A Stunning Sunset View at First Ridge Vineyard

Sunset from the First Ridge Cellar Door in Mudgee New South Wales Australia

It was sunset of our only full day in Mudgee New South Wales.  We headed out to meet Col Millot, the Viticulturist at First Ridge Vineyard on the south east side of the Mudgee Valley.  While viewing the sunset from their cellar door, we discussed Mudgee, the First Ridge Vineyard site, their wines and soils, as well as, how weather, climate change and drought was affecting them.

The drive to the cellar door at First Ridge Mudgee NSW Australia
The drive to the cellar door at First Ridge

The tree lined drive onto the property from Burrundulla Road is a welcoming entrance.  It’s a moment of respite as you travel slowly through the dappled light through the vineyard and up to the cellar door. 

Col opened up the cellar door for us. When I say, “opened up”, it’s a bit more than you might think.  This building is the elegant connection of two shipping containers. The two red boxes that we saw driving up, transform as he opens the sliding metal sides exposing the windows that bring in the spectacular view of the vineyard.  The interior is modern, but welcoming and the light at sunset was magical.

First Ridge has been a grower for 20 odd years.  They sold, and still sell, fruit around Australia.  In 2013 they made their first vintage of wine, and since then, keep 60 tons of grapes to produce the wines they sell here in the tasting room.  The beautiful tasting room was built in 2015 and has helped to increase the interest in the wines.

Mudgee – the “nest in the hills”

Mudgee, especially from the vantage point of the First Ridge Cellar Door, does indeed look like a “nest in the hills”, it’s aboriginal name.  That “nest” is the giant basin of an old volcano.

The region was colonized during the gold rush.  As Col says, “where there is mining, there is alcohol”.  In the 1860’s there were 400 hectares of vines growing here. 

At the turn of the century, most of the wine here stopped.  This vibrant area continued with mining and agriculture with cattle-grazing and food production. Wine didn’t make a marked come back until the 1990’s, when large wine companies encouraged people to plant more vines.  Then in 2006, most of these companies decided to head back to South Australia, and people started pulling out vines.  Since then, there has been a 40% decrease in the hectares of vines planted in Mudgee.

That’s not all bad.  Wineries here are back to family owned and mostly boutique. The largest owner is the Oatley family, the rest are smaller, 100 to 200-ton size wineries.

This is a unique area that does a wide range of varieties well.  While still less discovered than the Hunter or Coonawarra, people are discovering the region and seeing the wines are high quality.

The climate here is temperate with hot summers and cool nights that lock in the acid causing the wines here to age well.

First Ridge Vineyard

Soil

First Ridge Vineyard started in the mid 90’s.  It is one of the highest vineyards in Mudgee, with the highest block at 600 meters.  The soil here is rocky and volcanic, and these poor soils are great for the vines. 

First Ridge Mudgee NSW Australia
Two shipping containers at the top of the hill hold a tasting room with a perfect sunset view, where we chatted with Col and a glass of their delicious Prosecco.

Col pointed out the block down the hill in front of the cellar door.  At 22 years old, the trunks of the vines were just 2 inches in diameter.  In more fertile soil down in the flats beyond here, these vines would be up to 6 inches in diameter by now.  Here the vines have smaller bunches and berries and wonderful exposure.

The site has all types of rock and soil.  The area was once an ancient riverbed and Col picks up a piece of siltstone that was found in the vineyard close to the cellar door.  It has layers of fossils, of creatures and coral, vegetable matter and shell. 

“This predates anything that has bone, it’s around 300 million years old.”

Col Millot, October 2019

This mud, from an ancient riverbed system is dense and heavy.

“You start to realize that we are very small in the scheme of things, when you look at something as old as that.”

Col Millot, October 2019

Above the vineyard you find quartz and basalt.

“So, you’ve got sedimentary and metamorphic rock all in one.  It’s incredible.  It’s very ancient land.”

Col Millot, October 2019

Why Italian Varieties?

Col said, he had tasted Italian wines years ago in McLaren Vale and found them very drinkable.  They were much easier than the big Shiraz and Cabs that Australia was known for.

These grapes were already growing in Mudgee, thanks to Carlo Carino, an early winemaker at Montrose Wines.  He brought sangiovese, barbera and nebbiolo and planted them here. Knowing they would do well, First Ridge Vineyard planted sangiovese and barbera back in 1998.  Since then they have added, vermentino, fiano, pinot grigio, prosecco (glera) and Montepulciano.

The Wines

Col and I sipping First Ridge Prosecco, while he told me about the history and the soils of this place.
Col and I sipping First Ridge Prosecco, while he told me about the history and the soils of this place.

White Wines at First Ridge Vineyard

We started off discussing the Prosecco, which we had been sipping on as we spoke.  Clean and bright with notes of lemon, it had a little sweetness on it. 

“I was asking an old chap once, what style would sell the best. Is there a market for it being dry or sweet? He said, you make it too sweet you’ll lose half your customers.  You make it to dry, you’ll lose half your customers.  So, we try to find the middle ground.”

Col Millot, October 2019

This wine has won 3 silver medals in its first vintage.

We move on to the vermentino “It’s a beautiful grape.  It’s a beautiful eating grape, it’s a beautiful grape to look at, it’s a beautiful grape to make wine with.  It’s quite lean, quite minerally and quite salty. There is this saltiness about them.  They are a delightful drinking wine”

They are also growing fiano which Col finds to be a bit more structured than the vermentino. He describes it as the most elegant and complex of their white wines.  The last of their white wines is a bright pinot grigio.  Col says it’s “like sticking your nose in a jar of pears.”

Rosé and Red Wines

They grow sangiovese that they also use for a rosé.  To control vigor, they train these to on bud per spur.  This gives them smaller berries and bunches. With just two bunches from each bud this keeps them to 6 tons per hectare with this vigorous grape.  This kind of training also help minimize disease and intensify the flavor.

The Barbera is their flagship and it comes from the rough rocky block up the hill from the cellar door.  It is low yielding at 4 tons per acre and was just converted from spur to cane pruned.  The wines produce intense flavors of black cherry with beautiful aromas, silky tannins and a savory finish.

Lastly is the Montepulciano.  It is arch cane trained and at 2 years old was looking to its first harvest in 2019.

Climate, water and drought.

Drought and water

We finish on the tougher subject of climate and drought.  Col mentions that it has been hotter during the last 4 seasons that he has been here.

“We talk a lot these days about the warming and heating and there is no doubt there is changes in the climate.  It’s getting hotter.  The last four seasons here in Mudgee have been hot.  But those minimum temperatures are still lower. The big difference this vintage was the minimum temperatures were higher and that’s the first time I’ve seen that here.”

