I was told there was much to love about Mudgee.
From the food to the wine, there were persistent rumblings here and there about her merit; natural blessings, rich history, a creative spirit.
A virgin to the region (and a Victorian by birth), my expectations of the New South Wales country town were limited, almost non-existent. It would come as no surprise then, that when I recently embarked on a trip to Mudgee, such expectations were surpassed, exceedingly.
Alas, the rumours were true, and such babble was cemented in credibility. Mudgee had it all. From its natural beauty; resplendent greenery, viridescent vineyards, broad flats and fruitful orchards. To its beautifully quaint township with whiffs of nostalgia on every corner. To slick and suave cellar doors and eateries where hip urbanites and city-dwellers would normally pass the time. A culinary culmination of world-class wine, stellar restaurants, excellent coffee, cafes and local produce, Mudgee is a town that boasts all that and a bit for those with foodie desires and a profound thirst.
Ideal for a city detour, it’s just the spot to indulge in some good old-fashioned romanticism. Country feels with food and wine up to fussy city-slicker scratch (if not better!).
The perfect weekender or mid-week escape, here’s just a little slice (or drop) of what to dig into in Mudgee. Ready, set, reset.
Stepping in Peter Logan’s Cellar Door, it’s as if you’d walked into a fine art gallery. From the butterflies housed in the pristine glass cloche to the stylishly scribbly signature, the award winning Tasting Room has a stunning simplicity evoking only polish and panache. Either sit within its artfully curated walls, or sniff, swish and swirl under the striped canary yellow umbrellas, taking in the patchwork of greenery before you. Clementine (named after Peter Logan’s two-year old daughter), is a drop not to be missed. A beautifully idiosyncratic wine with a multifarious character; part Pinot Gris, Part Rosé, Part Orange wine, it is fresh, perky and crisp, and looks equally pretty in its artful bottle. Sip Clementine, Hannah (a Rosé he made for his wife Hannah on their wedding day – sigh) or their famed Sparkling (which give the French a good run for their money when it comes to bubbles) and slip into halcyon heaven.
With a distinctly bucolic feel, Cellar by Gilbert is a product its surroundings; charming countryside meets perfect grapes. Taking their cues from the past, Simon and Will Gilbert are sixth generation winemakers, and create enduring impressions on the palette. Beautifully rustic with an artisanal touch, the Cellar Door is just the spot to sit back and swish away. Round the corner, the High Valley Cheese Factory churns the likes of creamy feta, oozing camembert and aged cheddar – the perfect accompaniment to the beautifully balanced Rosé Saigneé (our fave), the prestigious Pinot Noir Barrel Select or even a deliciously crisp in-house Goose Cider.
A line of historical winemaking, it’s no wonder the lovely Jacob Stein followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Now forging ahead with great acclaim, (he didn’t win Gourmet Traveller’s ‘Young Winemaker of The Year’ for nothing), he produces wines which are profound, complex and age gracefully. The winery itself is simply sublime; privy to some of the best sunsets in the region, it also boasts a vintage motorcycle museum and is home to the Pipeclay Pumphouse. Sit back, glass in hand, and take in the serenity.
One of the new kids on the winery block, the quirky Cellar Door opened just a few years ago and is an old shipping container-come-arty-industrial tasting room. Don’t be fooled by her youthful facade though, the man behind First Ridge, Col, brings a wealth of wine experience (30 years thank you very much), charisma, charm and funk to First Ridge. For those who think the Italians do it better (when it comes to wine), this is your place. Cultivated from Italian cuttings brought years ago, Italian drops Vermentino, Barbera and Sangiovese are cultivated here with finesse, and Funky Col is as passionate about wine as he is about hats (no tractor ride is complete unless wearing a hat, according to him).
Opening the great wooden doors of Pieter Van Gent’s Cellar Door, and there’s no mistaking you’re in a winery. A beautiful barrel hall lies before you; lined with German oak barrels circa 1850 which sit high above your head in grandeur, the musty, heady scent of a bygone era pervades the space with nostalgic glee. Famous for their original white port, sit back in one of the historic church pews and indulge in a chocolate and wine matching, pairing the beautifully saccharine Port with home-made chocolates for a wholly sweet take on wine tasting.
Also try, Gooree Park Wines and check out The Carousel’s video of the thoroughbred stud and vineyard, here. Gooree is of special interest to The Carousel as this is where publisher and founder Robyn Foyster hails from.
Plus, De Beaurepaire, a family-owned, boutique, French-style winery who shares an uncannily similar terroir to Burgundy, Champagne and Northern Rhône in France for beautiful cool-climate wines. For a taste of the big boys, head to Bunnamagoo, one of the biggest producers, and Lowe Wines, star winemakers of the region (and with good reason). Not one for grapes? Check out Baker Williams Distillery for small-batch tipples including Gin, Vodka and hands down the best tasting Butterscotch Schnapps (made from real Butterscotch, not flavouring) you will ever try – seriously.
22 Nine 99 – Yum Cha and Tea House
You know that one Chinese restaurant in every country town with a battered neon insignia and gold Fortune Cat ticking in the window? This is most definitely not it. Beijing local, Na Lan, fell in love with Australian artist, Reg, and as fate would have it, decided to trade the buzz of Beijing for the ever quaint town of Rylstone, (about 45 minutes from Mudgee), turning her clever hand (she too is an artist) to cuisine. Since then, her Yum Cha restaurant, 22 Nine 99, housed in a beautifully eclectic, historic building, has been serving the most delicious dumplings to the hungry country folk who come from far and wide (Reg and Na married on the 22nd day, of the ninth month, in 1999 – hence the restaurant’s namesake). Devour the most pillowy dumplings of pork, peking duck and prawn – hand-made by Na herself – and drink tea from pretty porcelain under big pink parasols and honeysuckle. A story of love, art and dumplings – not to be missed.
