Kate Ayrton digs up the many earthy delights to be found in one of NSW’s most popular regional escapes.
Located in the Central Tablelands, Mudgee is one of NSW’s prettiest and oldest country towns dating back to 1822 when it was first settled by a couple of European pastoralists and sheep breeders who were good at spotting arable land. Of course the land was home to the local Wiradjuri Nation long before white man showed up and wiped most of them out due to conflicts over land rights and animals. They called it “moothi” meaning “nest in the hills” due to its outer rim of hills which create the “nest ” and the smaller hills within that perimeter that give rise to a bucolic panorama of rolling hills and valleys. It’s high elevation and unique terroir made up of red clay loam and quartz enjoys it’s own micro-climate that keeps the evenings cool even on the hottest of days and gets a good amount of rain, making it one of Australia’s top wine growing regions and the birthplace of Australian Chardonnay. When the first Chardonnay grape made its long journey from France to Australia in 1832, it surprisingly landed in Mudgee where it lay unrecognized for almost 50 years before being rediscovered… and the rest as they say is history!
Today, the Mudgee region is home to almost 40 cellar doors and offers a plethora of local events and festivals throughout the year making it a vibrant and truly charming destination to visit if you want to enjoy an authentic country experience where the focus is on fun, food and wine. The locals are exceptionally warm and friendly and all too happy to share their bounty of earthy gifts fresh from the paddock, orchard and vines. If you can get your hands on some “Mudgee Gold”, you can sample the area’s finest viticultural and winemaking skills in a special limited edition blend of gold medal winning Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon taken from batches at the annual Mudgee Wine Show.
Nearby regional towns Gulgong, Rylstone, and Kandos all feature heritage listed buildings making some parts look like a movie set or the town that time forgot. The whole area is a photographer’s dream. And in the tiny town of Rylstone, visitors may be surprised to discover that they can dine on some of the best yum cha in Australia at 29 Nine 99 thanks to a Chinese artist who took up residence here several years ago with her Australian husband. Set in a historic sandstone Inn, the restaurant and gift shop oozes with charm and all kinds of goodies offering a feast for both your stomach and your eyes.
With so much to see and do, a weekend seems hardly enough to get the full picture so our recommendation is to just make Mudgee one of those special places you return to again and again for a change in pace and season. Spring and Autumn are the most pleasant times of year and when there are the most events happening. Just remember to pace yourself with both the activities and the wine as you hit the Mudgee trail.
Food & Wine
Logan Wines is one of Mudgee’s coolest vineyards with a contemporary ‘tasting hall’ constructed of glass, steel and timber with a blockwork veneer designed by architect Stephen Buzacott. The building cleverly frames the magnificent views taking full advantage of its surroundings and creating a light and airy space to kick back and fly with some of Hannah and Peter’s eponymous fine wines from the feisty ‘Ridge of Tears’ Shiraz named after Peter’s Scottish ancestors to the delicate Logan ‘Hannah Rosé’ which he made for his wife on their wedding day.
For a complete contrast, visit Skimstone just down the road for a taste of Tuscany at this idylllic boutique winery. Discreetly tucked behind a hill and overlooking the Cudgegong River, Skimstone’s rustic chic ‘tasting shed’ brings you back to earth with its no-fuss simplicity. Kate and Josh Clementson’s Sangiovese and Barbera varietals pair beautifully with Italian cuisine and are causing quite a stir on the local wine scene already picking up medals at the Mudgee, NSW Wine and Australian Small Winemakers shows. One afternoon on the porch at this vineyard and you’ll see why as the delicious antipasto tasting plates and quaffable glasses of wine just disappear.
Lowe Wines is one of Mudgee’s star attractions. Set in the flats of the Cudgegong Valley, it specialises in small batch winemaking using innovative techniques and is a certified organic vineyard. Family owned and run, David Lowe eats, drinks, lives and breathes viticulture and is regularly on site to share his passion and knowledge with guests whether telling a tale or teaching at the Wine School. Situated in an enormous corrugated-iron shed full of large barrels and draped in wisteria vines, the cellar door looks out across the vines and the valley, and is a popular hotspot to sit back and enjoy the view and a glass or two while lingering over one of their tasty food platters. Lowe also hosts a variety of events throughout the year that include the popular Spring Long Lunch, the Winemakers Table, Twilight Tapas, and the Tunnel of Lowe dinner in the vines.
Be sure to check out the Zin House next door for a delicious paddock-to-plate experience. The six-course menu changes from week to week based on what’s in season and is served at communal tables where long leisurely lunches are de rigueur. Much of the produce is harvested from the 1000 acres of farmland surrounding the restaurant.