Col Millot, October 2019

The Cudgegong River runs past the property, helping with irrigation. Due to the soil, they must irrigate, but the vines also have deep roots.  This makes the vines are economical with water. They average a megaliter per hectare each year. Nonetheless, water is a concern.

“…we’re in the grip of a pretty serious drought right now.  There’s no doubt that we’re a bit worried about where it’s all going. It’s alright to have a river, but if there is no water running down it, you can’t draw from it.”

Col Millot, October 2019

There are cut backs on water entitlements in the region, to preserve water.  Col finds they must be very careful with how they manage water in the vineyard. Luckily, at this point, he has found that it has not impacted the wines.  They have no need to add sugar, acid or tannins.  The wine is simply fermented, filtered, put into oak if needed and bottled. 

Rain

Water comes into play in another way.  Rain in late summer can be hard for the ripening grapes and it’s common to have high rainfall in February during harvest.  With the drought the last 4 years, this has not been an issue.  Col remembers seasons with much more rain.  In 2001 they had 18 inches of rain in February and in 2008, 8 inches fell overnight.

This site is high enough and well-draining enough that the rain runs down through the vineyards into the headlands.  It doesn’t sit in the vineyard and cause the fruit to swell, diluting the flavor in the fruit.

The Future of First Ridge Vineyard

At the time of our visit, in October of 2019, Col was feeling pretty good about First Ridge.  The cellar door had increased interest in their wines.  The wines were getting better every year.  Tourism in 2019 had increased with more people traveling domestically due to the decline of the Australian dollar. 

“I think people are just a little concerned about traveling and moving around as much overseas than they used to be.” 

Col Millot, October 2019

As a result, people in Australia were exploring the wine country in their own backyard.  Mudgee, which is 3 ½ hours from Sydney, through the Blue Mountains, had become a popular weekend destination.

Since then, they had a tough summer, dealt with the possibility of smoke taint from the fires and then like everyone had to close their cellar door due to Covid-19.  They have stayed active on Facebook and Instagram.  Like so many in the wine industry they are finding ways to stay connected with the people who love their wines. For now, you can order online from their online store until they are able to open again, and you can take in the views from their stunning cellar door.

More on Mudgee and First Ridge Vineyard

You can read more on First Ridge and Mudgee from Crushed Grape Chronicles through the links below.

You can also find great resources at the websites for First Ridge and Mudgee

Lowe Wine – Drought, Biodynamics and Soil

Bush trained vines at Lowe Wine in Mudgee Australia

The drought in Australia fueled the fires we saw the beginning of this year.   We talked with David Lowe at Lowe Wine about the drought and about bio-dynamics, a subject you know we are very interested in.

The drought in Australia

David says that the drought has been very damaging for people who were not prepared for it.  We later spoke with another winemaker who explained the earlier longer drought that the country had gone through.  After a short reprise they plunged into the current drought which is more severe.

Biodynamics and how it helps with drought

Droughts can be debilitating and this is a country that waffles between severe drought and flooding.  David feels that he has set his vineyard on the right path over the past 20 years setting it up to be more drought resistant.  Removing all the damaging pesticides and letting diverse native grasses grow have helped with ground cover and have limited pests.  They don’t irrigate so the roots have dug deep.

“In fact our Shiraz roots go 5 meters deep were all planted with a shovel and a bucket of water and we’ve relied on rainfall scarce as that’s been, all the time and we’ve never lost a vine.  They’re quite productive in fact they look better than most vineyards that are drip irrigated. “

David Lowe, October 2019

An explanation of biodynamics

David tells us there is no recipe for bio-dynamics, it is about observation, learning when to interfere and when not to interfere.  He gives us a description from his consultant on bio-dynamics, comparing Newtonian science, which is absolute and the philosophy of Goethe, who looked at the precedents and how they occurred and looked for an explanation.  If he didn’t find it, it was because it was something we did not completely understand. 

“So to me bio-dynamics understands and respects the precedents and what’s happened in nature over the last 5 or 7 thousand years as been mapped and tries to apply Newtonian science to it.  I find it a really interesting way to do it.  We’re not just looking at the sky and the cosmos and the land and saying, oh we’re all hippie about it.  But there is a scientific reason it happens and we’re trying to find it.  If we can’t understand it, at least appreciate, this has happened and work with it.”

David Lowe, October 2019

Soils in Australia and Mudgee

We move on to discuss the soils here in Mudgee and within Australia.  This is an ancient and eroded land.   It is the oldest land form in the world, part of the Gondwaraland. Changes in soil here come from erosion.  So the top of the hills are stony and rocky while the bottom fills with silt and loess.  On the slopes, of course you get a variation.  Variation makes winemakers happy.

Working with soils to make the best wines

David has tried to map the soils and work with it.  There is quartz and shale with minerals.  It’s well drained and that important for the grapevines, it encourages them to dig deep which promotes drought resistance and increases the quality.

“We’ve said we don’t care about what crop we get off it any year, we care that it’s the best wine possible.  Because we are in control of our market, because we are in control of our all of our sales, as you see, our only sales are here, we can tell the message.  People can respond to the authenticity of growing and making it and selling it onsite.  That’s worked with us.  Probably as an accident, but we’re not going to stop it now.”

David Lowe, October 2019

More from David Lowe

We have one more conversation to share with you from our visit with David Lowe.  The next one gets pretty geeky on yeasts and barrels!

We’ve written a bit on Lowe Wine

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Robin Renken CSW (photo credit RuBen Permel)

Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.

When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.

Lowe Wine – 2015 Nullo Mountain Riesling

Bottles of the Lowe Wine Nullo Mountain Riesling lined up on a foudre in the tasting room Mudgee NSW Australia

While visiting with David Lowe at Lowe Wine in Mudgee NSW Australia, David poured us a glass of his 2015 Riesling from Nullo Mountain.  In addition to the Tinja vineyard where the winery is located and where we were sitting, David gets fruit from Orange as well as from a unique vineyard outside of Rylstone.

Rylstone

Rylstone is a town within the Mudgee Region about 45 minutes Southeast of Mudgee.  This heritage town is the gateway to the Wollemi National Park and the Bylong Valley. 

Nullo Mountain

Map of Mudgee to Nullo Mountain (map via Google Maps)
Map of Mudgee to Nullo Mountain (map via Google Maps)

If you continue past Rylstone and head north east you come to Nullo Mountain, a high mountain plateau.  It is here that you will find Louee’s Nullo Mountain vineyard. The vineyard is 4.45 hectares growing Riesling, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, pinot gris and Nebbiolo.

Lowe Wine 2015 Riesling Nullo Mountain
Lowe Wine 2015 Riesling Nullo Mountain

“This is from a vineyard in Mudgee that is organic and bio-dynamic. It was a vineyard that I semi-leased I suppose, it’s a Riesling and it grows at 1100 meters (that’s 3600 feet!).  So we are climatically in the Pfalz region of Germany.”

