When I had the chance to visit Australia in October 2019 for the Wine Media Conference, I jumped on it! Not only did I get to hang out in Sydney and the Hunter Valley, where the conference was happening, but I also got to visit Mudgee, a beautiful wine region about a four-hour drive from Sydney, through the Blue Mountains. It is one of the most beautiful, charming wine regions in the world. (Other post-conference excursions were to Riverina and Orange, but come on – Mudgee is a fun word to say and when I saw how many of my friends had signed up for the Mudgee trip, it was a no-brainer!)
So – unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Australia is in a world of hurt, with bushfires, many of them threatening vineyards and wineries and all of them wreaking havoc on wildlife. I checked in with Cara George, CEO of Mudgee Region Tourism, and she reported that a Mudgee has largely been spared and even has had a bit of rainfall – phew!
And really, one of the best ways to support Australia is by going there. If you have a trip booked – don’t cancel. It is a huge country and the major cities are largely fine and open for your business! If you’re thinking of where to go this year or next – put Australia on your list. This Washington Post story has great information about visiting, in light of the fires.
And now – I’m going to let pictures tell most the story of my trip to Mudgee.
A Few Cool Things to Know About Mudgee
1. Mudgee is named after a local Wiradjuri Aboriginal word, “moothi,” meaning “nest in the hills” – and when you go, you’ll see why. The town of Mudgee is indeed nestled within hills on all sides – glorious hills, many of them planted with Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Montepulciano, Gewurtztraminer, Chardonnay, Riesling and more.
2. There are more than 40 family-owned cellar doors (tasting rooms) in Mudgee. We were able to visit eight of them in just three days, including Hollydene Estate, Robert Stein Vineyard & Winery, The Cellar by Gilbert, Moothi Estate, Logan Wines, Burnbrae Wines, Lowe Wines and De Beaurepaire Wines (just a little outside of Mudgee in Rylstone).
3. You’ll find a huge diversity of wines in Mudgee. Everything from Riesling (I’m lookin’ at you, Jacob Stein from Robert Stein Winery – he sells his Australian Riesling to restaurateurs and retailers in GERMANY for crying out loud! I mean – what does THAT say about it? It’s freaking delicious is what it says!) to Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay, Viognier, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and even Zinfandel!
We hit the road at 9 a.m. on a beautiful spring Sunday morning in October (I know … it’s hard to get used to the season switch in the southern hemisphere) from the conference hotel in Hunter Valley and made our first stop abut about 10:30 at Hollydene Estates for breakfast bubbles!
The wines were fun and delicious but we had to drink and dash, because our next stop was at Robert Stein Winery, home to the Pipeclay Pumphouse Restaurant – one of the region’s most highly revered restaurants, owned by Chef Andy Crestani. Wow – what an afternoon this was – wines that transcended every possible expectation and food that followed the same trend.
Those “scallops”? Actually scallop mousse. And beneath that tangle of sweet potatoes is kangaroo carpaccio (yep … I ate it. And I liked it!) And I think the third plate is uh… well, I can’t remember, but it was delicious!
After a light bite (OMG, am I kidding … it was an endless parade of food and wine and the table above is proof), we were off to the town of Mudgee, which is movie-set cute and home to several great hotels, from hipster-boutique style hotels to more traditional resort-style hotels, and restaurants, like Alby & Esther’s, who hosted us for breakfast.
And if you believe it, after checking in to our hotels, it was off to The Cellar by Gilbert for … uh huh … more food and wine. (You learn to pace yourself on these types of trips … you never finish a plate of food … a bite here, a bite there … never fill up. Never. Because hell’s bell’s, there could be another gorgeous cheese and charcuterie board comin’ at you when you least expect it!) That’s me with Alex Gilbert, above.
