There’s always a danger when you come home from a trip of post-holiday blues setting in. Couple that with a hefty case of jetlag and the thought of going back to work – it’s not a happy recipe.
We’ve just got back from an amazing 7-week trip to Europe, and while it’s lovely to be back in Sydney (especially now the heavy rains seem to have stopped), we’ve somehow managed to avoid the misery of coming home.
Quite by accident – or maybe it was serendipity – we arrived back in Aus for the last week of Orange Wine Festival. So the day we landed, we popped back home, washed the 23 hours of flying off ourselves, repacked and headed back to the airport for our next flight to Orange, NSW.
Here’s what we got up to in one of the most unique wine regions in Australia – and a foodie’s paradise. You might also like to check out the video we’ve made of our time at the Orange Wine Festival:
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx
We left England just over a day ago and the weather was on the turn. We come home to Sydney to discover low clouds and a chill in the air… but it’s only 6 in the morning. Could this be the day when the weather clears?
Yup! By the time we get back home, change and repack for our next flight – only 6 hours away – the clouds have gone, the sun’s out and Sydney’s looking brighter.
We’re off to the beautiful town of Orange, NSW. It’s a three-and-a-half-hour drive west to Orange from Sydney… or a 45-minute flight. So up we go!
Orange is a pretty unique place – especially in terms of wine. Its vineyards are all quite high up (by Australian standards) with the highest point in the area – Mount Canobolas – stands at just under 1400 metres. This means it can get quite cold overnight, which is a good thing for wine grapes.
The Orange Wine Festival is a week-long celebration of Orange’s wines with a host of events that showcase the region’s vino. It happens every October, but this is the first time we’ve been able to go.
We’re in Orange for two nights this visit, though now we’ve got here, we wish we could stay longer. Especially considering our choice accommodation. Cottage 79 is perfect to get into the vibe of this fascinating country town.
Built in the 1880s, this place epitomises the charm of the town with a nod to the past with all its heritage features and all the conveniences and tech of modern living. We’ll definitely be coming back here.
Tonight is the Orange Wine Festival’s Night Market – one of the signature events of the festival. Ringing Robertson Park are over 50 stalls offering wines from around the region, plus some of the best food you’ll find in Orange.
It’s an amazing atmosphere here tonight, with a merry mix of locals and visitors all enjoying the warm evening, the live music, and the array of food and drink available.
The only difficult part about tonight is deciding which wine to try or food to taste next. We make beelines for Colmar Estate, which not only makes great wine but is also owned by our friend Sarah’s folks.
We also hit the Agrestic Grocer for some delicious food, and Angullong and Rikard for more amazing wine samples.
We finish the night off with a night cap at this very cool little whisky bar Washington and Co. The selection of whiskies, gins and all other things delicious and tempting here is impressive.
Christina has a Japanese whisky and I go for a nip of Speyside. Perfect end to a big day.
Today is a big day for us and the Orange Wine Festival too. It’s Wine in the Vines, where we get to travel around the region and visit a few wineries and speak to the winemakers.
For the reason, we’re making sure we’re ready with a delicious breakfast at Groundstone, right in the Gallery and Museum Precinct. It’s a beautiful space with a mouth-watering menu.
My poached eggs and bacon are perfect, and I’ve added a hash brown to my order. I’ve chosen wisely: they make their own here and it’s probably the best hashy I’ve ever eaten.
Christina’s shakshuka (or Groundstone’s version of one) is just as good. Rich, spicy and wholly satisfying. And the coffee is great too. So good to be back in a country where you don’t have to fret about the quality of flat white coming to you!
And we’re off! The weather’s looking a little dodgy, but the energy’s great and everyone’s upbeat.
This year’s Wine in the Vines is set to be the biggest yet, with 5 buses going to 15 different cellar doors. Each bus has 3 wineries to visit and we’re put in groups randomly. We only find out which vineyards we’re going to when we’re on the bus, which adds to the excitement.
Our first stop is to Brangayne, named after a character from a Wagner opera who creates a love potion instead of poison for her mistress. Hope they get it right with us too!
We had nothing to fear. The wines we’ve tried here at Brangayne are delicious, as is the food the winery has paired with the wine. After hearing from David Hoskins – the 2nd generation of the family to run this winery – we have time to explore the gardens.
It’s such a beautiful cellar door here, leading right on to the vines. Often, cellar doors are separate from the grapes, but not here. There are also stunning trees and flowers all around the cellar door – the perfect spot to enjoy the wine grown and made here.
On paper, we’re supposed to be trying just 2 of Brangayne’s wines, but they’re more than generous and let us choose anything in their range to taste or have more of the same. It’s a pretty good start to the day, that’s for sure!
Winery number 2 is just up the road: Rowlee Wines. We’re dropped off at the edge of the vineyard and are allowed to walk along the vines. We’re met halfway by winemaker James, who talks us through the varieties we’re strolling amongst.
We’re allowed to taste a sample of three of Rowlee’s wines, paired with delicious little locally made empanadas.
Our third and final stop is to Stockman’s Ridge – a beautiful winery at the end of a long tree-lined drive. We’re met by owner Jonathan Hambrook, who cheerfully takes us through the wines he’s prepared for us.
We’re also treated to a sumptuous share platter of cheeses, meats, dips and pastries.
And trying to edge in on the food action is the winery’s dachshund Peanut. Such a cheeky little fellow.
We’ve been so lucky with the weather so far that, when a brief storm passes over and we all bunker down under the marque, it’s greeted with more excitement than annoyance or concern.
Loud claps of thunder, bright flashes of lightning, a funny sausage dog to keep us all company and plenty of wine and food near at hand. What more could we ask for?
