Driving into the NSW region of Orange, something other than the picturesque rolling vineyards and the quaint country town vibe is sure to catch your attention. The striking Mount Canobolas is the centrepiece of this amazing location, and not just for aesthetic or viticultural reasons.
The now extinct volcano is also a sacred site for the Wiradjuri people, with its name deriving from the words ‘coona’ (shoulder) and ‘booloo’ (two) which they pronounce as Ghannabulla. The mountain was a site for ‘men’s business’ and important initiation ceremonies, and it is also thought to have been a source of food and medicine for the community. Today, the volcano is still significant for contemporary Wiradjuri, and for everyone in the region, because of its vital role in the grape and food-growing industry.
Mount Canobolas last erupted around 11-13 million years ago, gushing out the basalt rock that formed the nutrient-rich, fertile soils found across much of Orange. Along with the soil, Mount Canobolas also gives Orange its unique elevation, so no surprise the region is renowned for its cool-climate, high-elevation wine styles. Vineyards in Orange sit between 600m all the way up to 1,000m or more, with vines only designated as coming from ‘Orange’ if they sit at 600m and higher. Below 600m falls under the Central Ranges GI.
This range in elevation plays a major factor in the array of varieties that can be planted in the region – and it also makes site selection very important. For every 100m increase, there’s around a 0.6°Celsius drop in average temperature.
You’ll find both low (well, ‘low’ is relative) and high elevation varietal styles of wines here, with chardonnay and pinot noir leading the charge and best expressing these altitudinal influences. But you’ll also find impressive examples of cabernet franc, riesling, pinot gris, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz, along with alternative varieties like tempranillo, arneis, sangiovese and nebbiolo.
But what might not be readily apparent – based on the quality of the vineyards to be discovered – is that Orange is an adolescent in the Aussie wine industry. The region’s winemaking only really started taking off in the 1980s, with the likes of Philip Shaw (and his Komooloo Vineyard), Canobolas Smith Wines, Bloodwood Wines and others making their mark.
Considering this, the Orange wine industry already holds a strong understanding of its region in terms of climate, elevation, soils and temperature to craft high-quality wines expressing place. Winemakers are honing in, but all the while still experimenting, on all these factors – which makes it very exciting to watch (and taste of course).
Orange is now home to more than 50 wineries and a visit is always one of discovery, with the region constantly evolving in terms of trying new varieties, releasing new wines, opening new cellar doors or launching new tourism experiences.
The region always draws crowds of locals and tourists alike, too, with its much-loved events, including the iconic Orange F.O.O.D Week, which is held in Autumn each year.
At only 3.5 hours from Canberra and tick over that from Sydney, driving is the best option if possible. Otherwise, jump on a short flight with Link Airways (
linkairways.com) from either Melbourne (Essendon Airport) or Brisbane. From Sydney, Rex (
rex.com.au) and Qantas (
qantas.com) both offer daily services. Sydney-siders can also grab the daily train and bus service from Central Station via Transport NSW (
transportnsw.info/regional). If you’re looking to soak it all in with a driver, visit Orange360.com.au for the local tour companies on offer.
The region is full of accommodation options, with charming B&Bs, luxe hotels, farm-stay cottages, glamping and more. Staying in town is a good move, with cafes and shops just a stroll away, but there are some choice offerings further out that are well worth the short drive.
For a complete escape to wine country, a stay at Dragonfly Cottages (
dragonflycottages.com.au) in Borenore is a must. It’s just you, the rolling hills and your cottage - oh and perhaps the odd fluffy visitor from the sheep farm next door. It’s country tranquility at its finest, with a stylish yet warmly designed cottage with a verandah from which to soak in those panoramic views. Back in Orange, De Russie Boutique Hotel (
derussiehotels.com.au) is another great option, with a luxurious, regal vibe perfect for that special occasion getaway. There’s also the stunning Byng Street Boutique Hotel (
byngstreethotel.com.au) and the 1960s retro-inspired The Oriana (
orianaorange.com). Looking for a vineyard stay? Nashdale Lane (
nashdalelane.com) has an unbelievable glamping set-up.
