I’ve just returned from a short visit to Orange, where I was a guest of TasteOrange*, for the start of Wine Week.
Travelling to Orange was a little unnerving as I drove there on one of the worst bushfire affected days that New South Wales had ever experienced. With temperatures in the high 30s and the banshee northerly winds reaching 100kmh, the day was a natural disaster waiting to happen. My heart sinks at people’s losses, now knowing that I managed to just drive past the beginnings of an apocolyptic setting on my way to a safer haven surrounded by great people, great food and great wine.
Orange is a small city of of approx 40,000 people and almost 3 hours drive west of Sydney. Crossing the Blue Mountains can make it a little slow going (certainly during bushfires) but the road is decent. In the heart of the New South Wales “Food Bowl,” Orange’s main industries are agriculture and mining. With plenty of fertile lands and located at a relatively high altitude, 862 metres at the base of Mount Canobolas, it’s the food and the vineyards and subsequent tourism that is now becoming key to Orange’s success. These two symbiotic endeavours draw crowds with events bookended through the year: Food Of Orange District (F.O.O.D) Week in April and Wine Week in October.
Wine week begins with a glamourous bang, a black tie dinner attended by the wine community for the trophy awards post the wine show judging. This year, Ross Hill Wines, owned by the Robson family, was the venue. The old apple packing shed has since been converted into a medium sized winery and barrel hall, showing the march of agricultural progression. The tables beautifully set, ready for a great night catered by some outstanding local chefs, Simonn Hawke of Lolli Redini and Shaun Arantz of Racine. Both restaurants are multi award winning and currently hold “One Hat” from SMH Good Food Guide Awards 2014.
It’s here that I must call out one of the first acts of generosity from the good wine folk of Orange. I unpacked my tuxedo to find I’d forgotten cuff links! A frantic phone call to my taxi driver for the evening, David Cumming at Define Wine, reassured me he had a spare pair I could borrow for the evening, so as not to look out of place amongst the glamour.
Peter Bourne, one of Australia’s most recognisable names in wine and a resident of Orange, MCed the evening with great aplomb and flair. Not many hosts can get away with wearing a Fez in country New South Wales! The night meandered with catch ups and introductions (and good natured ribbing amongst the 2 camps of fitness in the wine trade, runners and cyclists), punctuated with excellent food from the aforementioned chefs and paired with the 2012 Trophy Winning Wines.
The 10 Trophies from 2013 were shared only amongst 5 producers: Carillion Wines; Cargo Road; Jarretts Of Orange; Moody’s Wines and Ross Hill (see listing at bottom). The Judges Encouragement Award was also went to Ross Hill for their 2011 Pinnacle Shiraz. Upon the presentation of the Encouragement award, Chief Judge Toni Paterson MW remarked that Shiraz was ’emerging’ for the region, and urged makers to persist with it. She summed up the Shiraz category as “A superb and exciting class (of wines). Shiraz is one of the shining jewels in Orange’s crown. Sophisticated, well-crafted elegant wines with poise and grace.”
The judges were far more taken with the Chardonnay class: “An exceptionally strong class. Well-done Orange. Chardonnay again asserts itself as the top white of the region. The best wines show complexity, fruit depth & length. There used to be only one or two top producers making great Chardonnay. Now there are many. Keep it up.”
The next morning I set off for a jog through wide, tree lined streets to shake out the previous night’s cobwebs and scout a quick reconnaissance past a relatively recent newcomer to Orange’s food scene: Byng St. Local Store.
Packed with families, blue and white collar workers, mums and prams and solo diners finding a piece of solace in the morning over a coffee and the newspapers. I managed a window seat and refuelled myself with thick slices of real sourdough, meaty mushrooms and double smoked, thinly sliced Trunkey Bacon. All topped with crumbled feta…just superb!
Into the car and headed out along the Cargo Road trail to quickly see Orange’s newest cellar door Stockman’s Ridge. I’ve reviewed several of their honest and approachable wines here on vinonotebook and by visiting, I was rewarded with possibly the best cellar door driveway in the Orange district:
From there back towards town to see one of the great characters of Orange, Terry Dolle of Orange Mountain Wines. Not a traditional winemaker, but one who continues to learn and embrace the right philosophies about all things vinous. A quick debrief of the Trophy dinner, a run through the current releases in bottle but the one I kept being drawn back to is the 2013 Riesling, awarded Silver at the wine show. Incredible amounts of length, extract and almost Alsatian in the finish. A great wine that will be even better with age.
