It’s home to 65 vineyards and more than 40 cellar doors, but Mudgee isn’t your typical wine region. Three and a half hours’ drive north-west of Sydney, this laid-back country town prefers you to leave your wine vocab on the highway, ignore the tasting notes and just enjoy a good drop, with good food, by a fireplace.
Located in the Central Tablelands, this pretty – but cold in winter and hot in summer –regional town has an easy charm. And lots of natural beauty. If you’re driving from Sydney, you’ll pass near Rylstone (50 or so kilometres before you get to Mudgee), a historic town dating back to the 1830s. It’s the gateway to the Wollemi National Park – where the thought-to-be extinct Wollemi pine was rediscovered recently, and where Dunns Swamp camping and picnic area is. Visit this unexpectedly dramatic waterway for its sandstone canyons, wetlands and Indigenous culture.
But if wine tasting is more your thing, in Mudgee proper is Burnbrae Wines. It’s owned and run by the affable Trine and Andy Gay. Wander up to the old-dance-hall-turned-cellar-door and you’ll probably be greeted by the chief customer service officer, Bonnie the dog. Andy explains Bonnie has strict KPIs; mainly tail wagging. But you’re not just here for the dogs and dad jokes – Burnbrae’s headliners are its easy-drinking whites and an award-winning shiraz.
Trine has been responsible for adding two varieties of sparkling to the Burnbrae offering (the Lucky Find cuvee is appropriately named), while Andy’s pet project is the new 548 Burnbrae Lager. The duo has recently introduced a tasting flight that pairs four 75-militre glasses with local cheeses and charcuterie – chardonnay with a sharp, crumbly cheddar; shiraz with smoked, spicy chorizo; and cabernet sauvignon with a wedge of creamy blue.
If you’re here on a Sunday you can order pizza instead and while away the afternoon lazing on the grass. Book the rustic on-site Winemaker’s Cottage, complete with fireplace, ahead of time so there’s no need to drive anywhere if you don’t want to.
Alternatively, luxury glamping retreat Sierra Escape is a 20-minute drive out of Mudgee. It's set on a beautiful 280-acre property that features wildlife, ridges and creeks. The high-end tents have king-size beds and glass sliding doors to take in the views of the surrounding bush. They sit on top of a hill and offer panoramic views of the valley.
Another charming family-run vineyard is Rosby, a 15-minute drive north of the town centre. Stop in for a tasting of shiraz, cabernet sauvignon or rosé in Kay and Gerry Norton-Knight’s garden. While Gerry’s in charge of the vines, Kay organises an annual sculpture exhibition (held on the second weekend in October) and runs art workshops throughout the year.
If you’re keen to try a range of local wines without having to leave your bar stool, head into town for an evening at Roth’s Wine Bar. There are more than 100 regional drops to choose from under the roof of this historic converted terrace, which was originally a general store selling “under the counter” beverages. It’s now the oldest continually operating licensed venue in the state and hosts live music in the “shed” out the back on Friday and Saturday nights. (Gin drinkers should take the opportunity to also sample local Baker Williams gin at the bar or, better yet, make time to visit its cellar door on Henry Lawson Drive for the full range of spirits, which includes whisky and a surprisingly delicious lemon-myrtle liqueur.)
There’s more live music at Mudgee Brewery, as well as six signature beers, a range of seasonal brews and a fireplace. The food’s good, too; new chef Aaron Cole is responsible for menu additions such as the whole pork crackling entrée and the chicken schnitzel coated with spent grains from the brewing process.
Come daybreak, look for the curved, wrought-iron gates on Market Street to lead you to the pretty courtyard of Alby & Esthers in a sandstone terrace from 1873. Good for brunch, it has a short menu offering the likes of chilli-and-fennel-marinated local mushrooms with organic poached egg on sourdough, and the Esther’s jaffle, with smoked ham, egg, cheese and relish. The coffee is by Yarrabin Road Roasters and is arguably the best in town.
Browse Mudgee’s storefronts and you’ll find a mix of cute and stylish boutiques, such as Loft (sister store to the Clovelly flagship in Sydney’s eastern suburbs) and Whatever (which stocks everything from Australian-made jewellery and candles, to clothing and contemporary art). Stop in at Cedar Cicada to admire Lucy Thane’s curated collection of furniture and homewares – think hardware by Sibella Court’s The Society Inc, Batch ceramics, Lumira candles, St Albans throws, Voyage Maison cushions, Marble Basics trivets and Big Chop boards.
Located on the Robert Stein Vineyard – where winemaker Jacob Stein is making some of the region’s better wines – the Pumphouse kitchen is run by chef Andy Crestani and offers produce-driven dishes such as house-made charcuterie; goat’s cheese croquette with celery, pear and walnut; and gnocchi with duck and juniper ragu. There are three customisable degustation menus – it’s seriously great value.
There’s plenty more vineyards to visit as you head back home towards Sydney. Check out the riesling – and the view – at Moothi Estate, pick up a bottle of Ridge of Tears shiraz and Clementine pinot gris at upmarket Logan, and visit the shipping container cellar door at First Ridge, home to Italian varietals such as barbera, sangiovese and fiano. Viticulturalist Colin Millott says the climate is perfect for Italian grapes – but also, that’s just what he likes to drink.