ORANGE FIZZ

Ju­dith Elen gets a taste for the high life on the fer­tile slopes of NSW’s Great Di­vid­ing Range

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

IN its own small way, the cen­tral west­ern NSW town of Orange, 3 hours’ drive west of Syd­ney, is a bit like those solid lit­tle globes used in mod­els of the so­lar sys­tem to show the cen­tre around which ev­ery­thing re­volves. Orange is the thriv­ing fo­cus of its re­gion and in­creas­ingly a des­ti­na­tion food-lov­ing week­enders head to from Syd­ney and else­where.

Not so long ago, some ended up in Orange al­most by ac­ci­dent. Wine­maker Philip Shaw, on the lookout for a vine­yard site in the late 1980s, was fly­ing over in a light plane when en­gine prob­lems de­vel­oped. While the pilot searched for some­where to land, Shaw was scan­ning the land­scape, know­ing he’d found what he’d been seek­ing. Of course, he’d done his home­work. Tra­di­tion­ally a re­gion of fruit or­chards, the first com­mer­cial vine­yards were planted here in the 1980s; the pi­o­neer­ing Blood­wood opened in 1983.

When I visit, the grapes are in for this year and the vine­yards seem a uni­verse away from the lush wine re­gion I vis­ited a cou­ple of weeks ear­lier in New Zealand’s Marl­bor­ough. Here, ev­ery­thing is brown: au­tum­nal vines, the dry, bleached grass, the dirt roads; Mt Canobo­las looms on the hori­zon, a hazy guardian of the land. This is un­mis­take­ably coun­try Aus­tralia.

Orange’s wine re­gion is el­e­vated; vines are grown as high as 1100m. It’s cool in the evenings but day­light’s strong ul­tra­vi­o­let rays gen­er­ate in­tense colour in the grapes and, so, in­tense flavour. The soils are right: lime­stone, terra rossa (as in South Aus­tralia’s Lime­stone Coast) and shale. Most rain falls in win­ter and spring, so the ripen­ing months (Fe­bru­ary, March, April) are the dri­est. A big point about Orange wines, Shaw says, is their nat­u­ral acid­ity; be­cause of the cold nights, very lit­tle ar­ti­fi­cial (chem­i­cal) adjustment is needed.

Shaw’s plane prob­lems were re­solved with­out dis­as­ter and he bought land here in 1988, set­ting up Koomooloo Vine­yard and plant­ing in 1989; his Philip Shaw la­bel wines are widely praised and awarded.

Per­haps one of the best-known blow-ins is chef Michael Man­ners. Man­ners had been us­ing Orange pro­duce since the 70s, at his then moun­tain re­treat, the cel­e­brated Glenella, in Black­heath. When he even­tu­ally moved fur­ther in­land, it must have seemed nat­u­ral to fol­low his nose to the source.

Man­ners’s restau­rant Selkirks opened in 1997; he moved on from there last year and Selkirks con­tin­ues un­der chef Euan Macpher­son, who main­tains the restau­rant’s fo­cus on the wines and pro­duce of the dis­trict.

Man­ners’s new busi­ness, mean­while, also con­tin­ues in the cause of the re­gion, cre­at­ing restau­rant-qual­ity ready-meals (take­away is hardly the word for what Man­ners does). Typ­i­cally for Orange’s ten­dency for un­der­state­ment, Man­ners & Borg is in the me­an­der­ing car park be­hind a su­per­mar­ket; here, in part­ner­ship with Orange butcher Michael Borg, Man­ners of­fers his pre­pared meals, ar­ti­san char­cu­terie and gourmet sausages.

To fo­cus on th­ese pi­o­neers, how­ever, is to sin­gle out high pro­files in a back­ground dense with good food and wine. I set out to ex­plore and sam­ple some of the bounty that has put Orange at the cen­tre of its hum­ming lit­tle uni­verse. Al­ways a good place to start, the farm­ers mar­ket here is on the sec­ond Satur­day of the month, and I’ve timed my visit care­fully. It’s au­tumn, and ap­ples are ev­ery­where: tres­tle ta­bles are piled high. Borry Gartrell, from Bor­rodell on the Mount 12km away, sells her­itage ap­ples with names rarely seen in the city: Cox’s orange pip­pin, Egre­mont rus­set, Dr Hogg cook­ers, Wi­ne­saps.

