Prosecco: Bubbles from Northern Italy’s lush green hills

The picturesque landscape full of vineyards around the town of Valdobbiadene, an area renowned for its sparkling wine, Prosecco

Prosecco.  Those easy-going bubbles from Italy.  There is a history here that goes back 2000 years.  The wines of these steep lush green hills have evolved into the bubbling beverage that is easy to drink and has an unexpected depth of history. Join us as we dive in deep, to Prosecco and further into the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

Prosecco

Map of Italy
Map of Italy (Albachiaraa, Adobe Stock)

Prosecco comes from the Northeast part of Italy, from Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia.  The wine is made primarily from the grape glera, which has been grown here since the Roman Empire. 

The Prosecco DOC spans 4 provinces in Friuli Venezia Giulia: Gorizia, Pordenone, Trieste and Udine; as well as 5 provinces in Veneto: Belluno, Padua, Treviso, Venice and Vicenza.  There are two special titles, Prosecco DOC Treviso and Prosecco DOC Trieste that can be used if the harvesting, wine-making and bottling all take place entirely within these regions.

North Italy Administrative Map (lesniewski, Adobe Stock)

The history

The name Prosecco, is first heard in reference to a town on the far north east of Italy.  It’s that region, sitting on the east side of the Adriatic Sea, surrounded by Slovenia. This tiny sliver on the coast on the Gulf of Trieste is the home to the village of Prosecco which is now a suburb of the city of Trieste. It sits 249 meters above the sea.

References have been found to histories of Pliny the Elder that tell us that the “Pucino” wine from the Prosecco area were a favorite of Empress Livia (wife of Emperor Octavian Augustus).  She lived from 58BC to 29AD and claimed this wine was what enabled her to live such a long life.

Picturesque hills with vineyards of the Prosecco sparkling wine region between Valdobbiadene and Conegliano; Italy. (W Jarek, Adobe Stock)

It appears there is a long history of Prosecco.

The grape “glera”

The grape for Prosecco wines was long simply called “prosecco”.  In 2009 the name was officially changed to “glera”.  There was so much of this grape being grown world wide, the region needed to make the change to protect the region.  Now the grape is “glera” and the wines from this specific region are “Prosecco”.  You will still find some producers around the world calling their wine Prosecco.  (particularly in Australia). 

Prosecco white grapes (glera) on a vineyard before harvesting in Valdobbiadene hills. Veneto. Italy (W Jarek, Adobe Stock)

Glera is the primary grape for this wine.  It is a white grape and it produces long golden colored bunches of grapes.

85% of the wine in a Prosecco must be from glera.  They do allow other grapes to fill out the rest including: Bianchella, Chardonnay, Glera lunga, Perera, Pinot Blanco, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Nero and Verdiso.  If they use Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) it must not have skin contact, it must be vinified like a white wine.

Vines for Prosecco are found between the Dolomites (the Northern Italian Alps) and the Adriatic Sea.

Dolomites view in Val di Funes, Italy, (IRoma, Adobe Stock)

The styles of Prosecco

The Italian Method

When you think of Prosecco, you will be thinking of the Spumante style.  It is the most famous, made in the Italian Method which is also called the Martinotti Method or metodo Italiano.  If you are familiar with sparkling wine making techniques you can think of this as the Charmat, Tank method or cuve close. The method began in Italy, created by Federico Martinotti in 1895, the Frenchman Eurgene Charmat further developed this method in 1907.

This method to create bubbles, places the fermented base wine in a pressurized tank or autoclave.  Sugar and yeast are added (the liqueur de tirage) and the tank is sealed and pressurized.  So as the wine ferments for a second time (all those yeasties gobbling up the sugar and tooting out carbon dioxide) the CO2 in forced into the wine.  This method gives you bubbles, at a level of 2 to 4 atmospheres of pressure (compared to Method Traditional, like Champagne where you get 5-6 atmospheres of pressure).

Sweetness levels

Prosecco can vary in sweetness from Brut to Extra Dry to Demi-sec, brut being the driest.  This is achieved by reducing the temperature at the end of the secondary fermentation, when the desired sweetness level is achieved.  (Kill the yeast with cold, before they finish eating all the sugar.)