I was all but swooning at these wines -they were some of the most refined and elegant wines I tasted! The Chardonnay? Shut up. So good. Perfect balance between fruit, alcohol, oak. The Sauvignon Blanc? There’s a bottle in my house right now. The Pet Nat of Sangiovese? Yep, brought home a bottle of that, too – it is fresh and bright and saucy with nice fizz. Will Gilbert studied winemaking in Burgundy and it shows. He has great skill and precision in his winemaking style (and is a huge Pinot Noir fan).
Side note: Mudgee is where I had to make hard choices … like, I left a pair of shoes behind in the hotel room, just to accommodate bottles in my luggage … because shipping wine back to the U.S. from Australia is not a thing.
The next day we were off to Moothi Estate, Burnbrae and Logan Wines in and around Mudgee for more visits, which really helped us get a feel for the region’s wines and tasting room vibes. Everywhere we went, we were greeted warmly and enthusiastically. Mudgee has “friendly” written all over its wine list!
Moothi is owned by Jess and Jay and I can’t believe I did not get their last name, but Jess’ parents planted the vineyards in 1995, and 2002 were their first vintages. They have a ridiculously gorgeous deck right off the tasting room and when I go back, I plan on sitting there with a bottle! They only make about 3000 cases a year and most of it is sold straight out of the cellar door.
Next stop, Logan Wines. Super contemporary tasting room built up high, so you get sweeping views on all sides. The wines are absolutely lovely – creative wines like an orange Pinot Grigio that are fun and different. and Peter Logan, who started the winery with his late dad, Mal, in 1997 (after his dad, I think, acquired the vineyard in as part of a bar room bet, which is a great story!) And how about that label on the Ridge of Tears?
Burnbrae is the spot if you are looking for a super-relaxed place to chill with a glass of wine – or host a party. It’s sort of like the Old West had a baby with “Country Chic” resulting in a big, beautiful farm-style cellar door, complete with nearby barn-style event building that opens wide to stunning fields – perfect for weddings and other parties. They also have cute rooms you can stay in overnight. They do not make wine insight – they make their wines in Orange and Chris and Lucy make the wine. I really liked their Little Gem 2019 Pinot Grigio – positively bursting with juicy, peachy stone fruit!
But we had to drink and dash again, to get to Lowe Wines, where David Lowe is making … ready for it? Zinfandel! What? In Australia? California’s the only place that grows Zin, right? No! David Lowe is growing it in Australia and it’s really fun! David trained at Chateau Petrus in Bordeaux and at Ridge in Sonoma. After tasting Grgich Hills and Stag’s Leap wines – the two that won the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting – David judged them “Dolly Parton wines” and vowed he wanted to make wines that were a little more restrained. He has succeeded.
We had lunch at Zin House – the elegant restaurant on-site – and it was just gorgeous. Because David farms organically and biodynamically and he also grows a lot of veg and produce on-site, the food was crazy-delicious – beet carpaccio (above), spring lamb and vegetable stew. And his famous Zinfandel and Merlot wines to match.
The next morning headed out of Mudgee to Rylstone (a nearby area) to visit DeBeaurepaire Wines. I loved this place. As the family name suggests, the wines are made in the French style. The family has 100,000 vines planted to various international varietals and they employ five winemakers to make a total of 16 different wines. But the coolest thing is that they employed a geologist back in 2012 or so, who mapped the area and discovered … the limestone. It is the same chalky limestone as Chablis! And it can be traced back — wait for it – 400 million years. What? That’s crazy, right?
Between the soil and the climate, the site is actually the ideal place to grow Chardonnay, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc and red grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Merlot. Amanda DeBeaurepaire guided us through a tasting of about six or seven wines and it was fascinating.
Whoo-wee … okay, time to close out this photo story. If you live in Australia, if you are visiting Australia, all I can say is … consider Mudgee. I hope to return so I can reconsider it. Thank you, Mudgee, for having us – every minute and every person we met and every wine we tasted was a pure pleasure!
Coming soon: a story (or two, or three) about my adventures at Helen & Joey Estate down in the Yarra Valley, near Melbourne.