Have you ever tried a wine from Orange, in central NSW? This region produces fantastic cool-climate wines that are on high rotation at our house. Maybe you’ve heard of some of the bigger producers like Cumulus’s Climbing and Rolling labels or Phillip Shaw, but didn’t realise the wines came from Orange. We’ve never had the opportunity to visit, until recently. And if you haven’t visited either, it’s time to start planning your weekend escape because there’s something for everyone here – from world-class cool-climate wines to family-friendly activities.
We only had a few days – certainly not enough time to do the region justice – so we’ve vowed to return, perhaps next year for the Orange F.O.O.D week (which is happening at the moment) which boasts an awesome line-up of events and gastronomic experiences.
Orange is a three-and-a-half hour drive or about 260km north west of Sydney, so it makes total sense to leave late Friday afternoon to arrive just in time for the weekend to kick off. Alternatively, if you’re visiting Dubbo, it’s a short hour-and-a-half drive – the historical Wellington Caves is a great place to stop along the way, especially with tetchy children in the car! As an avid photographer I was going “happy snap” crazy, taking photos of amazingly picturesque countryside with lots of quaint towns to appreciate like Molong along the way.
The Orange region has come leaps and bounds over the last 20 years and is now firmly established as a food and wine mecca with hatted restaurants, first-class wineries and lots of attractions to enjoy. Here’s a snippet of what we got up to on our short visit:
Fun for the whole family
If you’re travelling with children, the Orange Adventure Playground is a must-see destination. Living in the Inner West of Sydney with two young kids, we spend a lot of time on reconnaissance missions to find new playgrounds, so I make this statement with great authority – this is without doubt one of the best playgrounds we’ve EVER visited. A rock wall? Tick. Tractor? Tick. Tree house? Tick. Not to mention an awesome space rocket – all equipment made of wood with not much plastic in sight. Special needs children are also catered for. Right next door are the Botanical Gardens and a café with good coffee. Kids (and parents) heaven!
As one of the state’s premium apple-growing regions, Orange’s local orchards, scattered among the charming scenery, make for another great attraction. Depending on the time of year, many orchards allow children to pick their own fruit and vegetables, and learn all about how they’re grown. Check out Hillside Orchard (apples, nectarines, apricots), Huntley Berry Farm (for strawberries) or if you’re in town on the second Saturday of each month, be sure to drop into the regional farmers’ market, open from a very civilized 8.30am until 12.30pm
The Wines of Orange
It’s almost unfair to be mentioning specific wineries when we didn’t visit nearly enough to make comparisons – these wineries were on the list but we just couldn’t make the time to drop in – Printhie, Angullong, Bloodwood, Mayfield Vineyard, Swinging Bridge. They’re all top of the list for next time.
Unlike other regions, the Geographical Indicator that allows wineries to label their wines as “Orange wines” is not dictated by geography but by elevation. The Orange region is defined as the area above 600m in the local area around Orange. There’s a unique combination of soil, geology and climate that produces amazing cool-climate wines. The varieties for which Orange is well known are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sparkling Wines, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Our insight into the region was delivered by our friends at Cumulus Wines, who guided us through their expansive vineyards to showcase the region. I’d swap offices in a heartbeat – the views over the rolling hills of Molong are stunning, with kangaroos nestled amongst the vines (which I know can be a viticulturist’s worst nightmare). Cumulus doesn’t have a cellar door, but as the largest producer in the region, its vineyards are expansive and its range of wines (Cumulus, Rolling, Climbing and Chasing Clouds) goes a long way to explaining why there’s so much excitement around the wines being produced in this region.
Several of the cellar doors are appointment only during the week so be sure to give them a call if you’d like to drop by. You might think we were kidding ourselves to take two young kids wine tasting, but we managed to visit two wineries without too much drama before heading back to Sydney. Both of these are highly recommended:
This winery overlooks the beautiful Koomooloo Vineyard – the views are simply spectacular. Philip Shaw is one of Australia’s most accomplished winemakers, who has been churning out exceptional wines for years. If you’re a fan of funky wine labels or wines to cellar, there’s definitely something for you here.
The Phillip Shaw “No Series” features serious wines with serious labels and serious price tags, but turn the bottle to find fabulous back labels with cartoons that tell the story.
The great-value “Characters Series” wines are priced at $20. As Philip notes, “The Characters have been stewing in my imagination for the past four years – drawn by some of Melbourne’s finest artists.” They are memorable images – The Architect Chardonnay, The Gardener Pinot Gris, The Dreamer Viognier, The Wire Walker Pinot Noir, The Idiot Shiraz and the Conductor Merlot.
Find Philip Shaw at Caldwell Lane (Escort Way), Orange – or www.facebook.com/philipshawwines
On the northern slopes of Mount Canobolas sits one of the most beautiful vineyard settings, looking out over the city of Orange. Renowned for its Fume Sauvignon Blanc and great Pinor Noir, De Salis has recently been named best cellar door in Orange by Gourmet Traveller WINE magazine
It’s run by a gorgeous family, who were all super accommodating of our family. The kids had a great time picking (and eating!) grapes in the vineyard while we tasted the great range of wines.
Find De Salis at Lofty Vineyard, 125 Mount Lofty Road, Orange
Easter Monday was not a good day to be exploring the foodie havens of Orange as most of the restaurants and cafés were shut due to it being a public holiday. We ate at the Hotel Canobolas, which served great steaks, and the kids meals were fabulous value with free ice-cream – always a hit.
At the top of the list to try when we return (particularly if it’s a child-free weekend) is Tonic Restaurant (in Millthorpe with one chef’s hat), Union Bank Wine Bar and Wine Store, Market St Café, Racine @ la Colline – also with one chef’s hat.
If it’s been a big night, or you just fancy a good coffee, there are loads of great cafes. Try the Byng St Café and Local Store – I am very fussy about my coffee and theirs hit the spot.
For more of the foodie experiences on offer in Orange, visit www.tasteorange.com.au.
Finally, somewhere to stay
We stayed at de Russie Suites in a two-bedroom apartment and cannot recommend it highly enough. The attention to detail was phenomenal – there were two child-sized dressing gowns laid out on the beds and a delicious breakfast to fuel us for the day. It’s clean, centrally located and great for a family or the corporate traveller.
Find de Russie Suites at 72 Hill Street, Orange, phone 02 6360 0973
It was way too short but very sweet – we’ll return to Orange again soon.
Love to hear your Orange tips if you’re in the region or if you’ve been there recently yourself. We’ll add them to our list for the next visit.