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Wine country: the Orange NSW varieties to know

Discover how family producers are reviving the regional hub with exciting new drops.
Orange NSW wine varieties

Photo: Alana Landsberry

Alana Landsberry

Flaunting one of the most hedonistic drives to a wine region, Orange has always been a food and drink lover’s paradise. You can stop to pick up award-winning apple pies in Bilpin, forage for native botanicals when you hit the ridge along Bells Line of Road and grab a few handcrafted spirits in Bathurst before you even make it to Orange’s doorstep.

There’s a reason why it has Australia’s longest-running regional food and wine festival, which brings thousands of people to the area each year to experience this flavoursome place.

While Orange is a relatively young wine region when it comes to vine age (the first commercial vines were planted in 1980), there is a sense of community, of bringing people and ideas together, prevalent among the wineries that makes it feel like they’ve all been around for a lot longer.

“We’re really too big to fail now,” says Tom Ward, former president of the New South Wales Wine Industry Association and owner of Swinging Bridge. “We’ve got the right soils, people and vineyards – everyone’s got skin in the game and wants to create a community, so the best fruit is staying in the region and not being shipped out to other places.”

He says the majority of the larger companies walked away in 2007 because of drought and oversupply of grapes, leaving an opportunity for smaller producers to revive the region. “Lots of passionate, like-minded people who question everything are driving innovation and experimentation,” he says.

We see this in the newer generations of Orange winemakers such as Nadja Wallington of Philip Shaw Wines and husband Steve Mobbs from Dreaded Friend, who have built their own wine brand ChaLou, to explore and celebrate the great grapes grown in the area. Also, from younger winemakers guiding the legacy of their parents’ wineries in new directions, such as Will Gilbert from Gilbert Family Wines. Gilbert explains that the family winery is based in Mudgee with fruit primarily grown in Orange, as they like the “lightness, delicacy and freshness fruit from Orange provides”.

This progress of ideas will propel the region even further with the new generations working alongside their parents and other contemporaries in the community. “I had to bash down a few doors with Dad to let me experiment with a few projects that never saw the light of day,” says Gilbert. “But eventually, he was really happy with them – an expression of regionality and varietal focus that maybe wasn’t coming through in previous classic releases.”

People are already starting to notice new life flowing through Orange with well-crafted and aged sparklings and different varieties for the region, such as mourvèdre and cabernet franc seeping through to restaurant lists and retail shelves. With varieties like these and what Ward considers to be “premium chardonnay and pinot noir that can stand up alongside its counterparts from Mornington, Tassie and Margaret River”, there’s never been a more exciting time to discover Orange wines.

The Wiradjuri people are recognised as the traditional owners and custodians of Orange and its vineyards. The Wiradjuri people were a hunter-gatherer society whose movements followed seasonal food gathering and ritual patterns. Their connection to the land spans across most of New South Wales (and has done for more than 60,000 years), making the Wiradjuri nation the most significant cultural footprint in New South Wales and the second largest geographically in Australia.

Bottles from Orange to try

2016 Gilbert Family Wines Blanc de Blancs, $66

The beginning of a new series of sparklings that show just how exciting this style of wine from Orange can be. A rich and developed sparkling, having spent 50 months on lees to give toasty notes, the chardonnay from this cool-climate region provides Granny Smith apple freshness.

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2018 Swinging Bridge Caldwell Lane Block A Chardonnay, $65

The fruit for this wine comes from a single block, a 10-year-old vineyard once owned by the historic Rosemount Estate winery. A quintessential example of premium Orange chardonnay – a firm backbone of acidity makes way for orchard fruit and oyster shell minerality.

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2017 Patina Cabernet Merlot, $45

This wine is a blend of merlot, cabernet, cabernet franc and a small splash of petit verdot grapes. The combination makes for a delightfully layered and complex wine, with fruit-driven and savoury flavours. Blackberry bramble and green olive notes meet plum and blackcurrant flavours.

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2022 The Somm & The Winemaker Mourvèdre, $30

The name comes from the long-time friendship between local winemaker Nadja Wallington and Sydney sommelier (and former Orange gal) Louella Mathews. It was a project that brought the two back together to where it all started, creating something a little different and delicious.

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