Orange is the new black
Orange has found its sweet spot. The cool climate region in the NSW Central Tablelands has reached a point where there’s enough good wine being made to make cellar door visits worthwhile but not so much the places are handed over to salespeople with patchy knowledge of everything but the cash register. Show up at a winery here and chances are you’ll be given a master class by the vigneron.
A lot has gone into developing tourism since the town launched its F.O.O.D. (Food Of the Orange District) program 26 years ago, an initiative that established the town as a culinary destination. Back then there were just a handful of wineries but vinous development is catching up. Today there are 56 vineyards, 32 cellar doors and an increasing local demand for grapes that were once grown under contract for other regions.
Every trail that can be mapped has been, making it easy to pick a theme – museums, heritage, parks and gardens, gold rush, wine – and navigate the district. There’s even a whole range of trails specifically for cyclists.
The Orange Wine Festival runs this year 13-22 October and will showcase the region’s best food and wine experiences. Cellar doors will be open and are mapped along trails as well, some offering classes and teaming up with local food producers for events.
For years the hatted, Lolli Redini was the sole reason for some to come to the town and, although it remains a fine dining drawcard, nowadays there are plenty of other great options. We can vouch for The Agrestic Grocer, Byng Street Local Store, the Old Mill Cafe in Millthorpe and The Old Convent in Borenore as excellent for breakfast and lunch produced by some serious kitchen talent. Speaking of which, ex-Bentley, Sailors Thai and Bistro Moncur Liam O’Brien has returned to the town of his birth as owner and chef of Charred Kitchen and Bar. He’s serving a globally influenced menu cooked on an impressive wood and charcoal fuelled oven. It’s a buzzing, casual space and the food favours local ingredients. It’s a big thing around here.
There’s a wealth of wine knowledge flowing through this region with extensive tastings available at cellar doors. During the festival, there’ll be an elevated tasting with lunch at SeeSaw winery with engaging winemaker Justin Jarrett who has Rain Man-like knowledge of pinot noir clones, their numbers peppering his conversation. (Bring a jacket, it can get cold at 800m altitude). Master classes and ‘wine discoveries’ will be held in other places too including Ferment, an elegant wine shop in the town centre. Or visit Origin Chocolate year round for a delicious crash course in the ‘bean to bar’ process, match chocolate with wine, beer and cheese and make your own customised chocolate bars and truffles.
Although Orange has long been a chardonnay town, beloved by growers for its forgiving character, vineyards are diversifying into grapes including pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, marsanne, riesling and sauvignon blanc. There’s a great range of sparklings being made too. Few will try everything the region offers but there’s fun to be had trying.