David Lowe, October 2019

Managing Acidity in high altitude vineyards

1100 meters is quite a difference from the approximately 470 meters that the Tinja Vineyard sits at.  David turned to organic and biodynamic winemakers in Pfalz including Bürklin-Wolf to learn about how they handle riesling at this altitude. 

David explains that with high altitude sites, you must deal with acidity differently.

In most of Australia and much of the west coast of the United States you have warm to hot climates which translates into wines with little acid that need to be ameliorated.  (Ameliorate is defined as “to make better, but in wine it is more specific. To ameliorate a wine is to add water to the unfermented must.) It’s different in cooler climates.

“Acidity has flavor and fruit, so you have to manage the acidity and sugar balance.  So we’ve made this wine. We keep it 4 years because as a young wine it’s a bit acidulous, and it’s developed it’s own texture in time with age.  People are responding to the fact that it’s a fresh clean limey wine, but the bottle age is just a bit more complex.  We’ve taken the edge off the acidity.  That’s volcanic soil grown 70 km from here.  So we are climatically in Germany, 70 km from here.”

David Lowe, October 2019
Lowe Wine 2015 Riesling Nullo Mountain back label Mudgee NSW Australia
Lowe Wine 2015 Riesling Nullo Mountain back label

This wine was beautiful and bright and David expects it will mature and develop over the next 20 years.

More to come…

We will continue our conversation with David, diving into the drought, soils bio-dynamics and more.

Links for more details…

If you want more information on Lowe Wine you can check out some other pieces we have written below.  We will also give you the link to their website as well as a link to Visit Mudgee, where they have great information on this entire region, including Rylstone!

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Lowe Wine – a brief history with David Lowe

Lowe Wines in Mudgee Australia Cellar Door

Mudgee, it’s a fun name to say. The name of this region in Australia’s New South Wales is derived from the word “moothie” for “nest in the hills” in the Wiradjuri tongue.  We drove from the Hunter Valley over the mountains and into this region to speak with David Lowe of Lowe Wine.  I asked David about his history as well as that of his family in this region.

European Settlers in Mudgee

The region was settled by Europeans in 1824, with people moving west from Sydney.  The agriculture then was mostly sheep and people settled along the river for water.  It was 1825 when Robert Lowe was granted land in the Mudgee Region and 1832 when Robert’s widow Sarah and her 11 children moved to Mudgee, to live on this land. David’s family worked with sheep, cattle and wheat crops. 

Farms started to pop up.  Australian horticulture at this time was like the American Midwest.  They set up large expanses of land devoted to a single crop (you know, mono-culture).  This area, however, was a bit more varied and one crop, or way of growing, didn’t work for the entire region. They found that much of this land was better for smaller farms and raising more diverse types of agriculture.

Similar to California, grapes got started with the gold rush.  Where there are people, there is bound to be wine.  The gold rush in this region of Australia hit around the 1850’s. 

How David Lowe got into wine

David Lowe of Lowe Winery in Mudgee Australia
David Lowe of Lowe Winery in Mudgee Australia NSW

David’s family have always been in agriculture.  There was a winery next door as David was growing up and he worked on the bottling line.  When the laboratory technician had to be gone for a while, they put David in the lab.  He found he loved the chemistry.  So, at 15 when he had to choose the elective that would be his career, he announced to his family that he wanted to be a winemaker.

“I made that decision and I’ve stuck to it.  So, who knows if I’m good at anything else or not.  In fact, my parents, I found out later on, I think used to go to church to pray for my soul. Their view of a winemaker, was someone who had a bottle in a brown paper bag under a bridge.”

David Lowe, October 2019

Eventually he did convert them, and they started their own wine cellar.  David helped his father plant the first vines at Tinja, the family property in Mudgee in 1973.

Len Evans – an early influence in David’s career

After graduating with his degree in Oenology from Roseworthy College, David worked as the Assistant Winemaker for Rothbury wines.  Rothbury in the Hunter valley was run by Len Evans and Murray Tyrrell. 

Len Evans was a writer, vineyard owner and much more.  Those of you who are older might remember “The Galloping Gourmets” a book he co-authored with Graham Kerr, which Kerr later turned into the syndicated cooking show.  More importantly, he became one of the most influential people in wine.  He created the Australian Wine Bureau and was chairman of several wineries over his career including Rothbury Wines, Petaluma, Evans Wine Company and Tower Estate. He transformed blind tasting into a sport and to this day the Len Evans Tutorial aims to educate Australians in the wine industry through an intensive 5-day tutorial of tasting and judging wines with Masterclasses on the greatest wines of the world.

“I was very fortunate to work for a wine company that had … as the chairman of the company arguably one of the 5 great men of wine in the world.   His name was Len Evans….I was exposed to some of the great wines of the world.  He was adamant…on Day 2 when I was working there, that I had to try the best 20 wines in the world.   I think he wanted to have them himself afterwards, but at the time, I went along with it.”

David Lowe, October 2019

Discovering biodynamics

Bush trained vines at Lowe Wine in Mudgee Australia
Bush trained vines at Lowe Wine in Mudgee Australia

Nine of the twenty wines that Len Evans had him taste were either bio dynamic or organic.  This made him want to explore bio dynamics.  What was it that made these wines better?  What was this relationship between bio dynamics and quality?

It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that he was able to attend a conference in Australia on bio dynamics.  This changed the way he wanted to grow.  He headed home to the family farm.  His parents were older and had not been working the vineyard and the property was rundown from being inactive.  He looked at bio dynamics as being a way to fix the property.

“So, we started down the path to learn about bio dynamics. And that’s taken now nearly 20 years to get right.  And I don’t think we have it right or anywhere near it, but we’ve made an improvement.”

David Lowe, October 2019
Zinfandel Vines with leaves just coming out at Lowe Wines Tinja vineyard in Mudgee Australia
Zinfandel Vines with leaves just coming out at Lowe Wines Tinja vineyard in Mudgee Australia

More to come…

We will speak more with David about Bio dynamics later.  His philosophy of Slow Wine making was one of the things that drew me to this place. He cares deeply about the land and continues to try to improve his stewardship of the land each vintage.

You can read more about David and his Zinfandel (yes I said Zinfandel, in Australia) here.

For more on the Mudgee Region check out Visit Mudgee, and take a look at our interview with Cara George.

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

On Australia – fires and wine

Bush trained vines at Lowe Wine in Mudgee Australia

First things first. Many of the wineries and vineyards in Australia have been severely affected by the drought and the bush fires. The best way to help? Get out and drink Australian wine. Some of these vineyards may not have a vintage this year, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have wine. Most have their cellar doors open. If you are in Australia, go see them! If you are not…well head to your local wine shop, where ever you are on the globe and ask for Australian wine. Search for smaller producers that could really use your help. Yes, it might be difficult to find. Keep asking, drive up the demand.

