Magical Mudgee | Travel
Rightly or wrongly, the Hunter Valley is the place most lauded when you mention ‘wine region’ in the same breath as ‘Sydney’. Whilst the Hunter definitely has an abundance of beautiful vineyards, stunning vistas and plenty of kangaroos, a more refined, undiscovered gem sits in its shadow, approximately 300 kilometres west - and that gem is known as Mudgee.
Mudgee has a population of just 10,923, although with the advent of a booming tourism trade thanks to the aforementioned wineries, this is steadily growing. The name Mudgee is derived from the Wiradjuri term Moothi, meaning ‘Nest in the Hils’ or, ‘mou-gee’, which, appropriately, means ‘contented’. You’ll need a car to get there from Sydney, and the drive takes you through and over the Blue Mountains via Lithgow (where I strongly recommend a stop at vegan eatery-cum-sanctuary, Secret Creek Restaurant).
The Castlereagh Highway is the main road into Mudgee, and it was here that we were confronted with the sombre-sight of carcass upon carcass of kangaroo’s, who had no doubt met an untimely fate crossing the Highway in the dead of night. What was unusual was that I saw more dead roo’s than live ones - in fact, I didn’t see a single live one!
Although this trip was my treat for Ben’s birthday, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t book the Airbnb partly for my own benefit. Patrick and Elizabeth’s place at the foot of Mount Frome is simply magical - a cosy cocoon, consisting of a stone building with squishy leather chairs, books stacked high on shelves and a wood burner to toast your feet during the cold spring nights; open the double doors and you’ll find yourself in the sun-drenched conservatory, which in turn opens out onto a gravel courtyard where a welcome party of three ponies and a herd of rambunctious goats were waiting each morning. Reading the guest book when we first arrived, a previous guest had described in detail how ‘the characters of a story book came alive each morning for my young children - goats with beards, with horns, deer fading in the middle distance and an elusive fox caught in the headlights late at night.’
Staying at Deer Cottage in the first few weeks of spring, we were lucky enough to find the front of the cottage in full wisteria bloom - have you ever seen a more Instagrammable shot?! We felt very much the cliche sat out in stripey deck chairs, a bottle of Logan’s sticky Moscato at our feet, watching the first sunset of daylight savings disappear over the mountain top.
All the Instagram-feels aside, we weren’t in wine country for nothin’, and so visit the wineries, we did! You’re certainly spoilt for choice in Mudgee and there’s no shortage of expert knowledge to help make your stay that bit more interesting, too.
If you like your wine and are in the market to stock up, below is my top five worth visiting and for wiling away a slow afternoon at:
1. Logan Wines - perched on the side of a hill with enviable views of mountain, bush and vineyards, you'll find incredible cheese platters and the best Moscato I’ve tasted (yet!). Logan’s is the first vineyard you get to as you enter the Mudgee region and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Live music on a Saturday arvo, too.
2. Short Sheep Micro Winery - run by a very friendly & welcoming English couple, Tony & Sue, the name of the vineyard is derived from the breed of sheep - Babydoll Southdown Sheep, hailing from Sussex, UK - used to keep the surrounding paddocks neat and tidy. [‘They keep eating, we don’t eat them’ was the enterprise agreement Tony assured me they’d all entered into]. The vibe of this small winery is very much 'pull up a chair and I'll tell you a story'; Tony knows his stuff and he'll walk you through the sustainable practices they pride themselves on, as well as the preservative-free wine they offer alongside regular wine. You can also stay onsite, too, with a studio & cottage available for rent.
3. Moothi Estate - off the beaten track and the closest to our Airbnb bolthole, Moothi has a gorgeous sun-drenched patio and does a mean Ploughman’s. We sampled a Mudgee Pale Ale here, and whilst Moothi don’t stock it themselves, they pointed us in the direction of the Brewery (‘down the road about 5km, and just past the clock tower’) for us to stock up.
4. Gilbert & Family Wines - award-winning Riesling, cheese sampling and lawn bowls await you here under the watchful eye of proprietor Simon Gilbert, a fifth-generation winemaker. Set in a gorgeous Cotswold-stone type building, they also do coffee and cake if you’re all wined-out. We've put their Saturday night Food Over Fire on our list for our next visit - a farm-to-table experience based on seasonal produce and served around large, farmhouse style tables.
5. Lowe Wines - the creme de la creme, we discovered Lowe almost by accident, having stopped in at a tack shop on our way through the Mountains and chatting to a lady there who recommended it. Lowe is an all-organic, small batch winery who pride themselves on their sustainable practices. They also happen to have the best wisteria in the business, making Lowe a destination in itself and one you could while away many sun-soaked hours on its patio. Next door is The Zin House, an award-winning restaurant that we also heard good things about.
Whilst we could have happily have rolled from vineyard to vineyard all weekend, we were wine'd, cheese'd and caffeinated to our eyeballs, and so in a quest to walk off some of our gluttony, we headed for a bushwalk just outside the centre of Mudgee. The Drip Gorge is a short 40-minute round trip, but is a welcome retreat of chlorophyll, sandstone and rushing water (we also spotted our first snake in the wild here - a red-belly black, sunbaking on a log by the river).
With full bellies, a full trunk and empty wallets, we headed back to Sydney, safe in the knowledge that we'd be drinking the fruits of Sydney's best vineyards for months to come, and with many happy memories to last even longer.