Orange is serving up some exciting dining options. For a special dinner, you can’t go past local favourite Charred Kitchen & Bar (
charred.com.au), where you’ll be treated to a set four-course meal as sommelier and manager David Collins guides you through the exquisite wine list. Any wine fanatic will lose their mind over the suggestions Collins has put together. The Union Bank (
theunionbank.com.au) has all tastes catered for, with their Schoolhouse Restaurant offering a two- or three-course set menu, while outside in the gorgeous courtyard, you can enjoy a quality casual share menu.
For a dinner with a view, Sister’s Rock at Borrodell Vineyard (
borrodell.com.au) boasts panoramic views of Orange that are second-to-none. Be sure to pop in to their newly opened Sky Bar for a pre-dinner drink, before settling in for a three- or four- course seasonal menu paired with wines from the vineyard’s portfolio. Birdie (
birdienosherydrinkingest.com) is another local favourite perfect for a morning caffeine fix, or a night-time meal. Don’t leave the region without visiting the famed Racine Bakery (
In Millthorpe, there’s Tonic (
tonicmillthorpe.com.au) for dinner, and during the day the always-bustling The Old Mill Cafe (
theoldmillcafe.com.au) is a treat – be sure to grab a pastry for the road.
Take the morning to get to Orange, but make a point of stopping in at the charming town of Millthorpe for a tasting at Tamburlaine Organic Wines (tamburlaine.com.au). You may be familiar with the brand through its Hunter Valley cellar door, but Orange has always been a special place for Tamburlaine as they own vineyards in nearby Borenore and Belgravia. The cellar door opened last year, and offers tastings of both the Orange and Hunter Valley wines, along with cheese platters. If you happen to be in Millthorpe in the evening, you’ll see the cellar door transform into Sam’s Bar – a great spot for a pre-dinner drink.
Making your way into Orange, the first stop should be to meet the legendary Philip Shaw – appointment only – for a tasting of his Hoosegg label (hoosegg.com). Join Shaw in the courtyard as he takes you through the label he started after handing over the running of his well-known, eponymous winery to sons Damian and Daniel. You could listen to Shaw chat all day about his winemaking career; he’s an icon of the industry after all, especially in Orange, where his work has gone a long way to stamping the region on the Australian wine map.
But back to the Hoosegg; what is the name all about? He says the ‘HOO’ refers to himself (you’ll have to ask him why that is), while the ‘EGG’ symbolises a new beginning. You can tell that his wines are made with a combination of regional expertise, innovation and love, and it’s such a joy to hear about it from the man himself, too.
Next is a visit to Swinging Bridge (swingingbridge.com.au). The cellar door is a gorgeous spot to pass the time, with guided tasting experiences and locally produced platters on offer. Winemaker Tom Ward is an ardent advocate for the Orange region, and his wines showcase the influence of elevation and climate. There’s the Winemaker Series – a great range to taste through – with fruit from Swinging Bridge’s premium estate vineyards. And with his Hashtag Series, made from alternative blends and the pétillant naturel method, Ward is tapping into his creative side.
Start your second day with a trip to Nashdale Lane Wines (
nashdalelane.com). Nick and Tanya Segger are convivial hosts, and visiting the winery is like walking into their own home, where they offer you a seat, a drink and then take you for a walk through their garden – except it’s a garden filled with vines. Their portfolio features three ranges, sourced from their 24ha of estate vines west of Orange. There’s the approachable and fun The Social; the regionally expressive Colour Series and their premium Legacy Wines. All are vibrant wines, but the sauvignon blanc fumé, pinot gris, pinot noir and tempranillo are all standouts. The cellar door is stunning, housed in an old apple packing shed with a rustic yet bright and modern feel – so get ready to hit the ‘gram with a few posts.
