Tops for the restaurant. Michael and Karen each bring their own personal style and furnishings to the venture that complete the luxury lodge’s welcoming, ‘at home’ feel.

" We're in the business of fun and have created a luxurious home away from home for our guests that provides the personal experiences that travellers seek"

“We’ve created a private gated oasis on 40 acres, smack bang in the middle of Pokolbin – the busiest wine region in Australia,” said Michael.


“It’s a new style of luxury experiential tourism for the Hunter Valley, delivered in a unique, high-quality, but friendly manner that makes us different. There are luxury hotels all over the world, but if you want a fully immersive, personally tailored Hunter Valley experience, we believe that we can take it to the next level.”


The property is centred around a warm terracotta plaza, while a striking stucco tower sets a distinctive Spanish tone to the property. A satellite pool, sauna and gardens offer guests options to leisurely explore the Hunter’s countryside, take advantage of personally guided in-house masterclasses and wine, whiskey and gin tastings, or enjoy front-seat access to a world-class entertainment lineup at the estate.



“We have 14 individually styled and generously proportioned suites, some with hot tubs, some with fireplaces, and all have a private balcony or courtyard, and no two are the same. The library and lounge are beautiful, and the wine cellar has been converted into a private dining room. Our antiques include a c1550 four-poster bed from Rajasthan.


The bathrooms are quite simply the ultimate sanctuary,” said Michael.


“We curate our guest experiences, which might include in-room treatments, learning from our Chef Anthony about the dry aging beef process, gin masterclasses, and wine, beer or whiskey tastings. In fact, our distillery has just opened, and every guest at Tower Lodge now receives a complimentary whiskey-tasting experience in the distillery. We’ve found that people like learning things in a non-threatening environment – it’s fun and interesting and makes their visit with us memorable. We hope to have guests return regularly as they would to their own country home.” Set under soaring wood ceilings, the restaurant and its adjoining lounge are the venue for breakfast and long lunches, sunset drinks and canapes, followed by an a la carte dining menu that’s designed either for sharing or more formal dining. Guests and visitors can

enjoy lunch and dinner at the lodge.


Group Executive Chef Anthony Fullerton and Michael Hope share a passion for true farm-to-table philosophy. Both grew up on farms in the country, Anthony at Lake Wanaka in New Zealand and Michael in Young NSW. Their similar background has created a shared vision and a commitment that sees Anthony fully involved in the farming of the cattle. The beef's journey from conception to life on the farm takes the highest priority. Anthony has introduced a dry-aging facility onsite and aims to raise different breeds of beef and lamb for diversity. He is keen to build a house made charcuterie line and has plans for a smokehouse.


This approach has seen Anthony, classically trained in the French tradition, win multiple awards, including the Australian Hotels Association Australian Chef of the Year in 2022 for the Bull & Bell Steakhouse in Griffith, which came in #92 in the World's 101 Best Steak Restaurants in 2023. He is committed to sourcing all his produce within a 300-kilometre radius, working hard to develop relationships with local farmers and producers and is heavily focused on the dry aging process of the beef.


“It’s a labour of love,” said Anthony.


“Once the cattle have reached a certain weight on a grass-fed diet, they are brought to the pastures adjacent to Hope Estate for a 120- 150-day grain-based feed up. The grains are the by product of the other on-site operations, such as the brewery and distillery, which creates a sustainable production approach across the Hope outlets.


“The process involves a sterile, climate and humidity-controlled storage facility and a lot of dedication. You have to look after it, rotate it, check it every week, and you have to know what you’re doing. It’s like cheese or wine. I’ve been known to dry age for up to 300 days. It results in a phenomenal flavour and tender meat. From the breeding program to the plate,

it’s a two-year process. It’s a major investment, and I’m lucky that Michael sees it as being like producing a good wine. Anything good takes time, and we’re the only place in Australia that does this with this level of intensity.”


Anthony also believes in letting the produce be the star of the plate and utilising old-school techniques that develop multiple layers and dimensions of flavour. The sauce is always served on the side, sharing is encouraged, and every dish is delicious, with diners looking forward to trying something else on the menu at their next visit. Despite the commitment to dry-aged beef, the restaurant at Tower Lodge is not a steakhouse.


Did someone mention steakhouse? Novacastrians will soon be able to enjoy Nioka Steakhouse when it opens in the former Hope Estate at The Landing building. The beef for this venture is already being planned for, so watch this space!


Hope at Honeysuckle will open at The Wharf building in Newcastle in late 2024. Showcasing the wine, spirits and craft beer the Hope family is known for, Hope at Honeysuckle will also offer wine tastings, cooking masterclasses and beer-matching experiences.



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