As more and more of Australia’s regions begin to outshine our coast-hugging cities as culinary destinations and cultural hotspots, NSW’s Mudgee region is leading the charge with amazing food, wine and not-to-be-missed events and festivals.
If you plan on a weekend in Mudgee – make sure it’s a long one. There are just too many extraordinary places to drink and eat (and drink) in just a mere 48 hours. Or maybe just come back and do it all again. Here’s a little guide for the best places to sip, sup and lap up some sunny Mudgee magic.
When speaking with many of Mudgee’s winemakers, restaurateurs and producers, an overwhelming number came searching for a tree change and found it. Andy Crestani, Nathan Williams and Helen Baker, Jess Chrcek and Mike O’Malley, to name a few.
M is for Mudgee Mornings Munching
Mornings mean breakfast or, for those who choose to linger in bed a little longer, brunch. Alby and Esther’s and the Butcher Shop Café are two of the best. Or you can head out to Pipeclay Pumphouse – part of the Robert Stein Winery and Vineyard, where Andy Crestani (formerly of Sydney’s Otto) hosted our bubbly brunch of eggs two ways, including to-die-for gnocchi with a truffle poached egg and bacon.
The setting is nothing short of spectacular, with the restaurant overlooking the dam surrounded by off-the-wall scrap metal sculptures made by Robert Stein and winemaker’s son Jacob.
Baker Williams or would you like Butterscotch Schnapps with that?
When Nathan William’s wife Helen (Baker) insisted they should make butterscotch schnapps just 3 weeks before opening their distillery, he said I can’t. Like all enterprising women, Helen went about creating it herself, and now this golden, addictive liquor is their biggest seller.
If schnapps is not your thing, Nathan and Helen handcraft a range of spirits and liqueurs at their micro-distillery including Wheat Vodka, Cumquat liqueur and a damn fine Limoncello.
When driving through the rolling hills and lush vineyards of the Mudgee region, you can’t not think of Tuscany. Maybe that’s why local wineries like di Lusso Estate are experimenting more and more with Italian grape varieties.
More Italian than most Italians
Rob Fairall of di Lusso Estate is a South African who mysteriously is more Italian than many Italians. Di Lusso is an extremely popular wedding venue. But, if you’re not planning to tie the knot, it is an idyllic spot to spend a lazy afternoon drinking rose while feasting on perfectly thin wood-fired pizzas and delicious antipasti. You can get a little energetic with a game of bocce or just relax and take in the view over the lake, olive and fig trees and the vines.
Di Lusso’s Italian varietals include Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Barbera, Vermentino and Arneis and all are available for tasting at the cellar door. The estate also produces a range of condiments, including fig pastes as well as vincotto and olive oil.
Where do they make the world’s second-best olive oil? Rylstone, of course.
Yes, Rylstone (just a 20-minute drive from downtown Mudgee) is where they make they make olive oil so good it won second place at the World Championships of Olive Oil – the New York International Olive Oil Competition. (The Italians won by just 0.2).
Australian certified organic, Australian owned, and a family company, Rylstone Olive Press has crafted their olive oils to the highest standards, and the proof is in the eating – as a cooking or finishing oil. The welcoming HQ is a stunning homestead crowned with a fragrant bower of trailing wisteria.
When Na Lan met Reg
Once upon a time, regional Australian cuisine meant a choice between a counter lunch at the local or fluorescent Sweet and Sour Pork at the ubiquitous ‘Chinese’. But not anymore in Rylstone.
Serendipity, fate – call it what you will. Na Lan met fellow artist Reg in Beijing and they married on September 29, 1999, hence the restaurant’s name. She quickly found Sydney and Byron Bay didn’t quite replace home. Settling in Rylstone, she called upon a family recipe to make dumplings to supplement the emporium of Chinese art she ran next to the Bridge View Inn. And that’s when the magic happened.
Today, 29 Nine 99 is booked solidly as dumpling lovers can’t get enough of the best dumplings west of the Dividing Range. Silky purses of crab and snow pea, scallop and coriander or water chestnut vie for dumpling of the day with crispy-edged pan-fried lamb and shallots.
Mudgee’s star will continue to rise as a region producing award-winning wine, olive oil and more. As more Sydneysiders discover the area, more boutique accommodation and produce-driven cafes and restaurants will open. But it’s so much more than the cosmopolitan influences which make Mudgee, Mudgee. It is the charm and character that comes from its history and people that will make it continue to thrive … and delight.
The Mudgee Region is a pleasant 3½-hour drive northwest of Australia’s first city, Sydney.
The annual Mudgee Mudfest at Bunnamagoo Estate is Saturday, March 21st – a night of fine wine, food and short films from around the world – all under the stars – http://www.mudfest.com.au/