Terry was kind enough then to take me through the current wines in barrel. He’s sitting on a little ripper of a Sangiovese from 2013. The wine being matured in different barrels: one on solids, the others not. They offer 2 sides of the same coin and I thoroughly look forward to when the final blend comes together.
Taste Orange has done great work in modernising the district and disseminating each area around the township (Orange Mountain is part of the “Borenore Trail”). Each winery is numbered for reference in the ‘Orange & District Wine & Food Guide’ and then has a large, distinctive QR Code sign that allows visitors with Smartphones to access information and exclusive offers as part of being a Taste Orange “Particularly Important Person,” or an Orange PiP.
Food is something that people in Orange take seriously and as I made my way back into town, I fancied a take away feed to keep on the clock. Joining another queue of savvy locals, this time at Bill’s Beans Factory Espresso . Fresh local and housemade ingredients made a humble steak sandwich a treat.
From here off to Printhie Wines, located about 35 kilometres north west of Orange, just near the township of Molong. There’s a 4 kilometre drive down a decent dirt road and you may feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, but you’re warmly welcomed with a fantastic cellar door and a premier range of wines.
I was lucky enough to visit when head winemaker Drew Tuckwell was conducting barrel classification for the 2013 Cabernet. Assisting in this and for objectivity, James Manners of Well Mannered Wines was on hand to give some great insight. Same parcels of fruit from the same vineyards, made the same way and ageing in different barrels show very different characteristics. Some barrels were almost perfect and could be bottled now, such was the exquisite balance of oak, tannin and quality fruit. Other barrels not quite so advanced. With huge smacks of mouth drying, saliva sapping tannins a few were almost undrinkable for the moment. These will provide a rigid spine to build the final blend upon. The barrels are ranked with A, B and C for how they’re showing right now (though some argument abounded whether or not “A-” was the same as “B+”), with Dave Swift taking great chalky calligraphic pride in marking the “A” barrels.
I had to leave the Printhie team to continue as I returned to Orange to take part in the public wine show tasting. The Orange Wine Show publishes the judging results and distributes them as a booklet to all attendees and the tasting is split into the classes that were judged. All wines shown are on hand to taste, not just the gold and the trophies, though these wines disappear rapidly. Local winemakers man the stalls, all looking dapper in their embroided Taste Orange shirts, usually with their own winery logo on the opposite side. The setting was the local showground, exuding rustic charm and filled fast with locals and tourists.
James Sweetapple, of Cargo Road Wines, somehow managed to get the job of carving the delicious hams from Trunkey Creek rather than pouring his own successful wines. I asked him why he volunteered for this culinary component: “This way, I get to see everybody and I get the good bits of the ham!” Can’t argue with that logic.
One of the best parts of seeing all wines on show and knowing their scores, is being able to play “judge” and see if you agree. The Shiraz class Trophy winner was certainly an interesting wine. Taking the Top Gold, Moody’s Wines Shiraz, tasted alongside the other 3 gold medal scoring Shirazes seemed to be an incredible wine, but to the crowds, not necessarily a great Shiraz. The other 3 Golds were Ross Hill Monocle, Ross Hill Pinnacle and the Carillion Wines The Feldspars. The Moody’s a herbal, funky, spice driven number whilst the others a little more typical of “cool climate” Shiraz with white pepper and almost a blue fruit spectrum.
Orange Wine Week plays host to many events and the local wineries and business team up to continue the action after the wine show. I was fortunate enough to be hosted after Wine Show tasting by Cumulus Wines at their comfortable Cumulus Lounge, set in the beer garden of the bustling Parkview Hotel. Deb Lauritz and Matt Atallah are the winemakers, both were present to talk with all and sundry. Responding to all questions and queries with good humour and insight, we talked long into the night, warmed by the company…and maybe the wine.