It was October and we found ourselves in Australia’s New South Wales for the Wine Media Conference, that was held in the Hunter Valley. At the time, this seasons bush fires had only recently begun. Most of these were happening north of where we were in Queensland and our friends who were touring the Granite Belt wine region brought us stories of the fires there. Small fires were popping up. You could see the worry when you spoke with people. But at this point, the concern was mostly about the drought.

Drought after drought

There was a significant drought from 2003 to 2012. After a few years, that were a bit more normal, drought hit again in 2017, this time the impact was more severe. We spoke with people who had family farms that were suffering as available water levels dropped to a point where they could no longer irrigate. We also spoke with winemakers who were concerned about the future of their vineyards.

The drive from Hunter Valley to Mudgee

We traveled through several regions in New South Wales, but our drive to and from Mudgee illustrated the difficulties of the drought most starkly.

We drove into Mudgee from the Hunter Valley. The Hunter, at this point in the spring, was pretty lush and green. From the Hunter we headed inland through the Goulburn National Forest. This is considered “the bush” in Australia. The “bush” is an area that is undeveloped and filled with indigenous flora and fauna. Think of it as backwoods or hinterland, it’s really just a mostly untouched natural region. These regions cover a large portion of Australia.

The drive to Mudgee from the Hunter Valley
The drive to Mudgee from the Hunter Valley

As we drove the road became smaller. The population is lower in the inland regions. Most of Australia’s population forms a ring around the country on the coast. With smaller population come smaller roads and we went from 4 lane to 2 lane to a road with no center stripe, and even a section of gravel and dirt, as we crossed through the forest to Mudgee.

The impact of the drought on wildlife

We saw our fair share of kangaroos and wombats, sadly none were living. People asked when we returned if it was like dear on the East Coast of the US. No…it was a dead animal every 50 yards for a great portion of the trip. Much of this comes from the drought. We were told by a winemaker that the roos come to the green strip of grass on the sides of the road to feed, because there is so little for them to feed on otherwise. At dusk and dawn, drivers are hard pressed to miss them.

They do care deeply about their wildlife. We saw signs, like the one below, along all the roads with numbers to call if you hit or see injured animals.

WildLife Injuries Hotline in Australia
WildLife Injuries Hotline in Australia

The fires increase

It was not long after our return to the states that the fires spread. In early December a friend was visiting Sydney and took a photo in the Royal Botanical Gardens. Standing in a spot close to where I had been just a month and a half prior, she took a photo of the Lewis Wolfe Levy fountain, a statue of the goddess Diana, with a background of a brown and orange glow of a sky filled with smoke. I had been following the fires as they encroached on Sydney, but this picture brought home the severity of the fires, showing me the stark contrast to the city I had visited.

The 2020 Harvest

Wineries and vineyards now look to what to do this harvest. While, the wineries and vineyards we visited have not been directly impacted by the fires there are those indirect impacts, greater lack of available water, smoke taint, lack of access for visitors and impacts on their employees, many of whom may travel in from areas more affected by the fires.

We have seen wineries, like Tyrrell’s, one of the oldest and largest wineries in the Hunter Valley, publicly state that they will not pull in a harvest this year. Read more from the Guardian here They do not want to compromise the quality of their wine and do not feel comfortable with the amount of smoke taint that their vineyards may have encountered. Depending on the location of the vineyard and the winds, some may be impacted, while others are not.

2020 in the Mudgee Region

I reached out to Cara George with Mudgee Region Tourism to see how the Mudgee Region had been affected this year by the fires and the drought. Cara provided me with a statement from Mudgee Wine

The 2020 grape growing and wine making vintage has been a particularly tough one for growers throughout Australia including the Mudgee Wine Region. 

We have all felt the effect of the prolonged drought, extreme heat and continued bush fires and subsequent smoke. Firstly we want to express our sympathy to those who have lost vineyards, wineries and stock in various wine regions in Australia. We also sympathize with those regions that may be dealing with the effects of smoke in grapes in the upcoming harvest.

Secondly, it is important that we acknowledge that 2020 is not the ideal vintage for everyone in the Mudgee Wine Region. As a region we pride ourselves on making top quality wines that consistently win awards across the country. With our commitment to the very high standard of wines that drinkers have come to expect from Mudgee, and the effects of the drought and smoke across the region we are expecting to see a much smaller than average harvest in 2020. 

Mudgee Wine Association along with many individual members have been and continue to conduct testing with the Australian Wine Research Institute in relation to effects of smoke in the grapes. Given the results of these tests along with some small batch ferments conducted in wineries, it is likely that many brands will choose not to harvest in 2020. Those who do choose to harvest will be doing so with confidence that the quality of the wine will remain at the high standard expected of the Mudgee Wine Region.

Despite the harsh realities of the 2020 vintage, our region is full of beautiful vineyards, cellar doors, accommodation and restaurants that continue to be open for business and ready for visitors. Our various Mudgee wine brands currently have fantastic vintages available from 2016, through to 2019 for tasting and purchase. In fact, there couldn’t be a better time to visit and support these small growers and winemakers in our beautiful region. 

Mudgee Wine Association January 28th, 2020

What is smoke taint

Smoke taint. Okay, I heard a bit about this issue with the fires in Sonoma in 2017. The difference was that those fires happened in October, and harvest was well underway. Many vineyards were not affected at all. In the case of Australia, the fires were beginning in the spring. Late January into March is harvest here in Australia, and the risk smoke taint increases after verasion (when the grapes change color).

The chemicals in smoke that cause smoke taint are volatile phenols and glycosides. These are found in fresh smoke and in lignin from burnt wood. They dissipate in 1 to 2 hours typically, so vineyards that are close to fresh smoke will be affected. At longer distances (and keep in mind smoke can travel long distances), you mostly just see suspended carbon particulates that are less likely to affect the grapes.

bushfire in grassland with trees in australia
bushfire in grassland with trees in Australia

Affects of Smoke Taint

Smoke taint in wine is aromatic and tactile. In small quantities it can present like Brett, with dulled fruit and a strange dryness in the mouth that is similar to oak. In higher concentrations this becomes magnified and decidedly off putting (think burnt garbage).

So…how to determine if your grapes are at the level that they will have off putting smoke taint? Well, the compounds can be detected on grapes by gas chronography, but this is an expensive process. Keep in mind we are trying to detect in parts per million. For most winemakers, the solution is to do a sample pre-harvest and do a sample ferment. Volatile phenols release during fermentation. The levels in fermented grapes are 5 to 10 times higher in fermented grapes compared to fresh grapes. In fermented grapes these volatile phenols can be detected, by smell or taste.

The New South Wales Government is providing grape growers with funding for smoke test kits. Labs that do the detailed work are working overtime and expect to be busy into March. The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Australia is also pretty advanced with technology in vineyards and a piece by Wine Australia gives some details on new spectrometry techniques for diagnosing smoke taint.

A word from David Lowe in Mudgee

We spent time in Mudgee before the conference visiting for an afternoon with David Lowe of Lowe Wines where he is growing bio-dynamically and making some superb Zinfandel. Yes…I said Zinfandel, yes…in Australia. David was kind enough to send us a few words on how they were coping.

The drought has proved challenging and we know we will have about ½ normal yield.

Additional challenges re the dust storms and constant smoke, which we are working through on an ongoing basis.

It’s a national problem and the fires close to houses and vineyards like California means we are sharing experiences that are tough on everybody.

Fred Peterson made contact with me recently it seems the whole world knows about our problems and there is great camaraderie offers of help and sympathy. The wine industry is a close one.

Immediate impacts are tourism and visitation, which are such a part of the experience we are offering.

Our solution is to increase our range of hospitality experiences, increase local visitation and keep the farm watered and viable particularly so we can maintain our ecosystem.

David Lowe, Lowe Wines January 30th, 2020

From Mudgee back to the Hunter via the Golden Highway

On the return trip, we headed to the Golden Highway to the north of the region. Here roads were wider and the landscape went on forever over dry brown hills dotted with trees, that didn’t look so good. The dry brown grass, sometimes gave way to burned patches and often to dark brown expanses where there was not enough water for even the grass to grow. There were cattle farms here with cattle bunched together with little to eat. Mind you, this was spring, when you should see some green somewhere. It was desolate and eerily beautiful, in a post apocalyptic way. Some cattle were lying on their sides…as we weren’t close, I decided to believe that they were still breathing.

Cattle and sheep farmers are struggling. Deny climate change if you will, but these folks are witnessing it first hand.

Now come the rains

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service announced that the fires were contained on February 12th, 2020. We will hope that this continues. But now we are on to the rains. These rains assisted with putting out many of the fires. I’m sure there is gratitude for the rain, but being from California where we have our annual fire season, followed by our annual mudslide season, I am well aware of the devastation that torrential rains cause on areas already devastated by fire. The ground cover is gone and there is little to hold the soil down as creeks become rivers rushing downhill.

The region along the Golden Highway that were so dry? Well hopefully this rain will be helpful. For other regions like the Shoalhaven Coast, this could cause difficulties with roads for visitors to arrive and depending on where they are with harvest, they could have additional complications. We will continue to follow these regions.

The takeaway

Australians are nothing if not resilient. They will rebuild and find a better way to do things. For many this means the loss of a harvest. That is extremely difficult, watching an entire year of work disappear. The cellar doors are still open, they still have wine. Much of the reds from last years harvest are still waiting to be bottled and whites just bottled this spring are ready to be poured. Support the industry and these people. Visit if you are able and if not search out their wines.

For more…

You can read more on our visit to Australia and our #ouraussiewineadventure here on Crushed Grape Chronicles.

You can also find out more about Mudgee, New South Wales and Australian Wine regions in general at these sites.

You can look forward to more in depth pieces on with winemakers we spoke with as well as our visit to the Orange & Hunter Valley Regions of New South Wales.

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Mudgee Region with Cara George

Riesling vine at Robert Stein Vineyard Mudgee NSW Australia

While visiting Australia in October of 2019 to attend the Wine Media Conference, we had the opportunity to meet and speak with Cara George the CEO of Mudgee Region Tourism.

We visited Mudgee before the conference and soaked in the feel of this wonderful inland town where they are growing so many different varieties of wine grapes. We tasted Zinfandel with David Lowe of Lowe Wines, Italian varieties sipping Prosecco with Col Millott at First Ridge, did a morning visit to Robert Stein where they make some astoundingly good Riesling and sipped Spanish varieties with Sam at Vinifera. Yes, that’s a wide range of wines! Mudgee has a little something for everyone.

The town itself makes you want to disconnect from everything. It’s a place to stroll, eat great food, find a great shop and of course enjoy some great wines. You will want to keep your phone handy though, for photos. Picturesque spots abound. You’ll be ready to send pictures to everyone you know, but you won’t want to leave.

This is Australia, and this year (2020) they are struggling. Unless you have been living under a rock, you are aware of the fires. Well the fires are a result of drought and this has been tough on the vineyards.

The thing is, they are still open for business and you can support them by getting out to visit. What? You are not in Australia you say? Well get yourself to a wine store and buy some Australian wine. Ask for wines from wineries other than Yellow Tail! Increase the demand for these wines. Drink them and talk about them. That’s what we plan to do. Wine is a product that takes months to years to be ready for sale, so you will find these wineries have white wines available that were bottled this spring and reds that may be anywhere from the 2013 to the 2018 harvest, not to mention older bottles of sparkling or sweet wines. There is plenty of wine that they have ready for you to enjoy.

Cara George CEO of Mudgee Region Tourism, told us that they are doing a campaign in February around Valentine’s Day called “Feel the Love in the Mudgee Region”.

#Feelthelove

Visitors are encouraged to live their own love story in Mudgee Region – sharing experiences with their friends and families and on social media using @mudgeeregion #feelthelove

Feel the Love experiences and packages are available from 14 February through to 30 June. To view all the FEEL THE LOVE experiences and packages, and to create your own love story, visit mudgeedeals.com.au
For more information on Mudgee Region visit visitmudgeeregion.com.au

Mudgee Region is loved as a contemporary country destination, infused with art and music, serving quality produce and wine and shaped by a strong sense of community. Visitors are encouraged to connect right across the region, including the townships of Mudgee, Gulgong, Rylstone, Kandos and beyond, to enjoy a vibrant yet intimate setting. Located less than 270km northwest of Sydney, the fuss-free journey is all part of the experience, and what awaits is a stunning mix of charm and sophistication. It’s just a 3.5- hour drive from Sydney, or 45-minute flight from Sydney airport.

mudgee Region Tourism

Get out and explore Australian wines. There is so much more than Yellow Tail Shiraz my friends!

For more information on Mudgee…

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Exploring New South Wales – Mudgee #ouraussiewineadventure

Vinifera Vineyard Sunrise Mudgee NSW Australia

During #ouraussiewineadventure in October we traveled to the Mudgee Region of New South Wales to spend a day exploring the town and the wineries that surround it.

Mudgee, through the fires and the drought, is still open for business!

From the beginning, I want to acknowledge that they are having a tough year, as is all of Australian wine country. Mudgee, like most regions has been impacted by the drought and the bush fires. While the fires are not directly in the vineyards, they must deal with the smoke, the increased lack of water, the slowing of tourism during the fires and on a more personal level, many employees and their families may be directly affected by the fires.

The thing is, they are still open for business and you can support them by getting out to visit. What? You are not in Australia you say? Well get yourself to a wine store and buy some Australian wine. Ask for wines from wineries other than Yellow Tail! Increase the demand for these wines. Drink them and talk about them. That’s what we plan to do. Wine is a product that takes months to years to be ready for sale, so you will find these wineries have white wines available that were bottled this spring and reds that may be anywhere from the 2013 to the 2018 harvest, not to mention older bottles of sparkling or sweet wines. There is plenty of wine that they have ready for you to enjoy.

#Feelthelove

Cara George CEO of Mudgee Region Tourism, told us that they are doing a campaign in February around Valentine’s Day called “Feel the Love in the Mudgee Region”.

We are waiting with open arms to welcome visitors. #feelthelove

Cara George, CEO Mudgee Region Tourism, January 29th, 2020

We will use this post to tell you about this region, to fill you in on it’s beauty, it’s people, it’s wines. But you can expect that we will be following up with details on the struggles that they are facing and how they are dealing with it.

Mudgee

Mudgee is a wine region in New South Wales. It sits inland from the Blue Mountains and on the West side of the Great Dividing Range. The city is the 2nd oldest settlement West of the Blue Mountains, established in 1838.

In the 1870’s two gold rushes swelled the areas population. The downtown area is picturesque with plenty of heritage listed buildings. It is a great place to stroll and enjoy the shops and food, but don’t miss getting out of town to the surrounding vineyards.

Wine in Mudgee

The name Mudgee means “nest in the hills” in the aboriginal tongue. The name comes from the perimeter of hills that create a “nest”. Grapevines were first planted here back in 1858 by German settlers. Most vineyards are found on the gentle slopes, where you get beautiful vistas. This nest does have it’s downfalls as it can have frost prone pockets.

We drove through the Great Dividing Range from the Hunter Valley to get here and the climate here is very different. There is no maritime influence and bud burst is later here due to the cold nights.

Rainfall is lower here. If you are aware of the bush fires and the current severe drought being felt across New South Wales, you realize how much of an issue that is. Irrigation is essential here, and with the drought they are running low on water to irrigate with.

Harvest here will run a full month behind harvest in the Hunter Valley to the east. It’s warm in summer and autumn. They are at 32 degrees south here and prime wine growing regions sit between 30 and 50 degrees, so they are the warmer edge. Luckily, they sit at about 1476 feet, which helps moderate the heat.

You will find a little more than 40 cellar doors in the area and a wide range of wines, from rieslings to zinfandel.

Lowe Wines

  • David Lowe of Lowe Winery in Mudgee Australia
  • Lowe Wines in Mudgee Zinfandel Vines bush trained
  • Zinfandel Vines with leaves just coming out at Lowe Wines Tinja vineyard in Mudgee Australia
  • Lowe Wines in Mudgee Australia Cellar Door

Our first stop as we drove into Mudgee, was a visit with David Lowe at Lowe Wines. David is growing bio-dynamically and is a proponent of Slow wine. We had a fascinating conversation with him in his beautiful and busy tasting room. After wondering the property with the map they provide in tasting room to see the orchard, the compost, the gardens etc…we left with a bottle of Zin. Yep…he is well known for his Zinfandel. You can see some of our interview with David:

The Parkview Hotel, Mudgee

We headed back into town to check into our lodging. We were guided on our choice by the suggested accommodations for the Post Wine Media Conference Tour that we were unable to join. (3 tours…we couldn’t do them all, so we came early!)

We found the Parkview Hotel, just off of the main area of town overlooking a quiet park. This historic building, originally built in the 1870’s, had recently reopened after extensive renovations. It retains it’s historic charm while adding modern conveniences. They have a cafe, which sadly was not open when we were there mid week. Our suite was easily accessible on the main floor, a boon as we needed to do some repacking! There is a lovely wrap around veranda on the 2nd floor, which they made us aware of upon check in and encouraged us to enjoy. We did. With a bit of time before our sunset meeting, we sat and enjoyed the quiet of the park, with blossoms dropping from the trees and scattering and drifting across the floor of the veranda. It’s was the perfect peaceful break in the afternoon.

First Ridge Wines

  • First Ridge Wines in Mudgee NSW Australia
  • First Ridge Mudgee NSW Australia
  • The drive to the cellar door at First Ridge Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Sipping First Ridge Prosecco with Col in Mudgee NSW Australia
  • The last rays of sunset from First Ridge in Mudgee NSW Australia

Sunset found us at First Ridge, taking in the amazing views over Prosecco with Col Millott. Here they focus on Italian varieties; fiano, vermentino, pinot grigio, sangiovese and barbera. Col, the viticulturist, met us as their cellar door on the vineyard. It was after hours, being at sunset and he kindly drove back to the property and opened up their modern cellar door, that is made from 2 shipping containers.

They are located South East of the city of Mudgee and from their location you can truly see the “nest” that this valley is. Michael set up cameras to catch the views and Col opened up the walls of the cellar door and poured some Prosecco for us to sip while we chatted.

You will have to watch for our interview with Col that will be coming out later.

The sun set, and as the light began to fade, we gathered up the equipment and let Col get home for the day.

Dinner at the Red Heifer

We had planned a spot for dinner, but Col suggested the Red Heifer at the Lawson Park Hotel. It was a beautiful evening and the walk felt good.

The town of Mudgee is really a bit enchanting. By the time you get here, you have driven through quite a bit of bush and for me at least, it was a relief to see civilization. As we pulled into Church Street the town oozed charm. In the mid day sun, the parking spots along the streets were full and the town hummed with people making their way from shop to shop. Now in the evening it was quieter. The streets were mostly empty and the dark sky was pierced by the light of the clock tower. We strolled, taking it all in, until hunger pushed us to move a bit faster.

We arrived at Lawson’s and found the Red Heifer. The bar and restaurant are separate, so we grabbed a glass of local wine from the bar and, too tired to grill our own, (which is what the place is known for) we went simple with some fish and chips. It was seat yourself, casual and comfortable with the wall painted to show you all the best cuts of beef.

Full and happy, we strolled, a little more slowly now, back to the hotel.

