The Tinja Lane cellar door of Lowe Wines is located in a historic property that has been in the Lowe family for five generations
Food & Drink Features

Australia’s next big wine destination is just one long drive from Sydney

No supermarket wines in sight—these vineyards in New South Wales boast artisan wines with élan
Marilen Fontanilla | Dec 19 2018

My first sight of Sydney was at the back a van in the early hours of a Friday evening, a full moon looming over the iconic capital city and bathing it with an iridescent glow. I was accompanied by journalists from Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, and Korea on a media trip arranged by Wine Australia, and Sydney was the last stop in a weeklong wine-filled itinerary that explored the cool climate wine regions of Victoria and New South Wales.

Sydney may be famous for its architectural landmarks such as the Opera House and Harbor Bridge, but it also lays claim to the site for the first Australian vineyard. The first vines were planted in Farm Cove in 1788, the site of the Sydney Botanical Gardens today
 

Australian wine in context

It might have been the tail end of our journey, but Sydney provided a fitting finale to a memorable visit, perfectly captured by an afternoon conversation with wine journalist Mike Bennie, as we poured and pored over special bottles at renowned wine bar Love, Tilly Devine the next day.

Love Tilly Devine, located in a quiet neighborhood, boasts of a wine list with 300 wines of predominantly Australian origin, which the owners have curated to always express the grape and place of origin

“Australian wine should paint a picture of the Australian cultural vernacular,” Mike eagerly shares, as he showcased some exciting next generation natural winemakers who have been creating wines to match the shifting lifestyle and landscape in the country. “I know this is a complex concept, since we have never really had our own culture,” he surmises, as he offered us a peek with a series of wines that have not been seen in Australia.

“It is now time to drink wines that represent how we live,” says Mike Bennie of Love Tilly Devine, as he covered wines that are married to the lifestyle of the place
Making Space 2017 from Shobbrook Wines in the Barossa Valley steers away from fruit forward Shiraz with a light and fizzy Pet-Nat Shiraz, a naturally sparkling fresh young wine served with cherries from Young in the Canberra region

Mike’s perspective also creates a framework for me to better appreciate the wines we had sampled over the course of a week, which ranged from traditional grape varieties often associated with Australia (think bold Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay) to an exciting array of expressive varietals and styles within the New South Wales and Victoria area, forming a fascinating tapestry of different winemakers and their stories—the journey captured in their final bottles.

Some of the impressive minimalist wines sampled at Love Tilly Devine include the 2018 Happy Pinot Gris Artisan Series by Murdoch Hills in South Australia (a wild ferment in older French oak), 2018 Charlie Foxtrot Gamay Noir by Ravensworth in Murrambateman, 2016 Tonic Nebbiolo from Adelaide Hills, and a series of Syrah bottles in varying, intriguing styles—2017 Strenua from Yarra Valley, 2018 Commune of Buttons from Adelaide Hills, and a 2016 Avani from Mornington Peninsula

As the fifth largest wine producer in the world and the largest in the Southern hemisphere, Australia boasts of an authentic and evolving wine scene. With 65 recognized Australian geographic indication vineyard regions spread across the country, the province of New South Wales has much to offer, including the under-the-radar regions of Orange and Mudgee.

 

A wine revival in Orange

About 260 kilometers northwest of Sydney, the Orange wine region is located in fertile land that begins at an elevation of 600 meters. Rich basalt soil from the extinct Mount Canobolas volcano combined with the cool climate provides the ideal terroir for grape growing.

Debbie Lauritz, President of the Orange Region Vignerons Association, shared how a range of varietals have been planted in the 19,000 hectares that comprise this region, from Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Barbera, Tempranillo, Zinfandel to Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Viognier, Semillon, Marsanne, Arneis, Verduzzo, and Gewurztraminer. “We currently have 80 vineyards and 35 cellar doors,” she states.

Although grapes have been planted in the area since the early settlements in the 1900s, the revival of winemaking in the region only happened in the 1980s, with the foresight of winemakers who saw the potential of the unique climate and land.

Orange Mount Canobolas

Orange is a rich, agricultural land that boasts not just grapes, but also cherries, olives, and apples. The region’s annual F.O.O.D. (Food of Orange District) Week held every April showcases local produce, elegant wines, gourmet products, and talented chefs in a 10 day event, while the Orange Wine Festival is one to look forward to every October Philip Shaw was one of these early pioneers, starting his Koomooloo vineyard in 1988, after working in the Hunter Valley. Today, Philip Shaw wines are managed by his winemaker son Daniel and Damien, who handles sales and marketing.

Philip Shaw’s winemaker Daniel Shaw

“We have always had a real focus on quality,” Daniel discloses, as he recalled his father’s dream of cool climate winemaking, and in particular their Chardonnay. After taking over, Daniel was intent to continue that challenge while also pushing some other varieties of Shiraz, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc.

Philip Shaw’s spacious cellar door is a peaceful haven, where one can have a relaxed tasting experience of Philip Shaw wines, with some simple bites to accompany it

He walked us through their winemaking process, effortlessly weaving his way between barrels and fermentation tanks while expertly sharing the characteristics of their different bottles and the details that result in structured, elegant, and age-worthy wines.

Daniel plans to present a pure Cabernet Franc in the following year, with its vibrant and complex character captured in the bottle. The No. 89 Shiraz is a classic cool climate wine, structured with a strong finish, while the No. 17 Merlot Cabernet Franc is voluptuous, fruity, and textural on the palate

Another early pioneer in Orange would be Ross Hill Wines, now run by James and Chrissy Robson. The Wallace Lane Winery is the only certified carbon neutral winery in Australia, utilizing solar panels, waste recycling programs, and rain water catchments, among others. Their 13-hectare Griffin Road Vineyard includes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Shiraz, the diversity of which excite the Robsons with interesting possibilities.

James Robson is a serious environmentalist, placing a strong emphasis on the zero carbon footprint in their winery. “it is important to be clean and green,” James imparted.

The cellar door’s modern country style interiors invite visitors to partake of wine tastings, with a free personalized tour of the winery offered before each tasting to heighten the appreciation for each bottle opened.

We had the chance to sample some dishes prepared by one of Australia’s most celebrated chefs, Michael Manners, winner of the Sydney Morning Herald Award for Professional Excellence, who also teaches at the Barrel and Larder School of Wine and Food located in the winery, pairing the flavorful local produce with Ross Hill’s equally enticing wines.

Acclaimed chef Michael Manners teaches at Ross Hill’s Barrel and Larder School of Food and Wine

Orange is a destination teeming with wine finds, most of which can be enjoyed at their cellar doors or selected stockists.

Artisan wines at Mudgee

The next stop in the New South Wales leg was the Mudgee wine region, another undiscovered jewel with a long viticultural history stretching back to 1858. A mere 3 1/2 hours’ drive from Sydney, Mudgee’s gentle slopes and hills form a panoramic vista, where some of the country’s prolific winemakers are creating bottles reflecting their origins, with some creativity and innovations mixed in.

The undulating hills of Mudgee provide a panoramic vista which is the cradle for some robust reds blessed by its cool climate environment

David Lowe of Lowe Wines is one such winemaker, who has crafted small batch wines to create bottles that preserve the unique varietal character of its origins and reflect the knowledge, experience, and care that goes into each.

David Lowe’s distinguished winemaking career spans 35 years and has helped Lowe Wines achieve numerous accolades including the 2018 5 stars in the Halliday Wine Companion

He eagerly shared his philosophy of slow winemaking at the Tinja Lane cellar door, named after the historic Lowe property that has been in his family for five generations. His passion for innovative organic winemaking is something that can be seen in their Mudgee vineyards which are untrellised, unirrigated, and certified organic since 2003.

“Winemaking is an amazing opportunity, but also a huge responsibility,” David points out as he mused about the future and his ongoing advocacy to address climate change, with practices that are distinctively reflected in each Lowe bottle produced.
The tasting room is perfectly positioned with a view of the vineyard and in the center of the wine production area, immersing visitors in the winemaking experience
David Lowe is firm with the care that goes into each bottle, ensuring it is only sold at their cellar door and never at supermarkets

The story of Gilbert Family Wines began in 1842, with their ancestral patriarch planting the first Riesling in Australia in Eden Valley. Six generations later, the winery is now led by acclaimed winemaker Simon Gilbert and his son Will.

Simon and Will Gilbert hail from a family with a distinguished winemaking legacy, and are conscious of their roles as winemakers, crafting contemporary wines that reflect the cool climates in which they are grown

Their early exposure to the family’s winemaking practices proved to have a lasting impression on both, a passion that was very evident as they showed us their winemaking facility in Mudgee, which was recently recognized as a five-star winery by James Halliday in the 2019 Halliday Wine Companion.   

