The Mudgee wine region is situated in the Central Ranges of New South Wales, around a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Sydney, on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range. It is spectacular Australian countryside ringed by mountains with rugged bushland, green rolling hills and wonderfully preserved historic buildings.
It is a region rich in history and boasts abundant in resources – gold, organic produce, art, music - are all part of Mudgee’s rich repertoire, and it is home to a diverse range of character-filled wines.
A nest in the hills – the climate in Mudgee
The name ‘Mudgee’ comes from the aboriginal word ‘moothi’ meaning ‘nest in the hills’. The region enjoys warm days and lots of sunshine, but its altitude (vineyards range from between 450 - 1100m above sea level) and cold nights give the grapes a long, cool ripening period - up to four weeks later than the Hunter Valley.
As with many other wine regions around Australia, Mudgee enjoyed a successful winemaking period until the late 1800s, when economic pressures and a preference for fortified wines saw a decline in the industry. By 1964, when Alf Kurtz started Mudgee Wines, Craigmoor was the only other winery still operating.
The cradle of Australian Chardonnay
When Alf established Mudgee Wines, he used cuttings of ‘white pinneau’ from the Craigmoor vineyard that he had noted as making wine of particularly good quality. A visiting French ampelographer, Dr Denis Boubals, identified it as Chardonnay, the virus-free clone being one of the best he had ever seen. The clone is reputed to have been a James Busby selection - introduced to Mudgee by Colin Laraghy from Sydney’s Smithfield winery in the 1930s - and these Mudgee plantings became the source for many of Australia’s great Chardonnays.
There’s wine in them thar hills...!
The revived interested in Mudgee saw the establishment of several small operations. These included Amberton Wines, established by a group of doctors, Huntington Estate, Botobolar - Australia's oldest certified organic vineyard - and Thistle Hill, which was established by two other organic pioneer of the region, Dave and Leslie Robertson.
There was one big player in the region: Montrose – a winery established in 1974 by Carlo Salteri and Franco Belgiorno-Nettis. Their winemaker was the talented and popular Carlo Corino, who was also from Italy, who planted a range of Italian varieties, including Nebbiolo, Barbera and Sangiovese. These were used to create Montrose’s flavoursome Italian-style reds like San Marco and Monticello. Montrose was a large presence in the region – becoming even larger when it acquired Amberton Wines and Craigmoor.
The Macro ...
When Orlando-Wyndham exited Mudgee to centralise all its operations in South Australia, they sold their holdings to the Oatleys of Rosemount fame – one of the biggest and wealthiest family-owned wine outfits in Australia - and today, the Craigmoor property is home to the prestigious, Robert Oatley Vineyards.
Headed up by winemaker Larry Cherubino who is renowned for his fine wines from Western Australia, the winery makes a range of premium wines from Mudgee and across Australia. The Montrose name lives on in Montrose Chardonnay and Montrose Black Shiraz. And though Robert Oatley Vineyards may be big, it is still a hands-on family operation.
... and Micro ...
Even without a large number of high-flying names, the Mudgee region has managed to carve a name for itself as a producer of high-quality, small-batch, boutique wines from passionate family-owned estates. Dutch-born Pieter Van Gent has been turning out award-winning wines for over 35 years. Peter and Hannah Logan at Logan Wines have built a cult following for their Weemala and Apple Tree range, and are now turning heads with their newest Ridge of Tears ‘regional hero’ range. Small is big in Mudgee too: 1838 Wines , made by Jacob Stein of Robert Stein Winery & Vineyards, has one of the smallest commercial vineyards in Mudgee, producing tiny quantities of grapes in a good vintage and nothing in a bad one.
An alternative view
Mudgee is also home to a range of alternative varieties – not surprising, with Italian pioneers like Thomas Fiaschi and Carlo Corino starting things off. Di Lusso Wines are situated right next door to where Thomas Fiaschi’s Augustine Winery was situated, and have plantings of Arneis, Picolit, Vermentino, Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Lagrein and Aleatico. First Ridge Estate has ‘handcrafted Italian wines grown and made right here in Mudgee’, including Sangiovese, Barbera and Vermentino, and Skimstone also offer food-friendly Sangiovese and Barbera from their tiny outfit in Apple Flat.