Sunrise at Vinifera

  • Sunrise in Mudgee over the vines at Vinifera
  • Sunrise at Vinifera in Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Spring Vines at Vinifera
  • New green on the vines at Vinifera Mudgee NSW Australia
  • The winery at Vinifera Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Vinifera's award winning Cabernet Sauvignon Mudgee NSW Australia
  • The Giant Corkscrew in front of Vinifera that matches their logo Mudgee NSW Australia

Sunrise was out at Vinifera Vineyards, which is near Lowe Wines and across from the airport. We shivered in the cool morning, arriving early as always to catch the first rays over the vineyard. It was cloudy, so we caught bits as it broke through the clouds. Some of the vines were just hitting bud break here. We ventured back later in the day to do a tasting with Sam, daughter of Tony and Debbie McKendry who planted the vineyard in 1994 and still run it today. She has stepped in as the second generation here at the vineyards. But first…there was breakfast to be had.

Alby + Esthers

The Wine Media Conference would return here with a group after the conference. We could not join them, but we did grab their itinerary as a guide. They would be breakfasting at Alby + Esthers so we figured we would give it a try.

The entrance is a brick archway down an alley between shops. You feel like you are sneaking into a spot others might miss. The space opens to a courtyard between the buildings with small seating areas next to an open door into the cafe proper. There are a few seats inside, but why on earth would we not want to enjoy this enchanting garden. Words, don’t do the place justice. You’ll have to settle for some photos.

In addition to being a great spot for breakfast, they are open as a wine bar in the evening. With the lights strung over this cozy courtyard garden, I image that would be pretty amazing.

Now it was time to try to fit in another tasting or two, before heading back to the Hunter Valley.

Robert Stein – Riesling

We headed north out of the city to Robert Stein. It was still early and we were likely to be the first people in the tasting room. We pulled up out in front of the rustic looking cellar door, and took in the cloud filled sky, then strolled down to visit the vines.

Robert Stein is known for Riesling. I know, when you think of Australian Riesling, you might think of the Clare Valley and Eden Valley in South Australia, but you will find some award winning riesling from this Mudgee winery. The Stein family brought the first cuttings of Rhine Riesling to Australia, that actually survived, back in 1838, planting them south west of Sydney.

In 1976 the Stein family took up wine again, establishing Robert Stein vineyard here in Mudgee. The vineyard grew with the help of their son Andrew and now the 40 year old vines continue to thrive with their grandson Jacob Stein at the helm as chief winemaker.

  • The Robert Stein Cellar Door under a beautiful sky Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Riesling vine at Robert Stein Vineyard Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Stein's Wines cellar door entrance at Robert Stein Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Inside the Cellar door at Robert Stein
  • So many varieties and styles at Robert Stein
  • Robert Stein's award winning dry riesling. Mudgee NSW Australia

Stuart in the tasting room took us through a wide range of their wines, which include styles for every palate in varieties including: cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, chardonnay, semillon, pinot noir, gewurztraminer, riesling, sparkling wines, dessert and fortified wines. Their dry Riesling is the star, with multiple awards and medals.

They also have a motor cycle museum and the Pipeclay Pumphouse Restaurant, which we sadly did not have time to visit. We packed a couple of bottles (sadly the suitcase is only so big), and got ready for another drive.

More information on Mudgee

Our drive then would take us back to the Hunter Valley for the Wine Media Conference, where we had an opportunity to speak with Cara George, the CEO of the Mudgee Region Tourism. We look forward to sharing with you our interview with her, where she gives us an overview of the Mudgee Region. For more information visit:

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

How to measure a year – 2019, specifically..

Calendar

Years….they used to take forever! No longer. Now they often seem to speed by in a blur. The coming of the New Year makes me nostalgic. I sit warm, happy with a full belly and I remember that this is not to be taken for granted. Time for a little reflection and gratitude.

I head to social media to reflect on the year. Remember the days when we had journals or diaries or a box of photos? Well, technology has allowed us to share those memorable moments, both big and small.

Instagram is my go to photo journal. So I’m sifting through to give you an idea of my year…holy crap there are alot of wine photos! LOL!

The Quiet Time

My photo essay of the beginning of my year…snow, studying, a Valentines Day on the ice, new Ramen places, hiking at Mount Charleston, beautiful sunsets, reading by the ocean in Carlsbad, high tea with friends, the super bloom in San Diego, a blind tasting event and of course, Loki. Okay…that gets us through the quiet months.

Double click on any of the photos for a larger picture and perhaps a bit more information.

The Scenic Route

We did our typical drive a million miles summer vacation. This year it was named “The Scenic Route”. It took us from Vegas to Tahoe, to Mount Shasta, to Southern Oregon, through the Columbia Gorge to the Yakima Valley, Walla Walla and then back through the Willamette, down to the Applegate Valley and finally to Yosemite before traveling home. We met incredible winemakers, saw beautiful scenery and vineyards and while we shared the overall story of our trip this year, you can look forward to many more in depth pieces on the places we visited this year.

Studying

Then we rested…that should be what I write next. But no. This was crunch time for me. I had been studying all year to take my test to become a Certified Specialist of Wine. After a 13 week course and then months of additional study I hoped I was ready. I was…

#OurAussieWineAdventure

Now was it time to rest? Nope. We were off to the Wine Media Conference in October. Social media got to see much of our trip…there are still interviews and articles to be written in the new year. Here is a glimpse of our travels through New South Wales Australia. We dubbed it #OurAussieWineAdventure.

So, exhausted and exhilarated, we returned. At this point the holiday’s approached and our 2nd Annual 12 Days of wine celebration was at hand.

12 Days of Wine

Here is a link to that page. 12 Days of Wine 2019. You’ll find fun video reveals and details about each of the wines there.

Now we’ve come to the end of the year. It was a full year. We have writing to do video’s to create and tons of content to share with you. And…there will be new adventures. For right now…I’m going to relax and then day dream about what the New Year might hold.

Want more details on some of these great spots?

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

National Zinfandel Day with an Aussie Zin from Lowe

Lowe Wines in Mudgee Australia Zinfandel

Hmm…is that allowed? National Zinfandel Day is celebrated in the US and is supported by ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers). While the majority of Zinfandel is grown in California, where it arrived around 1850, it can be found around the world. You’ll hear about Primitivo in Italy. Is it the same as Zinfandel? Well, they both are clones of Tribidrag from Croatia that migrated and evolved in their new locations.

Zinfandel from Australia

Lowe Wines – David Lowe

Our Zin for Zinfandel day is from Lowe Wines in Mudgee Australia. We spent an afternoon with David Lowe at the winery when we visited Australia. He is fascinating to speak with about many things, but we tried to keep our conversation to wine.

In Australia, Zinfandel is not one of their top grapes, but you will find it doing well in the Barossa Valley, Riverina, McClaren Vale & Mudgee. So how did David Lowe get into wine and then into Zinfandel? After deciding to be a winemaker at 15, David at one point went to work for a wine company and was exposed to wines from around the world. He even met Robert Mondavi. With his boss he tasted, the 20 top rated wines in the world at that time, 9 of which were biodynamic or organic. That had him hooked. In the 2000’s the biodynamic conference in Australia really gave him the information he needed to take his property that direction. 20 years later, they are still constantly improving on their biodynamic/organic property.

