The champagne breakfast at the Pipeclay Pumphouse is stunning: perfectly poached eggs that squirt their silky goodness on field mushrooms when pierced;sour dough toast that comes in thick tranches; the bubbles are perfect and if Jacob Stein were not a first class wine-maker, he could also make a living with his whimsical sculptures dotting the landscape. Don’t underestimate this New South Wales region; there are plenty of things to do in Mudgee.
Alby and Esther’s in the middle of town is another gem: the internal courtyard of a 19-century buildinghas not only a great selection of platters -including a smoked salmon one, complete withlabne and vegetable frittata- but the best sour dough ever was present in most dishes including the Reuben sandwich –which I had. Yes, I am a bread freak and this place did not disappoint.
The weekend rolls under sunny skies, dry atmosphere and in the embrace of vines, figs and olive groves. The owner of Di Lusso’s Estate and restaurant is so attached to his fig trees that he even described them as being ‘clever, much cleverer than grapes’, as he lovingly removes a dead twig here and there. He was referring at the trees ability to adapt. Blue irises grow by the ponds’ edges; families gather around tables for lunch under white umbrellas and the wood fire pizza oven is going full blast to cope with the demand. Di Lusso specialises in Italian varieties and blends.
Is this California? France? Italy?I hear you say?
No, this is Mudgee, NSW. Prime wine growing country,only3.5 hours drive from Sydney. The name Mudgee derives from the Wiradjuri term moothi, meaning ‘nest in the hills’.
The region is made up of four towns – Mudgee, Gulgong, Kandos and Rylstone, has more than 40 cellar doors and is one of NSW’s oldest andlargest wine regions, with the first vines planted in the 1850s. The Mudgee Region is home to the first organically certified vineyard, as well asAustralian chardonnay.
At Logan’s award winning Tasting Room the Vintage ‘M’ Cuvée sparkles like pink diamonds, the preferred drink of Malcolm Logan who started it all.
At Roth’s Wine Bar – Australia’soldest and original small bar, winemakers from the Well Mannered Wine Co, Heslop Wines and Bunnamagoo Estate talk about their lives in Mudgee. There is a core of artists, writers and ex-advertising people here -some originally from the Mudgee region- that worked in Sydney or abroad (Canada keeps cropping up in conversation) for a number of years. They are sophisticated, enterprising and have the combined brainpower and know-how that catapulted this already thrivingrural town-whose original business was sheep and wool- to the hip and vibrant cultural centre that it is today.
A stroll on the main street brings me face to face with members of “Little Wings” a charity that provides free regional flight services for children undergoing Cancer treatment at The Children’s Hospital, Westmead. Thirty “Postie Bikers” were setting off to cover 1200km in six daysin a fundraising effort.
Mike O’Malley tells the story of how Mudfest – taking place in March each year- came about. An advertising man, O’Malley escaped the rat race and settled in Mudgee. But, as the saying goes, you can take the man out of the visual and media world but you cannot take the visuals out of an advertising man. So, he bounced the idea of aMudgee film festival over a glass of wine (or two) and the Mudfest was born. Entries from 36 countries give a good pool of talent to fish from and the Mudfest is now part of NSW’s cultural life.
To continue with the art theme,a visit to Sculptures in the Garden at the Rosby Wines Estate, comes as a treasured bonus. A rival to Sydney’s Sculptures by the Sea, this annual gathering of artists produces an impressive collection from delicate, jewel like works to massive installations such as a grouping of larger than life horses made of found timber collected from around the estate.
These astonishingly powerful horses are the result of a workshop run in Rosby by teacher and artists Sam Valenz and Stephen Hall from the Sydney Gallery School. The rural theme prevailing, I also come face to face with a lively fox stalking some chickens; a sleeping scarecrow dozing against a fallen tree-trunk; working dogs in all their alertness and a variety of galahs dotting the extensive gardens.
Rylstone Olive Press
Just outside Rylstone, a gorgeous pink country house, festooned with flowering wisteria, stuns the visitor with its impeccable floor space featuring award winning olive oils. Rylstone Olive Press premises are so neat, they resemble more of a lab than a working space. Helen Battye –echoing the wisterias in her polo shirt of the same colour -takes us through the steps of olive pressing.
Unlike many of their European counterparts, she says- here the olives are never left to ‘die’ after picking -when irreversible changes affect the outcome. The fruity ‘Cudgegong’, with apple skin undertones and a hint of mint, took Best Olive Oil in the World at the2014’sWorld Olive Oil Show in Los Angeles, a gathering of 22 countries and 600 entries.
Entering Rylstoneproper (a must-stop on your way back to Sydney) an unexpected change of pace wows the traveller. It is not wine, or olive oil but an authentic Yum Cha place nestled in a grand old building’s backyard wheredumplings glisten and tease your palate and six different teas are served to accompany the feast. To top it all,“29-nine-99” has a love story behind it.
Told by co-owner husband Reg – another Australian advertising escapee who came back home to Mudgee to paint – the story of the establishment starts in Beijing where Reg was working. In the late 90s, he spotted a girl in a crowd whom he knew he had to approach.
“She looked like an artist” he says. Lacking the courage to talk to her he lost her in the crowd. The day after, at an art exhibition, he spotted her again (what are the chances of this happening with a population as big as Beijing’s?). She was Na Lan from Xian. She was an artist (his eye did not deceive him) and soon after they were married (on September 9, 1999 –hence the restaurant’ s name).
Mudgee was a bit of a change for Na Lan after Beijing but she decided to create an art filled space where she could offer Yum Cha to visitors. The business is a resounding success.
Anytime of the year is a good time to visit the Mudgee region but October or November, when the wisteria, lavender and irises turn the area into a bucolic Renoir painting is my favourite. Mudgee magic indeed…
The writer was a guest of Mudgee Region.