I have not vis­ited, but Bor­rodell on the Mount has a rep­u­ta­tion. The or­chard con­tains 170 heir­loom va­ri­eties, in­clud­ing the Codlin, which Shake­speare men­tions and Gartrell be­lieves is the old­est named ap­ple. There are 400 her­itage plums, some with a sin­gle tree but all of­fered in sea­son at the mar­ket. A vine­yard with a cel­lar door, ac­com­mo­da­tion and Sis­ter’s Rock restau­rant have been added.

I can’t re­sist a rare ap­ple and ask for one of each. That won’t be enough, Gartrell says, load­ing ap­ples into a large pa­per bag. He charges me $5 and tells me if peo­ple visit­ing the cel­lar door buy a de­cent amount of wine’’ he throws in a bag of ap­ples.

At other stalls, quinces, pota­toes (in­clud­ing the pur­ple-skinned royal blue with its but­tery yel­low flesh), pump­kins and other earthy au­tum­nal crops are ar­ranged in crates, boxes, sacks and on top of flow­ered table­cloths. There are fresh hazel­nuts and dukkah, chest­nuts, old-fash­ioned pre­serves, all man­ner of or­ganic pro­duce and lime juice cor­dial.

Hav­ing shopped, it’s time to call on a grower and I head for War­ren Bradley’s Nor­land Fig Or­chard at Borenore, 16km from Orange. It’s com­ing to the end of the sea­son but the trees are scat­tered with plump fruit. There are 800 trees, mainly White Adri­atic, Brown Turkey and Black Genoa: such evoca­tive names. There’s a rus­tic shop out front; visit be­tween Jan­uary and April (8am-6pm) to buy fresh fruit and, out of sea­son, for frozen figs; there’s also an ar­ray of or­chard good­ies such as jams, fig ice cream and pies.

Bradley and his wife An­nette in­vite me to pick some fruit. They give me a tip: figs with dry-look­ing fis­sures, as if scored by a fin­ger­nail, have most sugar and make great eat­ing.

Mov­ing on, I visit Cu­mu­lus Wines, where wine­maker Shaw, of forced land­ing fame, and Jef­frey Wilkin­son (as chief ex­ec­u­tive) pro­duce a range of red and white wines un­der the quirk­ily el­e­gant Rolling and Climb­ing la­bels. Rolling wines are pro­duced from 10 grape va­ri­eties grown on un­du­lat­ing hills, be­low 600m and close to the Orange town­ship. Wilkin­son tells me they have strong fruit and bright­ness, while the Climb­ing wines, those from the high-al­ti­tude sec­tion of the group’s 508ha of vines, are more com­plex, with a longer fin­ish. Wilkin­son shows me around the Climb­ing vine­yard, which pro­duces reds and whites, with a rose launch­ing this year. He loves the shi­raz; it’s rich, pep­pery and spicy here, he says, and not like the same wines of the Barossa or Hunter.

Shi­raz and caber­net are the big wines for Cu­mu­lus. And Wilkin­son says 2008 is a great year for mer­lot in Orange, so there’s a tip. It’s a per­fect grow­ing sea­son for mer­lot vines, which have shal­low roots and need mois­ture in the soil and rains at just the right time. The 2006 Climb­ing Mer­lot, awarded cham­pion mer­lot tro­phy at the 2007 Na­tional Cool Cli­mate Wine Show, has just been re­leased.

At 600m, we gaze across the land to Mt Canobo­las. Here at the edges of the Great Di­vid­ing Range, there are usu­ally a few lit­tle cu­mu­lus clouds even on the sun­ni­est day. Ju­dith Elen was a guest of Cu­mu­lus Wines. www.vis­i­tor­ange.com.au www.philip­shaw.com.au www.rolling­wines.com.au www.climb­ing­wines.com.au www.wine­so­for­ange.com.au www.or­ange­farm­ers­mar­ket.org.au www.bor­rodell.com.au

High and dry: Orange dis­trict vines, left; her­itage ap­ples, top right, and lo­cal pota­toes, bot­tom right, at Orange farm­ers mar­ket

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