David Lowe of Lowe Winery in Mudgee Australia
David Lowe of Lowe Winery in Mudgee Australia

David fell for the wines of Sonoma and Dry Creek. The best Zins in California come from Lodi, Paso Robles, Amador County or Sonoma. He met Fred Peterson of Peterson Winery, who became a mentor for him.

David’s Mentor – Fred Peterson

Fred Peterson began as a viticulturalist developing vineyards in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek in 1983. In ’87 he launched his winery. His philosophy is Zero Manipulation. He is an iconoclast and farms with low tech and high attention. His style leans toward old world style and he is well respected in California.

Fred came to Lowe and suggested that they plant Zinfandel. Like California, they found quartz soil here, which is common to gold mining areas. This quartz soil holds minerals and is well drained, good for grapes. When Fred suggested planting Zin, he told them to “treat it badly”.

Head pruned/bush trained vines

Lowe Wines in Mudgee Zinfandel Vines bush trained
Lowe Wines in Mudgee Zinfandel Vines bush trained

Zin can often have huge bunches that can get to over 3 pounds. They can be massive and have great difficulty with humidity causing mold and disease late in the season. To keep the bunches smaller, they head pruned. This keeps the vines low to the ground in kind of a bonsai style. The bunches and berries stay smaller, with tougher skins and a greater skin to juice ratio. This also allows for better airflow in the vine, keeping the humidity issues down.

Planting density and spacing for tractors

Bush trained vines at Lowe Wine in Mudgee Australia
Bush trained vines widely spaced at Lowe Wine in Mudgee Australia

In planting density they went 10 by 10 feet (or 3 x 3 meters). Some of this has to do with tractors. Newer regions, plant vineyards to fit the tractors. In the old world, the vineyards came first, so you will see tractors built to fit the vineyards. Here the 10 x 10 spacing with the bush vines allows them to mix up their tractor drives. It’s not just one row that you are constantly driving back and forth between the trellis’. Here they can mix it up, driving 8 different paths between the vines (think like cutting a pie!)

Zinfandel in the Lowe Vineyard

Zinfandel Vines with leaves just coming out at Lowe Wines Tinja vineyard in Mudgee Australia
Zinfandel Vines with leaves just coming out at Lowe Wines Tinja vineyard in Mudgee Australia

The vineyards for the Zin sit near the cellar door at 500 meters (1640 feet). We walked the block that is in front of the winery. It was early spring and we were just a little past bud break, with the knarled vines, just tipped with green.

This region, sitting on the western side of the Great Dividing Range, starts it’s season a little later than the more coastal areas. While in Shoalhaven, Southern Highlands and driving through the Hunter Valley, we saw lots more green on the vines. Here the higher altitude and the location inland, keep the bud-break a little later.

Local artist Rachael Flynn was commissioned to illustrate the tour via a map which is available at the cellar door.
Local artist Rachael Flynn was commissioned to illustrate the tour via a map which is available at the cellar door.

They have a map for a wine walk that takes you around the biodiverse property, through the fruit orchard, past the compost and bird habitat through the vineyard blocks and nut orchard. We strolled taking in the space. Cloud covered but still dry, the skies were overcast while the brown dirt in the fields belied the fact that it was spring. Just in front of the winery there were planter boxes filled with vegetables and greens. The patio had a trellis’ roof covered in vines. There were tables and games in a stand of stone pines down the drive for picnicers.

The Zin House

Lowe Wines in Mudgee Zinfandel
Lowe Wines in Mudgee Zinfandel

We did not have time to visit the Zin House, the farmhouse restaurant on property run by David’s wife Kim Currie. This is local food, centered around their biodynamic garden, served with Lowe wines as well as other local wines. Alexander, Kim and David’s son, oversees the cellar and wine selection for the restaurant. We met him the following day as he stopped in while we were speaking with Sam at Vinifera Wines. This is a small community and the comradery between businesses is wonderful to see.

Lowe Wine Zinfandel Style

Lowe 2016 Zinfandel Mudgee Australia
Lowe 2016 Zinfandel Mudgee Australia

The style of Zin they make a Lowe is more elegant. It is not the big jammy Zins (you remember Tobin James). These are lighter and more elegant. They are hand-harvested from 5 head trained blocks around winery from biodynamic fruit. They ferment in was lined concrete fermenters. The label says they are “naturally brewed with indigenous yeast from the vineyard”. These age in 4500 L American oak casks for 2 years and are unfiltered and unfined. This wine does sit at 15.2% abv.

2016 Lowe Zinfandel

I remember David speaking of loving the smell of Christmas Cake in Zinfandel. At the time, my translation of that was “fruit cake”. I remember my mother making fruit cake when I was a child. All those bright died colored squares of some kind of fruit. The blue pieces scared me a little. But Christmas Cake….well that conjures pictures of the party at Fezziwig’s! There’s a little more depth just thinking of that cake. It’s not one that I have actually tasted, but I know the smell now, from dipping my nose in that glass. (Confession…we are early decorators for the holidays and I smelled and sipped this wine in a tree lit room…for research, of course).

The nose on this wine is big. It is dried fruits, like raisins and currants all plumped up in brandy and spices. Yep, Christmas Cake. The nose is almost syrupy.

Lowe 2016 Organic Zinfandel from Mudgee Australia by the tree
Lowe 2016 Organic Zinfandel

After a whiff, I looked at the glass on the table, backlit by the tree and could see the ruby color with the light shining through. I think after that nose, I was surprised that the light came through. Then I swished it in my mouth. Here came the elegance. The mouth feel was vibrant and medium weight and those red tones certainly indicated a level of acidity. The tannins were lightly chewy and smoothed out gradually. When I stuck my nose back in I found a bit of mint behind all those plump raisins and some cooked berries with baking spices.

Michael had made some homemade chili early that day, and we curled up on the couch with this wine, the chili, the tree and a little late night TV. I closed my eyes briefly and did a little virtual revisit to Mudgee. Here’s a bit for you.

A virtual stroll at Lowe Wines

We visited Mudgee while we were in Australia for the Wine Media Conference in October on #OurAussieWineAdventure. For more information on the region you can visit the following sites

Visiting Lowe Wines

If you make your way to Mudgee and want to find Lowe Wines head out to Tinja Lane just outside Mudgee,

327 Tinja Lane, Mudgee NSW 2850

where they are open daily from 10-4:30 for tastings that their cellar door. They also have tasting platters available from 11-3.

Happy Zinfandel Day!

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