All too soon it’s time to head back into town, but our ticket includes a bottle of wine to take home too, so it’s less goodbye, more adieu.
Back in town, we take a slow stroll back to our lovely cottage and a nap until it’s time for dinner…
Tonight, we’re dining at the award-winning Charred Kitchen and Bar. It’s a fascinating venue with a design that hints at the food you’re about to enjoy.
There’s a restrained masculinity to this place; timber features and dark décor countered with elegance and simplicity of a well-thought-out scheme.
And the inclusion of wood throughout the restaurant is significant: the restaurant has commissioned its own “Lucifer” wood and charcoal oven that the kitchen uses to create subtle smokiness to the food.
The food itself is remarkable. There’s real creativity and refinement in the food that comes from this kitchen, which is open to the front of house.
Ordering food has the potential to be a complicated process of compromises though. The food is designed to be shared, but you still get your own personal serving. You can choose to have between three and five courses, but you all have the same dish for each course.
Thankfully, Christina and I were both happy to have the charred potato and rosemary gnocchi for the first course. Somehow crispy and creamy at the same time, the gnocchi were so delicious.
It’s a bit harder for us to choose the second course, but I somehow convince Christina to have The Charred Cut – a market cut of beef that the kitchen cooks over coals and serves with an onion jus and tarragon emulsion.
And even though we’re ‘sharing’ the dish in that we’re having the same course, we can ask for the meat to be cooked to our personal liking. Christina has hers medium rare, while I like mine rare.
Both dishes come out perfectly cooked. It’s an incredible meal.
We’re pondering whether to have cheese or sweet for dessert when our waiter recommends The Apple.
She explains the dish to be like the next generation to the snow egg, which was a sugar egg that melted away to reveal a golden centre.
The Apple looks like a perfect, shiny granny smith apple straight from the greengrocers, replete with brown stalk. But when you crack it with your spoon, you discover it’s a sugar shell hiding a delicious green tea sorbet, a squishy marshmallow and cubes of candied cinnamon apple in the bottom.
Around the apple are clumps of fluffy green tea Swiss roll that look more like kale than cake (so it’s good for you, right?). Oh, and the brown apple stalk? It’s a rich, slender twig of dark chocolate!
We’ve also had the pleasure of David Collins’ company at vital moments throughout our meal at Charred. David is the restaurant’s manager, but also – more importantly – Charred’s sommelier.
With each of our dishes, David has brought us the best wine to go with the food. We love when a restaurant does a matching wine option, especially when the said restaurant’s wine lists is longer (and probably more confusing) than my university thesis!
Charred has recently taken home the Gourmet Traveller Wine Reader’s Choice for Best Wine List at the annual Wine List of the Year Awards.
The wines that David chooses for us from the expansive cellar here not only matches our food perfectly, they’re remarkable in their own right. He also brings an interesting insight into each of the wines and explains why each one goes with the food – not to mention details about the wine itself.
The standout for us was the Gewurztraminer David pairs with our first course of gnocchi. I’ve always been a bit wary of Gewurz because it’s often too sweet, bland and difficult to enjoy – especially some from the States that I’ve tried, where it’s a firm favourite.
The Colmar Estate Gewurztraminer is sharp, compelling and complex. And – of course – award-winning! There’s a sweetness and floral tones still with the wine, but it matches seamlessly with the nuttiness of the gnocchi.
It’s really changed our mind about Gerwurz – I think I feel a story coming on about this style! Watch this space.
It’s almost the end of our time in Orange, so we’re making the most of it. Heading out west on The Escort Way, we’ve come to the absolutely stunning Heifer Station winery.
The beautiful cellar door used to be a wool shed, and the owners – Michelle and Phillip Stivens – have done a great job retaining the history of the place.
Outside, the gardens are full of hilarious chickens, the winery’s miniature horse Tilly, an excellent pig and some magnificent Highland cows.
We sit down to a tasting of Heifer Station’s wines and fall in love with the Bull Paddock Chardonnay and their Shiraz. We also really love the Genisse sparkling wine they make too.
After the tasting though, things take an amazing step up.
Heifer Station have organised a picnic for us out in the paddock, beneath a weeping willow with a view of the vines and overlooking the lake.
It’s an incredible setup, with a table full of delicious food, our choice of wine (we’ve gone for the Chardonnay) and even a rug and cushions to relax on after our lunch.
This region really is stunning, and with a belly full of amazing antipasti and a mouthful of superb wine, there’s not much else you could wish for. Christina points out that if I were to propose again now, there’s not much that would stop her from saying yes!
Don’t you love a vote of confidence every now and then?
I know what she means though. This is a very romantic place. It feels like you’re a million miles from anyone but the birds flying by and the resident hares amongst the vines.
Our next (and final) stop is just down the road to Swinging Bridge, whose picturesque cellar door looks out over Mount Canobolas. There’s also an option to sit outside on the veranda for a tasting, which looks out over the grapevines, but we decide to sit at the bar and look through the window at the valley.
Swinging Bridge has a fascinating range of wines, especially as its owner-makers Tom and Georgie Ward have developed an experimental line that challenges conventional blends, processes and finishes.
We really love the #003 Amber rosé that’s part of the Experimental Series. It’s a blend of Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer (there it is again!) and Riesling, which balance out beautifully. But it’s the unfiltered cloudiness of the wine that’s most striking. The fine sediment throughout the wine adds a smooth, rich texture you don’t usually find in white or rosé wines.
All too soon, it’s time to head back to the airport for our 30-minute flight back to Sydney. It’s been an amazing trip – especially to be able to stand out after our recent jaunt to Europe.
I think that really goes to show how much rural Australia has to offer and why we love visiting places like Orange so much.
So remember to keep an eye out for more things happening in Orange throughout the year. There’s always something going on there!
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx