Close enough to Sydney that you can make the trip after work on a Friday, far enough away that you feel like you have escaped the city, Mudgee is a favourite wine region for people “in the know”. There's beautiful rolling countryside, a range of great cafes and restaurants, and locally brewed/distilled/fermented beverages of all varieties – without the huge crowds of some of the most well-known regions. This is the perfect home base for a romantic getaway with your significant other as you sip, graze and gaze in a space that feels like your very own.
So what makes this region so unique? Central Western NSW has an extreme hot and cold climate allowing for a range of varieties to prosper. The 50 wineries in the region have seen many awards and accolades, not just against other Australian regions but also on a global scale. And due to the geography, the landscape has a rugged Australiana feel that provides a beautiful contrast to the rows and rows of grapes climbing the hills.
The township of Mudgee is elegant and historic, set in the beautiful Cudgegong Valley. Appropriately, Mudgee itself is an Aboriginal word, meaning "a nest in the hills" – and once you've settled into this nest you too will find it hard to leave. The 22,000 people that call this place home are passionate and friendly folk and from what we learnt it seems to be a growing number of ex-Sydneysiders who have made the move to the simple life. The local food (especially the cheese), cafes, restaurants, bars and wine are far from simple though, with standards up there with the best (and trust us we sampled a lot)!
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Our first stop is Logan Wines, one of the many jewels in the region's crown, and conveniently on the road coming in from Sydney. The striking rectangular architecture of the cellar door juts out of the surrounding rolling hills, and their viewing deck is a stunning spot for a tasting and local cheese platter. Our favourite drop is the Hannah Rosé. The story goes, that Hannah (wife of chief winemaker Peter Logan) always had a penchant for rosé, but Logan had never produced this varietal. In secret, Peter delicately balanced the flavours of his perfectly refreshing interpretation surprising his wife on their wedding day with what would become a very successful drawcard of the winery.
If wine isn't your style, but you still crave a little tipple, Mudgee truly does have something for everybody. Nathan Williams, for example, wanted a distillery. Helen Baker was keen on Butterscotch schnapps. Baker Williams was born and both desires resulted in a local treasure. They have a lovely tasting room where you can sample all manner of handcrafted spirits and liquors or choose to take the experience home. A barrel master pack will send you home with a two-litre American oak cask and all the necessities to brew your own Moonshine for an ongoing memento of your weekend.
With all this sampling, however, it's not going to be too long before your collective tummies start to rumble. Mudgee provides in spades, the township itself hosting inner-city levels of cafes and restaurants from pub meals at the brewery to garden meals at Alby & Esther's. A must-do, however, is the divine culinary experience in the Pipeclay Pumphouse in the Robert Stein Winery.
Former Otto chef Andy Crestani and the team have converted the Pumphouse at Stein’s with floor to ceiling views of the creek and rolling hills of Mudgee, serving up the best of local or home grown produce. If, however, degustation-style long lunches are more your speed you can not go past Zin House. Overlooking the Lowe winery's beautiful Zinfandel vineyard, Kim Currie designs weekly menus based on seasonal and local produce.
If you time your trip right, you can take advantage of one of the region's special events, often reason enough in themselves to make the trek. In October, Rosby winery hosts Sculptures in the Garden, celebrating local artists. Or snuggle up on a rug in the grass for Mudfest, Mudgee's international short film festival in March. Or, visit the close-by town of Rylstone for their annual long lunch street-feast in November, with a long table set up along the main street.
The Mudgee region really took us by surprise. A genuinely stunning landscape, with really friendly people and exceptional produce has made us true advocates. One trip just isn't enough, and as a result we have been back again and again just to wake up early for sunrise, cuddling up as we watch the first light dance across the vines and trying to decide where we should go first.
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