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…

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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:

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Syrah – a Rhone Grape

Panorama of vineyards at sunrise time, Beaujolais, Rhone, France

Originating in Southeastern France, Syrah was cultivated during the Roman Rule.  It is the child of two not so well know grapes, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche.

Where it’s Grown

First grown in France, and found in particular in the Rhône Valley, it has spread globally and can now be found in Australia, where the call it Shiraz, as well as California, Washington, New Zealand, Argentina, Italy, South African, Spain, Switzerland, Chile and, as I just discovered, Tunisia.

 

(side note on Shiraz…the story goes that the grape was brought to Marseilles in 600BC by the Phocaeans from Shiraz, Persia. Another story has it coming from Sicily with the Roman Soldiers, but UC Davis DNA testing say it was born in Southeastern France)

Climate

Syrah thrives in warm climates where it’s canopies reach for the sky, but it can be grown in cooler climates where it will express itself differently in the glass.  The canes on this vine grown long and will grow down, making it impossible to head train.  It is the one Châteauneuf-du-Pape variety that is allowed to be trellised, otherwise the grapes would be on the ground. The leaves often need to be thinned to let the berries get some sun so they can ripen. In the vineyards it is said, “Syrah likes a view”. Because it is such a vigorous vine, planting it at the top of a hill with poor soils helps to concentrate the berries and temper the rigor of the vines.

Larner Vineyard Syrah

Larner Vineyard Syrah

 

Berries and Bunches

The grapes are typically small clusters with small dark (almost black) berries, but this vine produces them in abundance. The skins are typically thick. Because there are many small berries, when you crush the grape you have lots of skin contact, which can give you bold tannins, and pair that with thick skins and you have a very dark, sometimes almost opaque wine.

Syrah Grapes

Syrah Grapes

Home in the Rhône

Syrah is one of the noble grapes of the Rhône and is second only to Grenache in acres planted in the Southern Rhône. It is of course, the S in a GSM. You find it in the wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape,  and it is the only grape allowed in the famous Côte Rôtie & Hermitage wines in the Northern Rhone. In the Northern Rhone they co-ferment Syrah with small bits of Viognier, adding the beautiful Viognier aromatic and creating a rounder mouthfeel for the wine.

Winemaking Techniques

Syrah is often given an extended maceration, meaning it is often cold soaked for days or longer. This mitigates some of the harsh tannins from those thick skins. It also increases the color, due to the extra time with skin contact, and brings forward the fruit flavors while tempering the herbaceous notes.

 

Oak Aging

Like most reds, Syrah is typically aged in oak.  In American they lean toward French Oak for this, in France and Australia it is often American oak.  In the Rhône, it is more often aged in larger Foudres so it has less oak contact, although sometimes blended with lots that have been aged in small oak barrels.  Quite honestly, this is a beautiful wine and often doesn’t need much oak addition.

 

How long to hold a Syrah?

Typically you can hold a Syrah for up to 10 years.  There are those who will tell you not to even look at the bottle for 5 years, and of course a well made Syrah from the Hermitage might age beautifully much longer, up to 30 or almost 40 years.  And keep in mind that wines can go through closed phases as they age, opening up again later.  This is where owning a Coravin comes in handy.

Tasting…

Adaptable as it is, this grape expresses itself differently depending on the climate. Cooler Climates produce Light-Bodied Syrahs that can have savory notes as well as Olive and Plum. Warmer Climate produce more Full-Bodied Syrahs and you get Cocoa, Licorice and Mint.  But let’s break this tasting down a bit.

Sight

A Warmer Climate Syrah will be dark purple/black and almost opaque.

A Cooler Climate Syrah will be a deep purple burgundy with some translucency.

Aroma

Here we have to break it down a little further.

