I don’t know why I thought the Mudgee region would be flat, red dirt country filled with people of few words. I had it all wrong. Mudgee is in a wide green valley, bordered to the east by the Wollemi National Park.
The place reminded me of my time living in Tuscany, okay there are gum trees and not cypress and not as many crazy Italians running around and is only 3 ½ hours from Sydney, but seriously why hadn’t I been to Mudgee before?The thing is, the scenery and buildings are amazing, but it’s the people that really make the place. They’re the kind of people with life and personality that you hope turn up in a murder mystery movie, although they lack the sinister bits, as far as I can tell…
The people I’d love you to meet
The head winemaker at Huntington Estate, Tim Stevens, has a bit of the murder mystery detective about him (does it come across in the photo?) I suspect it’s because of his training as a journo.
The gently spoken and affable man ducked out his chorizo making class to take us through his wines. I confess I hadn’t heard of Huntington, probably because the wines mysteriously vapourise once the mailing list subscribers have heard of their existence. The rest is snapped up at the cellar door.The cheerful country gent of the Mudgee crew is Mike O’Malley. His voice resonance rivals Bert Newton, which made me wonder if he secretly serenades the vines for the Mudgee Wine Grape Growers to get the wine to taste so good.
The former advertising executive runs the short film festival, Mudfest on the third weekend in March every year with a couple of mates.The self-proclaimed grumpy character of this story is Rob Fairall from diLusso. He was the perfect host to us, so I’m finding the surly part hard to believe, but it does leave me curious. The South African is more Italian than an Italian. You’ll have to meet him to believe me.
We spent an afternoon at diLusso crunching down wood fire pizzas, supping rosé, lingering under the wisteria-draped verandas, watching ducks waddle past and marvelling at what a good idea a game of bocce would be. The lovely ladies at Skimstone are great for a chat. These happy Italophiles escaped Sydney to raise their families in around the vines and sell their Italian wine varieties out of the best shack I’ve ever seen.The not-so-hopeless romantics, Peter and Hannah Logan, across the road are good for a visit. Gourmet Traveller thought so, too. Logan was just voted best cellar door experience. Just quietly, I think it was Sophie, the dog. Nothing to do with the amazing wines, gorgeous fit out, to die for cheese platter or view. Look at her, she’s gorgeous.The lovely Jessica and Jason at Moothi Estate, well, they’re just lovely. The wine and the view help too. I’m guessing Jason’s happy to be skipping the crazy Canadian ice wine making shenanigans. Have you heard how they make that stuff? Yup, wandering around in the Canadian ice and snow at three o’clock in the morning picking grapes and pressing them before they defrost. Anyway, I digress out of astonishment.Na Lan makes the best dumplings I’ve had outside of China. Each morsel contains a lifetime of flavours and yet they look so delicate, like silky undergarments. She named her restaurant in Rylstone, 29 Nine 99, after the date she married her Artist husband Reg. She followed him from Beijing to the back blocks of Mudgee. What a lady. What a restaurant. It’s like stepping into an oil painting.Then there’s Helen Baker and Nathan Williams. He’s the cheeky not-quite-mad scientist type with shaved head who has made the first butterscotch schnapps I’ve ever liked – I loved it (don’t tell him it reminded me of salted caramel). Did I mention the cumquat liqueur goodness? But then, there’s also the coffee liqueur… Mmm…
After sampling Baker Williams Distillery delights I had to sit back and admire as the less wobbly amongst us faced off in giant Jenga.I love that the maker of one the world’s best olive oils is tucked away in Rylstone. Jayne Bentivoglio may love her international award winning Cudgegong and Crooked River Blends, but I think it’s her ‘Big girl’, Murray Darling, who has her heart. At the end of the day, we holed up at Roth’s wine bar, Australia’s oldest wine bar. Where the hookers once waited for business is now full of amazing produce waiting to be relished.
If you see this Frenchman, who opened the door for us, you need to ask him about his range of cordials for grown ups. Nothing quite like hearing a French winemaker say, ‘Hello Lovelies’. I didn’t giggle or go weak at the knees (much). Recovery breakfast goodness can be found at Butcher Shop Café, Alby & Esters and the trek out of town to the Pipeclay Pumphouse will reward you with the sublime bacon gnocchi with truffle eggs. I mean seriously, look at it. And you might just meet Joseph Stein who reminded me of a dashing rugby union player. Who knew I could talk sport?
Thank you, Mudgee Region! I had the most wonderful time.
Have you been to Mudgee? What did you love? Where have you fallen in love with lately? I’d love to hear in the comments below.