With the sunset-dipped backdrop of Robert Stein’s vineyard, the picturesque Pumphouse sits amongst the fronds and the long grass of the lake. Dishing up the finest cuisine according to local produce and seasonality, a degustation is the way to dine, with acclaimed head chef, Andy Crestani, heading up the kitchen and serving such fodder as perfectly crackled pork, tender beef and salty scallop sausage. With a paddock to plate ethos, much of the produce comes straight off the Stein land, so it’s the best of the best (with the best view).
An eclectic hub of artistic nik-naks, ‘Mudgee Sourdough’ wood-fired breads, local pickles, preserves and great coffee, Artisan on Lewis is a quirky café with a difference. Run by three like-minded, multi-talented friends, they care passionately about their produce, and again, ‘local’ is the imperative word when it comes to the menu. Serving up fat raisin toast with local jams and honey, or Mudgee ‘mushies’ with eggs and bacon from nearby pastoral hamlets, their craft is not just of the culinary ilk, but in celebrating all things handmade. The art space supports ‘slow craft’ and hosts an artisan silversmith, weaver and local potters as well as featured exhibitions of wall art each month.
Also try, Di Lusso Estate, a sprawling flat of fig trees, olive groves, grape vines and a pretty lake, and devour Italian fare, think wood-fire pizzas, pasta and home-made olive oil and jams. Or for the finest dining experience, choose the The Zin House, where acclaimed owner / chef Kim Currie has turned a modern farmhouse into a Hatted restaurant, serving seasonal, local produce with mastery.
Mudgee’s Best Watering Holes
As with much of Mudgee, Elton’s too adheres to an ethos of local produce. Housed in the 1896 Elton’s pharmacy, nowadays, the drug of choice is the sticky popcorn pork belly. Or crunchy fried squid with lime aioli. Or smokey Texas ribs. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the hipster-esque space complete with sprawling dangling lightbulbs, warm wooden furnishings and cool-as-a-cucumber art, Elton’s is the perfect spot for a strong latte or a sundowner.
For a little wine bar, Roth’s boasts a whole lot of history. Upholding the title of oldest liquor licensing in Australia (licensed since 1923), this wine bar is equal parts charming as it is rustic. Housed in the original General Store terrace, the wine list is extensive, with local and regional wines in abundance, and also acts as a kind of regional ‘bottle shop’. Craft beers flow, pizzas bake in the wood fire oven and scrumptious plates are shared against the barn doors and beats of live music. A Mudgee must for a little slice (or glass) of history.
Duck and weave beneath the rambling vines of the courtyard, and seat yourself in a slither of sun for a regional feast of food and drink. Whether it’s a local fruit cordial made of Mudgee pomegranate, a jaffle with locally smoked ham and egg, or a charcuterie and cheese board with an ice cold G + T made with local distillery Baker Williams gin – this charming part bar, part cafe is an absolute beaut.
Where To Stay In Mudgee
When you venture out to country Australia, you want to feel like you’re in the country. Look no further then than the Mudgee Guesthouse Homestead. Maybe it’s the red iron roof. Or the sweeping verandah. Or the kangaroos who gaze back at you with uncertainty. But, it’s the country indeed. Nestled in a stunning, sprawling pocket overlooking the Mudgee Valley, the Federation-style homestead sits high above vineyards (naturally) and offers spectacular panoramic views of the rolling hills. Each of the seven guest rooms are uniquely decorated, be it Victoriana blue and white or rich tobacco and red, there is an infinite sense of the cosy and homely. Each is distinctly romantic with private ensuites and French doors – most of which open out to the skyline of green and gold.
Here, attention to detail is evident in every manifestation. The service, in particular, is of the highest standard, with husband and wife team, Karen and Paul, gracious and generous at every moment.
Karen’s hot, spiced pear and rhubarb cake (local of course) awaits in the tea room (with a big blob of cream), or perhaps her fresh apple cake tickles your fancy. Breakfast is stellar too; not only is there a long line up of cereals, mueslis, toast and homegrown jams and stewed fruits (think cherry, rhubarb and apple), but once you’re done with the cool cuts, the option for a hot breakfast of eggs with bacon or smoked salmon is presented, and definitely hits the spot (hot tip; the bacon is perfect for soaking up the dust of a post-winery slump). The games room downstairs is a boon to the boys (and girls); pool table, board games, a bar reminiscent of yesteryear. And when dusk falls, soak up the slow-pace of this pastoral gem. Besides, nothing beats stargazing with a glass of white port and a full belly.
Aside from the wine, the food, the charm; there was another standout, the people. An overriding warmth and incredible generosity was manifest, and not only were there smiles at every grape-laden turn, but a lively spark of ebullience, cheek and wit, tempered with that country character. Humour too, was an undeniable hallmark of the town. They were funny folk who went out of their way to make Mudgee special. And indeed, it was.
The perfect sojourn from Sydney (or anywhere for that matter) – we’re already planning our next trip back.
Story and photography by Chrisanthi Kaliviotis.