Primary Aromas (those are the ones that come with the grape which include the terroir)

  • Fruits like Blueberry, Blackberry, black currants or prunes.
  • Spices like black pepper, clove, anise (black licorice) or thyme
  • Floral notes like voilets, geraniums or roses.
  • Herb notes like cedar, eucalyptus, sandalwood or green olive

 

Secondary Aromas (these come from the winemaking techniques)

  • From Oak: Vanilla, tobacco, cocoa, smoke, coffee or coconut.
  • From Fermentation: Rubber, tar, solvents or stem

 

Tertiary Aromas (these come from aging)

  • Leather, cigar box, earth, spices and even truffle

 

Taste

Syrah is considered to be a full bodied wine and is supple.  The tannins (that dryness that you get on your teeth) are medium and it has a medium acidity.

Warm Climate Syrah

  • Dark fruits like blackberry or cherry, smoke, meat, leather, white pepper, licorice, earth.

Cool Climate Syrah

  • Dark Fruits, green olives, black pepper and spice.

Finish

Typical finishes are medium to long in length (that’s how long you can still taste the wine in your mouth)

Pairing Syrah with food

Most often when I have Syrah, I crave bacon.  Salty pork just loves this wine.  Want to have it with desert? I paired a Syrah with dark chocolate bark with fresh rosemary, bacon and a coffee infused sea salt and it was heaven! Pork barbeque is a good bet and if it is a bold Syrah, don’t be shy with the pepper. Stews and braised meats are good if you are drinking Syrah in a blend like a Rhone blend or a GSM.

If you have a lighter Syrah, like one from Washington or Santa Barbara’s Sta. Rita Hills or Santa Maria Valley (where yes it grows very well), think a little lighter. The wine will likely have a bit more acid and can pair with lamb or grilled eggplant.

 

Need a cheese platter?

With a full bodied Syrah look to harder cheeses or stinky cheeses. Bleu cheeses like Gorgonzola, or Stilton and hard cheeses like Parmesan or asiago. Smoked Gouda is one of my favorites with this wine, since the smoke in the cheese often is great with the smoke on the wine. And then charcuterie…well Bacon, and then all sorts of smoked meats.  If you are drinking a Cool Climate Syrah, you might pull out the olives if you get a little of that on the wine’s nose.

 

Quick summary for pairing…

  • Red meats, things that are grilled, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, peppers, black pepper and hard or stinky cheeses!

Syrah is a perfect winter wine, as fellow wine lovers will attest. The kind of wine that you can curl up with. Maybe a nice rich stew, while curled up in a comfy chair, under a blanket with a fire in the fireplace, and a nice book to read. Of course you can enjoy Syrah all year, in the summer with Barbeque is divine, but I love having my nose in a glass, and quietly contemplating it over the course of an evening all by myself.

If you are looking for a Syrah:

  • In France, look to the Rhône:  Côte Rôtie, Hermitage, Châteauneuf du Pape, Languedoc-Roussillon
  • In Washington State, look to Walla Walla, Yakima and the Columbia Gorge
  • In Oregon check out the Rogue Valley
  • In California check out the Russian River Valley, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Paso Robles, and then Santa Barbara from the Santa Maria Valley to the Santa Ynez Valley and Ballard Canyon where it is the flagship wine.
  • In Australia you’ll find it in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.
  • In Spain in La Mancha
  • In Italy in the Basilicata Region in Southern Italy
  • In Chile try Elqui and San Antonia for Cool Climate Syrah and The Colchagua Valley for a mild climate Syrah.
  • In New Zealand on Waiheke Island near Auckland then on the Coast in Hawke’s Bay and a little further south in Wairarapa and Martinsborough.
  • In South Africa you will find it in Paarl, Stellenbosch, Swartland and Robertson.
  • And in Switzerland in Valais.

Collage of Maps

There are tons of wines out there, but just with this one variety you can explore much of the world.  It’s on my list to do this year.  Check back with us for more information on wine and grapes as we continue our journey, learning and chronicling the journey of the grape from dirt to glass!

Want to know more about Syrah?  Try some of the links below. We attended a Seminar on Syrah in Santa Barbara County and listened to wine makers from across the area (and climates) speak.

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