It’s a short drive to Rowlee Wines (rowleewines.com.au). Book in for a tasting experience, and then grab a picnic hamper to enjoy out on the estate lawns surrounded by vines. Nicole Samodol is the winemaker here, and her take on alternative varieties leads the way in the region – her nebbiolo and arneis are exceptional, and her riesling, fumé blanc and pinot noir are also excellent. All the wines are sourced from the 8ha Rowlee Estate.
Next, call on Will and Kimberley Rikard-Bell for a tasting of their small-batch portfolio at Rikard Wines (rikardwines.com.au). The winery sits on the northern slopes of Mount Canobolas and provides lovely views for your tasting, and if you time your visit right, you can taste the wines straight from tank or barrel. These are vibrant, classic wines that display freshness and complexity. The riesling is a must-try, along with the Rikard Pinot Noir and Black Label Pinot Noir – the grapes are picked in two lots so there’s a lot to compare and enjoy between the two styles. Everything sells out quickly here, so the best option is to sign up to their Bell Club, where members are offered first dibs and discounts on the range.
Last stop of the day is De Salis Wines (desaliswines.com.au) – and it’s deliberately so. The cellar door verandah is the ultimate spot for a late afternoon tasting. Catch up with whole Svenson family: Loretta, nicknamed ‘The Boss’; her husband Charlie, the executive winemaker; son Mitch, who is head winemaker and Ben, who looks after cellar door, along with marketing and sales. It’s the true definition of a family-run winery. De Salis own some of the highest vineyards in Orange, with the aptly named Lofty Vineyard sitting at a casual 1,050m. The winery produces some extraordinary pinot noir and chardonnay, so make sure you turn up with some space in the car for the bottles you’ll want to take home. Mitch and Ben have also started their own label, Olaf Knight, which you can also taste and purchase at the De Salis cellar door – think méthode ancestrale sparkling, with a cool vibe and bright labels.
Kick off your last day in Orange with a visit to one of the region’s founding wineries Bloodwood Wines (bloodwood.biz). The cellar door is at the home of owners Rhonda and Stephen Doyle, who will personally take you through the wines in their portfolio. All are made from their Griffin Road vineyards, with the Cabernet Franc, Schubert Chardonnay and Malbec all very good examples of the varietal wines from Orange.
Take a drive to Printhie Wines (printhiewines.com.au) for a tasting in their rustic Packing Shed cellar door. As lovely as it is, it’s only temporary with a new one currently in construction. Printhie is another family affair, with Jim and Ruth Swift having planted the vineyards in 1996, before their two sons, Ed and Dave, took over in the early 2000s.
The portfolio is impressive, with their Topography and Super Duper (very super to taste indeed) ranges both remarkable. But don’t leave without indulging in a tasting of their award-winning Swift Sparkling. The Printhie team, led by winemaker Drew Tuckwell, makes exceptional sparkling wines from Orange that have gathered much attention in the Aussie wine industry. The Blanc de Noirs is a favourite, but the whole range is worthwhile so I suggest stocking up for those celebratory sparkling occasions.
Last winery of the visit is Ross Hill Wines (rosshillwines.com.au). Owners James and Chrissy Robson truly love their little paradise here in Orange. Sustainability is at the heart of Ross Hill; it was Australia’s first Certified Carbon Neutral Winery and the team has been producing carbon-neutral wines since 2016.
Cabernet franc is Ross Hill’s specialty, and it is a wine much respected throughout the region among the winemaking community. Much sure you leave enough time in this visit for a tasting of some of the winery’s highlights: the Family Series Isabelle Cabernet Franc Merlot, the Pinnacle Series Cabernet Franc and the Pinnacle Series Shiraz. Every Saturday, the cellar door also offers lunch through its Barrel & Larder School of Wine and Food, along with regular cooking masterclasses.