As the sixth-generation winemaker in the Gilbert family, Will has been immersed in the wine scene since the age of 10. While working on the Gilbert by Simon Gilbert labels, Will has also developed his own wine label Underwood, as well their popular Goose Apple Cider

“Be passionate about what you are doing in the wine industry,” Simon imparts as we did some barrel and bottle samples at the winery and The Cellar by Gilbert, their tasting room and wine bar which showcase current and museum released Gilbert wines paired with local produce.

The Cellar by Gilbert reflects the Gilbert family’s passion for wine, family heritage and local produce.

Their wines embody the Gilbert ethos of cool climate winemaking, artisanal bottles that reflect the climates of origin with a contemporary appeal.

Gilbert Family Wines are best enjoyed with their Paddock to Platter, a platter of local produce and proteins, including cheese selections from Mudgee’s High Valley Cheese Company

Our Australian visit may have ended, but the wine memories will certainly linger for a while. As I recall the delicious sips I had enjoyed, I also reminisce how each wine narrated the story of its winemaker and its journey from the vineyard through the barrel to the bottle. 

A visit to these wine destinations is a must for cool-climate wine aficionados, especially since these wines are not yet available in the Philippines. Coupled with a thriving food scene, the warm nature of its winemakers, tasting rooms that invite visitors to linger on and its proximity to Sydney, Orange and Mudgee allow wine lovers to enjoy the pleasure of a burgeoning wine destination at a more leisurely pace. 

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The No. 11 Chardonnay can be easily named as Philip Shaw’s flagship wine, with even 2006 vintages still tasting fresh, displaying a lovely acidity and minerality. The artistic wine labels render a sketch of the Shaw family

    

The cellar door at Wallace Lane Winery offers visitors the chance to sample Ross Hill’s Pinnacle series paired with some local produce

    

The cellar door at Wallace Lane Winery offers visitors the chance to sample Ross Hill’s Pinnacle series paired with some local produce

    

The Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Chardonnay is a beautifully balanced wine, fermented with indigenous wild yeast and malolactic fermentation for an elegant and powerful wine. “Balance is important,” James notes, something that is always integrated in their wines

    

The 2016 Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Shiraz was one of the best vintages for that year although the 2017 promises to be a tussle among his red varietals, James claims. The well-balanced, integrated, and refined wine displays an intense fruit character which accentuates its cool climate origins.

    

Justin Jarret of See Saw Wines (https://seesawwine.com) envisioned it to be a leading and sustainable organic wine grower in Australia, while delivering food friendly, elegant, and fruit-driven wines. “The real essence is balance. To make great wines, you have to find the balance in the soil, in wine, in life,” Justin shares.

    

One of the most popular of See Saw’s nine varietals is the Prosecco (Glera), made in the Charmat method to produce a refreshing sparkling suited to the terroir

    

David Swift of Printhie (https://www.printhiewines.com.au) and Swift Sparkling (https://www.swiftsparkling.com.au) had good reason to show off the Swift NV Cuvée #5, a non-vintage blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The wine has won a number of awards, including the Best Sparkling in the 2018 New South Wales Wine Show, proof of how cool sparkling wines can be

    

The Cumulus (https://www.cumuluswines.com.au) Chardonnay is a meticulously hand-crafted wine, made from exceptional vintages in premium blocks, fermented with natural yeast, and gently matured in French and American oak for an elegant and smooth wine.

    

The Mortimer (https://www.mortimerswines.com.au) Twin Series Shiraz presents two bottle expressions of the same Shiraz harvest, created by two winemakers: Frenchman Chris Derrez and Australian Simon Gilbert. The result is wonderful example of structure and elegance, interpreted in different ways.

    

The 2015 Lowe Icon Riesling is one of the best releases after 3 years of maturation. David Lowe also pointed to their flagship Lowe Zinfandel, which won the best Zinfandel at the 2003 International Wine Challenge

    

Complete the Lowe wine tasting experience with grazing platters that feature local produce of pork salami, S&S ham on the bone, Rylstone olive oil, Zin House homemade relish and dukka, marinated Alto olives, High Valley feta, farm-picked organic greens with fresh sourdough bread, and seasonal fruits

 

Photos courtesy of Wine Australia. Special thanks to Wine Australia, Orange Region Vignerons Association, and Mudgee Wine Grape Growers Association