Arched around the NSW epicentre of Sydney are a series of wine regions battling for the city weekender market.
Of these 14 regions, the Hunter Region has been the de facto standard for many Sydneysiders. However, the short coastline trip north to the Hunter is being challenged by its counterparts to the west.
Cowra, Orange and Mudgee are the west-bound wine locations making such a play. To see what is on offer here, Yahoo7 Travel visited the Mudgee Region for a long weekend.
Mudgee is a three and a half hour drive, or 50 minute flight, from Sydney, making it a relatively easy weekend spot. After the best part of four days in the Mudgee Region, these are our must-sees.
The Mudgee Region has over 35 cellar doors. What resonated as we made our way round is how supportive the wine makers are of each other. Mudgee truly does boast a tight-knit wine community. Peter Logan of Logan Wines (try the Ridge of Tears 2013 Shiraz while you’re there) will say of “rival” Jacob Stein, “he’s the striker in our winemaker football team actually”, before praising his peer’s offerings.
Jacob himself is the central contractor for the region’s wineries, meaning he makes the wine for a wide range of grape growers, so a trip to his winery is an essential. Don’t miss out on the micro-wineries either, such as SHORT SHEEP Micro Winery, who sell everything directly and, yes, they have some very short sheep there too. We can also recommend Pieter van Gent Winery (get the white “port”), Vinifera Wines, Blue Wren and Moothi Estate, which you should time for sundown to get this view…
More than wine
If you get your kicks from beer and spirits instead, there are options on that front too, such as the Mudgee Brewing Co. in the heart of Mudgee itself.
The Mudgee Pale Ale is a safe and steady bet, but for the more serious drinkers the Mudgee Mud (8.5%!) is a rich and smooth stout which has reached legendary local status. On the spirits front, head to Baker Williams Distillery where you’ll find gin and wheat vodka. However, most people left raving about its butterscotch schnapps, which is so good it works as a dessert sauce too.
Yum cha and tea en route
If you are driving to Mudgee from Sydney, you will reach the town of Rylstone beforehand. There you will find the excellent yum cha and teahouse, 29 Nine 99.
Named after the wedding anniversary date of the owners, Na Lan from China and her Australian husband Reg, who bring authentic Chinese cuisine to the region. Grab a seat in the tree-draped outside area where we recommend the prawn dumplings and goji berry tea.
Mudgee Getaway Cottages: “Elington Manor”
We stayed at Mudgee Getaway Cottages’ Elington Manor, an early 1900 Federation home which sleeps 12 across six bedrooms (one room has a spa, so you might need to draw straws for that).
The five-star B&B is decked out with WiFi, TVs and iPod dock in every room, but it has also retained its heritage, including a piano nook for those with music in their fingers.
Potter around the townships
If you fancy a mooch to walk-off your food and drink coma, Mudgee itself or the township of Gulgong, famous for its clay, provides some shopping and browsing options. Mudgee certainly finds itself ahead of the Hunter in this respect.
Dine with your wine
Budget pending, the Mudgee Region has some top restaurants, three of which we experienced on our trip. First up was the Pipeclay Pumphouse at the Robert Stein Winery, where local produce fuels a paddock to plate philosophy.
Free-range pigs roam the surrounding pastures of the winery before taking centre stage in the degustation rundown.
On the second night, we visited the famed hatted restaurant of The Zin House, which is located in a modern farmhouse and overlooks the Zinfandel vineyard. It too prides itself on local produce, but the hat status hasn’t gone to its head – there’s no fancy foams, smears, deconstructions or tweezer arrangements. Just good food.
Our final night was dinner at Roths Wine Bar, a more animated food location with live music. Tapas at the bar, or share plates at your table work best with a colossal wine list of mostly Mudgee offerings. The pizza is great too.
Lunchtime pub grub
If the fine dining and winery cheese plates all prove too much, you can chicken snitty your way back into normality at one of the region’s pub joints.
The Oriental Hotel, owned and run by town mayor Des Kennedy, does lunch and dinner seven days a week. It was undertaking some ambitious renovations while we were there as the famous “Ori” got a modern facelift.
Over in Gulgong, the award-winning Prince of Wales Hotel is a great family pub, which even has a $6 lunch menu. We’d also recommend breakfast at Alby & Esthers or the Wineglass Bar & Grill.
While it may seem a luxury to consider a flight when a three and a half hour drive will suffice, from just $79 Fly Pelican will have you back in Sydney in 50 minutes. This is also the best option for those coming in from interstate.
Word of warning for nervous flyers though, it’s a safe and steady flight, but the size of the aircraft might mean you are a shoulder tap from the pilot. You can ask if everything is okay at least.