I returned the next morning to the ever-busy Byng St Local Store to have a coffee and chat with Ed Swift from Printhie and Swift Family Sparkling to talk about Orange, its future and how he sees tourism playing a part in that future. He said that Sydney-siders seem a little reticent to come over the “Sandstone wall.” Why this is, he’s not sure. He is certainly of the belief that tourism is only going to become stronger as the region grows, the Swift family are drawing up plans to put in a restaurant and Sparkling Wine production house/complex a lot closer to town than the current cellar door. Such infrastructure needs the foot traffic to be sustainable. Taste Orange as an organisation do fantastic work in promoting the region in the capital, even taking over Martin Place in the CBD for a time. The NSW state government has a programme to promote Sydney dwellers to move to regional centres like Orange and Bathurst, called “Evocities.” There’s even financial incentives for people to relocate. Large roadside billboards in the town promote the lifestyle changes of moving, such as little to no traffic and lower property prices. Ed and I agreed, maybe these billboards would be much better placed in Sydney, rather than the destinations they’re promoting, to be more effective.
I bid farewell to Ed, who was off to set up a degustation dinner at Lolli Redini for the evening and with a tinge of regret, I had to leave the wide, tree lined streets of Orange, with the quirky 45-degree-rear-to-kerb-angled-parking and make my way back to Sydney….but first I had some supplies to pick up!
An incredibly fresh seeded sourdough loaf, still warm from the baker’s oven at Racine Bakery (of La Racine Restaurant as above). Rich with aromatics evoking textural, saliva inducing memories of golden butter oozing from just carved slice. Tucked away in a corner of a supermarket car park in the middle of town, the glass shelves heaving under the weight of bright pastries, irresistible cakes and those perfect, heavy loaves of real bread.
Across the road is the one-stop-shop for a hand picked selection of some of the best local produce, A Slice Of Orange. Everything from the wonderful Trunkey Bacon and 2nd Mouse Cheese Company products to locally produced honeys, jams, relishes and truly free range eggs, all from within 100 miles of the shop. If you can’t decide, just grab one of their pre-packed hampers and take the thinking out of it!
The highway back to Sydney out of Orange provided one last delight, without a detour to the historic, tiny but thriving township of Millthorpe. Population = 650. Hatted Restaurants = 1 (Tonic). That’s not a bad ratio, maybe even the best in NSW?
Millthorpe is also home to the Angullong Wines small, but charming “Bluestone Stables” cellar door. The Angullong wines placed very well in each class of the Orange Wine Show and they came away with swathe of medals, showing consistency of excellence in the vineyard and in the winery.
They’re one of the better exponents of Savagnin and Sauvignon Blanc, capitalising on the region’s altitude to give sharp frameworks of acidity. Chardonnays have juicy white stonefruit and ‘minerality,’ whilst counterpointing the balanced use of buxom oak. Their “alternative varieties” of Barbera, Sangiovese and Tempranillo also benefit from the same acidity, but coupled with natural tannins, these wines echo their European forebears and cry out to be centrepieces in a food and friend laden table.
The dates for Orange F.O.O.D Week, Taste Orange @ Sydney and Wine Week for 2014 have been already been set, and you can find them on the Taste Orange website, so I suggest putting at least one of them in your diary now, come over that Sandstone wall, and plan your trip to this remarkable gastronomic destination in 2014.
List of Trophy Winners from Orange Wine Show 2013
D’aquino Group Of Companies
Best Wine In Classes 1, 2, 5 & 6
2013 Cargo Road Riesling
Madrez Wine Services
Best Sauvignon Blanc
2013 Jarretts Of Orange Sauvignon Blanc
Define Wine Marketing & Communications
2011 Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Chardonnay
Kelly’s Rugby Hotel
Best Wine Classes 9 & 13
2010 Carillion Wines Cabernet Merlot
Best Shiraz/Shiraz Dominant Wine
2012 Moody’s Wines Shiraz
Central Western Daily
Best Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Sauvignon Dominant Wine
2011 Carillion Wines Cabernet Sauvignon
2009 Cargo Road Merlot
Upm Raflatac and Impresstik Labels
Judges Encouragement Award
2011 Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Shiraz
GK Craig Printers
Best White Wine of the Show
2011 Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Chardonnay
Best Red Wine of the Show
2012 Moody’s Wines Shiraz
Best Wine of the Show
2011 Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Chardonnay
*Disclaimer = I was a guest of Taste Orange, with accommodation and event entry provided. All views and wine notes are my own. All photographs taken by me unless otherwise stated