People once travelled to this NSW region in search of gold. Now they find it in cool-climate wines and exceptional food.
Entering Mudgee after the four-hour drive from Sydney, the landscape is as bright and clean as a child’s painting, with golf-course-green hills and improbably blue skies bearing clouds so fluffy and white, they’ve surely been shot out of a cream gun.
It doesn’t seem right to describe Mudgee as a country town, though it is that, with its wide streets and only 11,000 inhabitants. There are aspects of a country town, certainly; there’s a Roth Family Orchard, Roth’s Wine Bar and Roth’s Produce. But there’s a kind of forward motion here, with a sophistication in the food and a sense of community that prompts every winemaker you meet – and with 110 grape growers in Mudgee you’ll meet a few – to recommend which cellar door or restaurant you should visit next.
The Winemaker’s Cottage
A tiny weatherboard shack, which somehow housed a family of ten when the Burnbrae Wines vineyard it sits on was first planted in the early 1960s, is now a cute two-bedroom cottage with a kitchen, a fireplace, two queen-sized beds, and a back verandah that’s just a grassy lawn away from Burnbrae Wines’ cellar door. Sunday afternoons at the cellar door (itself a former dance hall hauled from the nearby village Sallys Flat) offers pizza and live music – a chilled way to experience the family-run winery’s award-winning shiraz and a preservative-free beer, the 548 Lager (particularly if you elect to do it all from said verandah).
“There’s so much potential in this town,” says Trine Gay who, with husband Andy, took over the business from her father Tony Bryant in 2015. But you might find you forget about town and stick to that verandah, the vineyard views and Burnbrae’s sparklings – the hazelnutty The Lucky Find or their fruitier Twinkle Toes.
Burnbrae Wines, 548 Hill End Road, Mudgee
An elegant take on camping, set on a hillside about 20 minutes from the centre of town, Sierra Escape has three tent options – one for groups and two for couples. Carinya is decked in muted colours, with a king-sized bed, fireplace, camp stove and fridge and, in the bathroom, a free-standing tub and oversized shower head. If you sit quietly on the deck, you can count those kangaroos across the property, or settle into the fire pit for long views and a glass of one of Mudgee’s big reds. At lights out, it’s can’t-see-your-hands-dark inside but you can roll up the screens on the floor-to-ceiling windows to see a classic Australian treescape and sprinkling of stars. Wake up to a peachy sunrise and the sound of kookaburras, lowing cows and some hooting bird you’d swear had its face pressed to the canvas. The owners also offer the four-bedroom with a pool Abingdon House on Hill End Road, which sleeps nine people.
1345 Lower Piambong Road, Mudgee
On the grounds of the Robert Stein winery sits a shed-like, corrugated iron-clad restaurant that overlooks the Steins’ paddocks and dam (from which, last hot summer, the yabbies crawled out, Pied Piper-style, into the aircon of the restaurant). The standout breakfast dish at Pipeclay Pumphouse is chef Andy Crestani’s bacon and egg gnocchi with truffle oil and baby herbs (from pigs and gardens on the family farm) but who could dream of such French toast – huge puffs of housemade sourdough bread scattered with pear, raspberries, strawberries and chocolate?
Robert Stein Vineyard and Winery, Pipeclay Line, Mudgee; (02) 6373 3998
The Zin House
If Heaven had a restaurant, that would be The Zin House, with its long lunches overlooking the Mudgee hills and Lowe’s Wines’ organic and biodynamic zinfandel vineyard. Eating here is more like entering a gorgeous farmhouse really, one with impeccable hospitality and a cracking wine list. Children can play in the gardens while adults relax over five perfectly-pitched courses of dishes that could inclue chicken and pistachio terrine with duck rillette and crab apples poached in rosé.
329 Tinja Lane, Mudgee; (02) 6372 1660
Roth’s Wine Bar
Sometimes, after a day of cellar doors and providores, a casual take on Central Ranges hospitality is required. On the main street of town, Roth’s offers tapas, pizza, live music on Fridays and Saturdays and a knowledgable bottleshop staff offering more than 100 regional wines.
30 Market Street, Mudgee; (02) 6372 1222
Artisan on Lewis
This charmer sells jams, oils, teas, sweets and a panoply of walking sticks, weavings, bird paintings and crafts. Child-, dog-and gourmand-friendly, Artisan on Lewis works its breakfast magic with produce from local suppliers – Leemore Farm mushrooms, Murrungundy Pistachios, Farmer George lamb – serving everything in a sun-dappled courtyard decorated with herb barrows, mobiles and bunting.
13 Lewis Street, Mudgee; (02) 6372 6847
Tour the cellar doors
Mudgee has about 40 cellar doors. Some of the best: Logan has a chic glass-cube tasting room suspended over the vineyards; Lowe Wines (home to The Zin House) offers regional tasting platters; Thistle Hill Winery is small, organic and biodynamic; The Cellar By Gilbert serves local cheese and terrific food; Baker Williams Distillery, makes gin, Schnapps and other spirits, sharing space with Vinifera Wines cellar door (and a set of Giant Jenga); and Robert Stein Winery has fantastic whites as well as the Pipeclay Pumphouse restaurant.
Walk through Aboriginal history
Head north on Ulan Road and, about five kilometres on from sandstone formation and swimming hole The Drip, is Hands on Rock, a site of stencil art by the Wiradjuri people and a gentle, pretty walk through native grasses and scribbly gums.
Get on your bike
With its back roads, nature reserves, local vineyards and small townships, the region is perfect for self-guided half-day or full-day cycling. The Mudgee Visitor Information Centre can help with planning and maps.
This story was originally published 12 September, 2018 and has been updated.