Other local special mentions include artisanal micro distillery Baker Williams, which produces handcrafted spirits and spectacular liqueurs like the Rouge Vert Jus, Cumquat Liqueur, Wheat Vodka, and absolutely to-die-for Butterscotch Schnapps. Moothi Estate, Bunnamagoo Estate and Huntington Estate are among several other wineries also worth a visit, including the Robert Stein Winery and Vineyard, which features a very cool vintage motorcycle museum, some amusing sculptures and a superb restaurant. The Pipeclay Pumphouse serves only locally sourced produce and will appeal to discerning locavores who appreciate culinary finesse and scenic surroundings. Closer to town, Di Lusso Estate serves up delicious wood fired pizzas served along with hard to find Italian varietals and blends that range from Pinot Grigio to Aleatico, Nebbiolo, Picolit and Vermentino. In town, The Butcher Shop Café and Alby & Esthers do great breakfasts, while Roth’s Wine Bar (Australia’s oldest bar) is the heart and soul of the town and where all the action takes place.
What to Do
In between all that eating and drinking, be sure to find time to explore some of the other local highlights and take a hike out to Dunn’s Swamp in the Wollemi National Park where you can see over 100 species of birds and Eucalypts, including the ancient Wollemi Pine. At Hands on the Rock, you can view ancient aboriginal hand prints in a sandstone cave and pay your respects to the traditional people and their land at this sacred site. Mudgee is also a great place for cyclists and the Cycle Mudgee Region guide details are over 20 tracks across the region making it a popular way to get around. If you are visiting around Easter, the Mudgee Bike Muster is a must. For a bird’s-eye view of the area, try hot air ballooning with Balloon Aloft or take a heli-tour over the Capertee Valley with Capertee Valley Helicopters.
If you’re more of a boots on the ground type person, there are a number of terrific Farm Walks, which run twice a month and vary. Mudgee’s Farmers Markets take place on the 3rd Saturday of every month at St. Mary’s Churchyard from 8:30am – NOON and is a great way to sample the best of the region. We reccomend visiting www.visitmudgeeregion.com.au to see what seasonal events and festivals are happening like the popular Local Lunch (March), Go Grazing (September), Local Plate (October), Mudgee Food & Wine Festival (Sept-Oct), and Flavours of Mudgee (September).
Two other annual seasonal events worth noting are Mudfest – an independent international short film festival held in March at Bunnamagoo Estate. Set on the vineyard lawns from dusk on guests watch 14 short films, can buy fine wine from the cellar door, and enjoy live music and entertainment for their $30pp entry ticket. Sculptures in the Garden takes place in October and is a not for profit event that combines garden design, large-scale Australian sculpture and traditional art mediums in beautiful rural surroundings within a private garden and vineyard in Mudgee. All proceeds from the weekend exhibition go to the Mudgee Support Group of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT and a local arts initiative to develop a sculpture walk in Mudgee’s Lawson Park.
For shoppers, we recommend stopping by Juliet Horsley Homewares for great hats, bags and other novelty gift items, Loft Furniture & Other Ideas and Deer Mudgee for cutting edge fashion with Australian and international designer labels.
Where to Stay
For a really cozy homestay, Trelawney Farm is a slice of heaven set in an 1880’s farmhouse that has been stylishly renovated with vintage collectibles and quality amenities to ensure an unforgettable countryside getaway. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Horizon Mudgee, a contemporary rural retreat built out of steel, concrete and timber with stunning 360 degree views through large floor-to-ceiling windows that maximize its open setting. Both these private homes are suitable for large families, friends, wedding or corporate gatherings. Elouera also offers some good options for independent guests seeking something a little more edgy, including a converted 1901 historic train carriage that has been beautifully restored to include all the modern comforts.
For couples or smaller groups The Tannery and East End Cottages offer private accommodation in a pretty setting right in town. Nearby, the boutique Perry Street Hotel has 13 self-contained suites that bring a touch of Berlin to Mudgee with its modern twist on a heritage building and cool urban vibe.
For something completely different, consider visiting Mudgee in an Airstream caravan and taking one of Airstream Adventures chauffeur-driven tours of the region and literally sleep in the vineyards under the stars. They’ll even get the lads from the Mudgee Observatory to bring out the big guns and give you a guided tour of the southern skies before you go to bed so you know exactly where you are in the universe.
For more information about Mudgee, please visit www.visitmudgeeregion.com.au and www.mudgeewine.com.au or follow @mudgeeregion on Instagram, @mudgeeregion on Twitter and facebook.com/visitmudgeeregion.
Kate Ayrton was a guest of Mudgee Region Tourism and part of the Mudgee Smuggler 2014 expedition, #mudgeesmuggler.