In this cool-climate hotspot everything is elevated, from the vibrant food and wine scene to the real-deal country feel.
Orange is in the sweet spot. All cherry blossom-lined streets, pretty Federation cottages and Art Deco pubs, this little town is a charmer – and knows it. But while its reputation as an epicentre of world-class wine grows and its slick coffee, farmgate food and restaurant scene quicken pace, Orange hasn’t given in to commercialism.
Drive three-and-a-half scenic hours west of Sydney for a bright-skied springtime, cicada song in a Central Ranges summer, the promise of snow and wood smoke in winter or the colour-change of autumn harvest and you’re getting life as locals live it. It’s the kind of place where you can have a chinwag with a winemaker who’s wearing dusty workboots as you pat the winery dog.
Apple and cherry orchards planted in the 19th century gave way to vines in the early 1980s, with winemakers at Bloodwood and Canobolas-Smith making their mark. After a rush to plant in the ’90s, boutique labels have sprung up in the past decade and the area’s chardonnay, riesling, sauvignon blanc and fine-boned reds got hot.
There are now 80 wineries and 1500 hectares under vines in the region. Critics and wine show judges flock to Orange Wine Festival in October and Orange F.O.O.D Week, a 10-day cornucopian carnival held every April. Orange is happening. Get in the car.
The Hoskins family were orchardists before planting vines in 1994. Their Brangayne cellar door is in a packing shed, a cool haven surrounded by century-old pines and rhododendrons.
Drink now: Isolde Reserve Chardonnay
Cellar: Tristan Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot
Tom and Georgie Ward have decamped from Canowindra to this bucolic vineyard. The serious tasting experience includes detailed tasting mats.
Drink now: #006 Tempinot
Cellar: Block 3 Pinot Noir
Californian Gerald Naef and wife Anji craft the inventive wines here. The cellar door is in their home, giving the experience a cosy edge.
Drink now: Scandalous Riesling
Cellar: Reserve Chardonnay
The Crossing family cellar door is in a cute bluestone former stable in the must-visit village of Millthorpe. Italian varieties are their specialty with a high value to quality quotient.
Drink now: Fossil Hill Vermentino
Cellar: Fossil Hill Sagrantino
Ferment the Orange Wine Centre
This smart little wine bar acts as the cellar door for local winegrowers such as Roaring Fork and Matthew Atallah.
Drink now: Strawhouse White
Cellar: Carillion The Volcanics Cabernet Sauvignon
Where to eat and drink
For breakfast and coffee: Byng Street Local Store
On a residential street, where nostalgic cottages are necklaced by latticework, chef Chris Tudor (ex Victor Churchill in Sydney) plates up modern classics in a cheery space. The Allpress Espresso coffee comes quickly. Seasonal sausages are made in-house and cycled on the menu. Cross your fingers for the luscious fennel-spiced and seared black sausage, balanced with perfect poached eggs and creamed spinach.
For lunch: Racine Restaurant
In this upscale “tin shed”, you can drink in window-framed views of paddock, vine and sky while you dine on regional produce cooked imaginatively and attractively plated. An entrée of tender quail is sweetly earthy with parsnip and robust barley while river trout pops with squid-ink romesco as a main.
For dinner: Sweet Sour Salt
Make an overworked palate snap back to attention at Sweet Sour Salt with contemporary Asian served with handmade curry pastes, banging spice mixes and a colourful, electric atmosphere. Chilli-caramel son-in-law eggs are a flavour bomb, skewered beef zings with mint and cashew and wok-kissed greens feel like a tonic when you’ve overdone things a bit.
For taking home: Word of Mouth Wines
Creative wine man (try the petit manseng) Peter Gibson is also a potter, turning and firing unique ceramics in the studio behind his memorable cellar door. Give yourself one of his finely crafted pieces or make your own at an occasional pottery workshop.
Where to Stay
Nashdale Lane Wines
Bliss is a luxurious tented suite overlooking vines and Mount Canobolas. Only two tents are available at this retreat 15 minutes from town – both with utter necessities like a neat kitchenette, monsoon shower in the ensuite and four-poster bed dressed with soft merino blankets. Sip magic hour away at the cellar door then retire with a bottle to watch sunset burst into starlight. Enjoy your barbecue in summer or a wood fire the rest of the time.
A European-styled boutique hotel, the De Russie is within strolling distance of restaurants and Soirée by Faisan Estate, a small-bar cellar door that’s open by night. All rooms are thoughtfully decorated but upgrade to the light filled Blue Room for a king-size bed and glamour. Studded cowhide armchairs give a dose of cool to the cushy velvet and gilt finishes of this large suite’s living space. The freestanding tub in the slick bathroom is irresistibly deep.
If you don’t want to drive: James' Vineyard Tours
Delightful conversationalists and co-owners James and Adrienne Myles specialise in the experience, introducing you to the top drops and the characters who make this region special. Half- or full-day SUV tours usually stop for lunch at locavore paradise The Agrestic Grocer, home to The Second Mouse Cheese Company and Badlands Brewery.