Bottles for the Boot
2016 Printhie Wines Swift Blanc de Noirs, A$65
Winemaker Drew Tuckwell says this wine is his little baby that was a labour of love to craft. It’s 100% pinot noir grapes, with a rich, powerful palate of golden delicious apple and ripe red fruit. The whole Swift Sparkling range is stunning, so make some room in the boot for a few bottles.
2020 Rikard Riesling, A$30
An absolute standout from Will Rikard-Bell and his team, and the only wine they made in a year affected by bushfires. The riesling displays green skin citrus notes of makrut lime along with hints of floral tones like jasmine. It starts off crisp, but finishes with a touch of creaminess, a textural delight on the palate with a lingering finish.
2020 Nashdale Lane Colour Series Sauvignon Blanc Fumé, A$35
This fumé is bold and well balanced. It holds all those varietal passionfruit, lychee and tropical fruit characters but is smoothed out with the touch of oak. A perfect match for spicy Asian dishes.
2017 Hoosegg Everything Is Going According to Plan Chardonnay, A$58
Philip Shaw crops his Block 11 vineyard low to really bring out the intense fruit characters in the wine. Expect notes of stone fruit with a hint of spiced-oak from the 12 months spent in new French oak. A lot of work goes into this wine and it shows, with Shaw using his 1,200l basket press to whole bunch, gentle press the fruit – he told me it takes 10 hours to just press a tonne of it.
2019 Swinging Bridge Mrs Payten Chardonnay, A$30
Named after winemaker Tom Ward’s late grandmother and a popular wine at the cellar door, it’s made from a combination of the estate’s Balmoral and Hill Park vineyards, both of which sit at 890m. There’s plenty of stone fruit notes, with melon, white peach and grapefruit, rounded out with the influence of French oak.
2019 Rikard Pinot Noir, A$40
Rikard-Bell does two picks of his wines, with this one featuring more fruit from the first pick, resulting in a vibrant, fresh, red-fruited palate. The grapes also see some carbonic maceration, providing a cherry-cola, bubblegum lift and great structure.
2016 De Salis Wines Lofty Blue Pinot Noir, A$90
Crafted from De Salis’ Lofty vineyards which sit at a whopping 1,050m on the northern slope of Mt Canobolas. It has a gorgeous, perfumed nose of violets, before the palate takes you into dark red fruit territory, with a hint of sarsaparilla from the 20% of fruit undergoing carbonic maceration. It’s rounded out with a hint of vanilla after 12 months in French oak.
2019 Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Cabernet Franc, A$50
This is a classy example of the variety in the region, made with fruit from their Griffin Road vineyard. The wine is elegant with its lifted nose and hints of cinnamon, violets and dark cherry. Be sure to also grab a bottle of their Family Series Isabelle Cabernet Franc Merlot, which has vibrant red fruits balanced out by a hint of spice and chalky tannins.
2015 Bloodwood Wines Cabernet Franc, A$34
This cabernet franc has a pleasant earthiness to it, combined with cranberry and raspberry notes and a hint of pomegranate molasses. It’s a perfect pairing for a lamb rack with Middle-Eastern herbs, and can be cellared to gain further elegance and silkiness on the palate.
2019 Rowlee Wines Single Vineyard Nebbiolo, A$60
Nicole Samodol has a flair for the Italian variety nebbiolo – and this is a special wine that’s only produced in the very best vintages. Expect a bright wine with red fruit characters and a hint of herbaceous tones. A food-friendly wine, that will also cellar well if desired.
2012 Printhie Swift Family Heritage Aged Red Blend, A$60
Crafted from the oldest estate vines at Printhie, from a blend of 85% cabernet sauvignon and 15% shiraz. It’s a stunning wine with up front, fresh, spiced cherry notes before taking you into a well-rounded and developed palate of savoury earth and oak.
2018 Nashdale Lane Legacy Tempranillo, A$65
A favourite in the Nashdale line-up. Lovely savoury earthy, forest-floor characters with a lifted fresh berry note bringing vibrancy to the wine. With its rich, grippy tannin structure, it pairs well with any smoked or barbecued dishes.