They do make two other styles, Frizzante which has very light effervescence and Tranquillo or still.

The different styles will give you different aromas.  Frizzante has notes of wisteria and lemon, while Spumante has apple, banana and rose.

I will mention that I have heard of wineries in Prosecco producing with the traditional method, with secondary fermentation in the bottle. That’s something more to explore.

Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG

A step up from the Prosecco DOC is the Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG.  Grown on steep hillsides between the two towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, these are some of the most concentrated Proseccos.

View of the green Prosecco wine hill – Saint Martin Temple – Tempio di S. Martino – Conegliano Valdobbiadene – Strada del Prosecco (RedB4, Adobe stock)

Conegliano is the home to Italy’s first school of winemaking – The School of Oenology was founded in 1876.

The region is stunning with green hills, southern facing slopes, great drainage.  They get a daily rain shower followed by gently winds that dry the grapes so they don’t develop mold or disease.  It sits between 50 and 500 meters above sea level, with micro climates that allow variety and nuance in the wines.  Overall winters are long but not too cold, as the Prealps protect the area from the cold north winds. Summers are hot but breezy.  They also have a good diurnal shift with a 12- to 14 degree difference in day and night time temperatures in the harvest season.  This helps to set the lovely aromas in the wine.

Vineyard field in Conegliano. Autumn season. Italy (frimufilms, Adobe Stock)

Vineyards can be 80 to 100 years old and there is biodiversity between the vines that they are working hard to keep.  Subtle variations in the vines allow depth to the wines.  15 years ago the Academy started mapping these differences and taking cuttings to start new mother vines, to preserve this genetic biodiversity.

The hills are steep (up to 70%!) and pulleys are used to haul the buckets of grapes out at harvest.  It takes 600 man hours of work per hectare to make this wine.

The region has 13 villages making Prosecco as well as the flagship area of Cartizze near the village of Valdobbiadene.

Other DOCGs

There are a few more levels, that we won’t explore today, but they are worth mentioning (and well worth getting back to discuss!)

  • Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG – in the Asolo region which was formerly known as Colli Asolani)
  • Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore Rive DOCG – This gets into the nitty gritty of vineyards or communes, of which there are 43! (Can’t wait to dig into that!)
  • Valdobebiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG – This is a select area on the west side of Valdobbiadene of just 265 acres. They see this as the finest land for growing Prosecco in the world (think of it like the Chablis Grand Cru). (Nino Franco does make a wine from this DOCG!)

Nino Franco

Nino Franco Winery since 1919 (https://www.ninofranco.it/en/)

The winery is the oldest in Valdobbiadene at the foot of the Prealps. They have gone through several generations; founded by Antonio, expanded by Nino and then Primo became the pioneer who took Prosecco to the world. 

At the time that Primo was traveling the world, the wines of Valdobbiadene were changing, from that rustic wine to a clean, clear bubbly.  Primo could see that this was the type of wine that the world was looking for at this time. From his first trip to the US in 1979 the Prosecco revolution began. By the end of the 1980’s these wines were found world wide.

Now, his daughter Silvia has taken the reins of the family business, representing the 4th generation of the Franco family in this winery.

Nino Franco was one of the driving forces being the region being recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Rustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

Nino Franco Rustico Valdobbiadene Superiore Prosecco DOCG
Nino Franco Rustico Valdobbiadene Superiore Prosecco DOCG

This wine is called “Rustico” as an ode to the old locale tradition, where secondary fermentation was done in the bottle and the sediment was left in the wine.  While they no longer produce in this way (I would not mind if they wanted to revive this!), they have kept the name.

This wine is an award winner.  As the winery passes it’s 100th this wine was listed as #1 on the 2019 Wine Enthusiast Top 100 list.

The wine sits happily at 11% abv, so feel free to imbibe!  On the nose you get Tropical fruit, stone fruit and pear, with notes in the back of brioche.  In your mouth there is white flowers, pear and salt spray and something else, a little like fresca.

