Introduction to the Orange wine region

Orange NSW Feature Week

In a hot country like Australia there are two ways to find a cool grapegrowing climate: go south or go up.

Orange is definitely an example of ‘going up’. While Orange is on a similar latitude to Sydney its climate is very different. What makes the difference (apart from being inland, as opposed to maritime) is altitude, and Orange’s delineated wine region ranges in height from 376 to 1390 metres above sea level. It’s often quoted that Orange’s Mount Canobolas is the highest point between the Blue Mountains and South Africa.

Small-scale pioneering vineyards popped up around Orange from the mid-1800s but the wine industry as we know it today had its genesis relatively recently, around 1980.

On the Winkler Index of grapegrowing climates, Orange would be at the warm end of Region 2, in company with such places as Coonawarra, Lenswood in the Adelaide Hills, Hawke’s Bay, Piedmont and Bordeaux.

Needless to say the highest parts, which are on the slopes of the extinct volcano Mount Canobolas, are the coolest and that’s where you’ll find the cool-climate grape varieties such as chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc growing, with the emphasis on production of sparkling wines, delicate whites and pinot noirs. The lower reaches are more suited to those vines that need more sun and heat, such as shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and the many Italian red varieties one now finds in Orange, such as sangiovese, barbera, fiano and vermentino, and the Spanish tempranillo.

Orchards with trees such as apples, cherries and stone fruits are a good indicator for a cool grapegrowing climate, and Orange has had plenty of these ever since the town was established in 1860. When you drive out of Orange towards Mount Canobolas you’re likely to see acres of parachute-liken plastic canopies protecting the fruit trees from hail.

Small-scale pioneering vineyards popped up around Orange from the mid-1800s but the wine industry as we know it today had its genesis relatively recently, around 1980.

The first grapevines were established at Nashdale Vineyard at Nashdale and Sons & Brothers at Millthorpe in the early 1980s. They were followed by the Doyles at Bloodwood, the Cargo Road Vineyard, the Smiths at Canobolas-Smith, and the d’Aquinos at Highland Heritage. Philip Shaw planted the first vines on his Koomooloo vineyard while he was chief winemaker at Rosemount Estate in 1988. Rosemount’s focus was the Hunter Valley but Shaw could already see the writing on the wall. Today he runs Hoosegg in Orange while his sons run Philip Shaw Wines.

Today, there are about 1100 hectares of vineyards (and 300 more in the surrounding, lower-altitude Central Ranges zone). There are more than 60 vineyards and 40 cellar doors to visit.

The highest vineyards on the flanks of Mount Canobolas peak at just over 1,000 metres altitude. The Svenson family’s De Salis Wines owns two vineyards, Forest Edge and Lofty, that both peak at 1,050 metres.

The region also boasts Australia’s first NCOS-certified carbon neutral winery, family owned Ross Hill. Indeed, family wineries are the norm in Orange and no big companies are involved. Tamburlaine is the largest vineyard owner with 700 hectares. Angullong has 220 hectares. Several wineries outside the region do buy grapes from Orange vineyards, however, and some—such as the Hunter’s Pepper Tree—have developed their own vineyards there. Brokenwood has achieved great success with its Forest Edge chardonnays.

The region also boasts Australia’s first NCOS-certified carbon neutral winery, family owned Ross Hill.

As it’s a region of pocket handkerchief vineyards, contract winemakers are among Orange’s secret weapons. Chris Derrez’s Madrez Wine Services makes wine for several small Orange vineyards. Will Rikard-Bell, formerly winemaker at Drayton’s in the Hunter, also makes wine for others in the Orange district as well as his own Rikard label. And recently, Jeff Byrne moved from the Hunter to Orange where he has set up as a contract winemaker as well as planting his own vineyard at Nashdale. Another new arrival is Jonathan Mattick, a former Handpicked Mornington Peninsula winemaker who bought the former Canobolas-Smith Wines and from all reports is breathing new life into one of the region’s iconic and longest established vineyards.

The Orange region is undulating, green and beautiful, the city of Orange modern, growing and flourishing. There are several fine restaurants and places to stay, and Orange is well prepared for the wine tourists who make the trip. As it’s about three hours’ drive from Sydney, it’s not a day-trip destination but worth several days ,or a weekend at the least.

The details

Orange is about three hours’ drive west of Sydney at latitude 33.39 degrees.

The GI is 3,422 km2 in size and has a total of 1,075 hectares of vineyards (1% of the nation’s total).

Main varieties

Grape varietyPercentage planted
Shiraz20%
Chardonnay19%
Sauvignon blanc12%
Cabernet sauvignon10%
Merlot10%

There are 60% red varieties (compared to 64% nationally)

Climate

1991-2020 30-year averages
Mean January temperature21.6°C
Growing season degree days1603
Mean annual rainfall766 mm
Growing season rainfall450 mm

Soils

Orange has four main soil groups. The first are well-drained, friable, deep red-brown clays derived from basalt that are found near Mount Canobolas. Second are deep red-brown, yellow-brown clay loams of mixed origin, including volcanic ash. Both these soil groups promote considerable vigour.

The third is a red-brown podzolic clay loam of medium vigour overlying a medium clay and shale base interspersed with gravel, which assists with drainage. Finally, there are patches of terra rossa associated with visible limestone at the lower elevations.


2 thoughts on “Introduction to the Orange wine region”

  1. Avatar
    Charles Hargrave says:

    Always an interesting discussion – Altitude vs Latitude. For me Latitude wins every time. Altitude guarantees cold winters, but not cool summers. Unlike high latitude regions which have a relatively consistent summer climate, those that rely on altitude, such as the Adelaide Hills and Orange, are more subject to hotter extremes and sudden changes in temperature. This can contribute to a loss of acidity and elegance.

    1. Huon Hooke
      Huon Hooke says:

      Can’t disagree with that, Chilly. There are plenty of examples of heatwaves in the Adelaide Hills, for instance.

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