Plus organic, biodynamic, sustainable and preservative-free offerings
Mudgee also has long history of organic wines. Botobolar, established by Gil Wahlquist in 1971, is the oldest organic vineyard in N.S.W., and has been producing preservative-free and low preservative wines to its customers for over 45 years. Thistle Hill Organic Wines & Vineyards was established in 1976 by David and Lesley Robertson. They mapped the contours, removed the thistles, planted Riesling, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon and over 3,000 trees and set about creating an organic and sustainable wonderland. In 2009, Thistle Hill combined with Erudgere Vineyards – one of the original Roth vineyards – and today, under winemaker Tim White, continues to turn out award-winning wines they call ‘organic fruit in a bottle’.
The Great David Lowe
One of Mudgee’s most passionate, innovative and most well-known proponents of organic wine is, of course, David Lowe, of Lowe Wines. The Lowes have a long history in Mudgee – the family settled in the region in 1812 - and the original Tinja homestead has been home to six generations of Lowes. David started his wine career in the Hunter Valley with industry icons Len Evans and Murray Tyrrell where he learned the classics. He was chief winemaker at the famous Rothbury Estate, and also spent 5 years in Bordeaux. 35 years later, he has reached legendary status himself. In 2014 he was named the inaugural ‘Legend of the Vine’ by the Wine Communicators of Australia. The award acknowledged many of his wine achievements, including his passionate support for ‘smart farming, rural land custodianship and regionalism’. His many years of winemaking have convinced David that organic and biodynamic winemaking are the future for quality wine. Lowe’s Mudgee vineyards at Tinja are certified organic and biodynamic whilst the Nullo Mountain, Rylstone and Mudgee Blue vineyards are all ‘organic under conversion’. Lowe makes a range of highly acclaimed wines, but it is his organic Zinfandel that is his flagship wine.
More Mudgee marvellousness...
Stuart Olsen is the winemaker at Eloquesta, who’s also using natural methods to make unique wines of depth and character.
‘I don’t try to bend nature’ says Olsen. ‘I let her do her thing, but read the signs and watch the lunar phases and cycles. I rely on my instincts, what I see, hear and feel and I don’t employ any more technology or machinery than is necessary...’
His handmade, foot-trodden, critically acclaimed Shiraz Petit Verdot has been described as ‘unconventional and polarising’. His ‘Boy With Fruit No 1’- a blend of Shiraz, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier is also unconventional: it consists of 2009 and 2010 pressings added into 2013 fruit and fermented using techniques he learned in Italy. His latest project is ‘Blushing Rosalia’ – Black Muscat and Viognier co-fermented to create a ‘perfume bomb’.
Jacob Stein is another rising star of the region. He is the chief winemaker at Robert Stein Winery & Vineyard – a family vineyard and winery established in 1976 by his grandfather, Robert Stein. Before taking up the job in Mudgee, Jacob spent five years working in wineries around Australia and the rest of the wine world, including Victoria, Western Australia, Italy and Canada. He has also spent time in Germany in vineyards where his ancestors grew grapes and made wines. Jacob says the quality of the wines are due mostly to the old vine fruit (his vines are nearly 40 years old), but he can also claim some of the credit, after all he was named Gourmet Traveller Wine’s Young Winemaker of the Year in 2012, and his wines - particularly his Rieslings, inspired by his German experiences - have gained impressive critical and medal-winning acclaim.
Mudgee abounds with some truly glittering riches - you just have to scratch the surface to find some gems. But though they’re high in quality, they’re small in quantity, and many examples can only be found online or at the cellar door. A visit to the region is highly recommended and will bring its own rewards. Otherwise, have a fossick around your local bottle shop and see what you can unearth. If you’re lucky you may strike Mudgee gold…
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