The wine is meant to be enjoyed young, within 18-24 months.  But it’s not the wine for your Mimosa or Bellini.  Go with a Prosecco DOC to mix and enjoy this good stuff on it’s own.

Pumpkin seed encrusted sole and a warm carrot salad

This dinner was another bit of inspiration from Sun Basket.  Let me tell you, they have really pulled me out of a flavor rut.  Today’s dish was “Pumpkin seed-crusted sole with warm carrot salad.

How have I never done a warm carrot salad before?  Michael loves carrots on his salad.  I find them kinda boring, except for their orange color.  But give me rainbow carrots sliced on a diagonal and sauteéd in olive oil and herbs…suddenly carrots in a salad are sexy.  I digress, back to the dish.

The sole was crusted with dry-roasted pumpkin seeds that we chopped up a bit.  It then got sprinkled with the “sazón” seasoning they provided which is a Latin American mix of cumin, turmeric & coriander.

The carrots as I mentioned were sauteéd and then tossed with grape tomatoes, lemon juice, oil, salt, pepper and cilantro.  I put these on a bed of spinach for a little extra green.

Pairing

Suggested pairings were light and delicate foods.  Local pairings would include asparagus and raddichio, as the bitterness contrasts well with fruitier styles.  Young cheeses are suggested.  No bleu cheese!  Spinach and ricotta (I’m picturing a nice ravioli here) would go well.

Quite honestly I am down for bubbles with almost anything.  The sweetness level is where I adjust my pairing.  This wine was lovely with the sole.  It delicately cut through the warmed carrots with their olive oil and worked nicely with the spices.  All in all the bubbles made me sigh and smile.

More: Sources and Resources

We’ve only grazed the surface here.  There is so much more to know about this region, its landscape, soil and wines.  Here are some of our sources as well as  links, where you can find more information.

#TravelinaBottle

How are you coping these days? We are traveling the world, one bottle at a time. Join us here for more #pantrypairings where we #travelinabottle.

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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.

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

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.

Natural Prosecco – Costadila Bianco Vino Frizzante da Tavola

Natural Prosecco

Of the wines that Mathieu told us about at the Farmers Market (the call of natural wine) I was initially most excited about the Natural Prosecco, the Costadila Bianco Vino Frizzante da Tavola from Italy.  I have been reading about Pet Nats and was curious about this wine of a similar style.

First…Pet Nats:  Petillant – Naturel, a natural way of making a sparkling wine.  Rather than adding yeast and sugar to create the secondary fermentation that creates the bubble in Champagne,  (Methode Champenoise) this method called Methode Ancestrale just allows the initial fermentation to finish in the bottle without any additions.  The lees (dead yeast) are left in the bottle where they settle to the bottom.  If you turn the bottle upside down it will make the wine cloudy (think Kombucha).

We opened this bottle on New Years Eve and I will admit, that while I was excited to taste it, New Years probably had me primed for bubbles.  The bottle was capped and had a plastic insert which popped out as soon as the bottle cap was released.  The wine itself was orange tinted and cloudy with savory bits on the nose.  The bubbles quickly dissipated, but the wine still retained that fizzy feeling on your tongue.  The nose was both familiar and strange and at first off putting (again, I think my brain was stuck in Champagne mode).  As the wine opened up, the nose rounded with a comforting waft of barnyard and a bit of warm wet leather.  In my mouth it sat like a light cider with warmth and tartness and a lingering hint of spices and that light tingling sensation on my tongue.

Costadila Bianco in the glass

Natural Prosecco Method Ancestral in the glass

This wine sneaks up on you.  You begin drinking it, contemplating it, and then quietly your mind drifts and you just continue comfortably enjoying it.  It’s like your most comfortable shoes or your favorite pajama’s, or like an old friend, the one you don’t dress up for, the one you don’t mince words with and often sit with comfortably in silence.

So, lesson learned.  I opened this bottle at the wrong time!  Everything has a place. This is not fireworks and New Years Wine, this is curl up in your favorite pj’s with your favorite movie that you are going to watch for the 30th time wine.

Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on natural wines and details on the Farmers Market Wine Club!   You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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