There’s something so fulfilling about getting into the car on a Friday and hitting the wide open country road, leaving the city and another working week behind you in the rearview mirror. We’re off to Mudgee, the beautiful wine region in country NSW, and with two days ahead of us promising nothing but relaxation, indulgence and fresh country air, spirits are high.
Beating the rush-hour traffic, we jump into our sleek black SUV, an MG ZS Essence from MG Motor and dream road trip vehicle, turn up the radio, open up the sunroof and head off on the three-and-a-half drive northwest of Sydney. It’s an enjoyable and easy journey, and the car handles like a dream as we make our way through the Blue Mountains and into the country, arriving into Mudgee’s autumnal tree-lined streets just before dusk.
While its always convenient to stay right in the centre of town, we’re getting the full country experience this time and are booked into ‘Blue Shed Retreat’, at Karrabool Olives, a cosy yet spacious cottage situated on an olive grove about 20 minutes northeast of town. Owned and operated by husband and wife team Judy and Dave, Karrabool Olives is famous for its internationally award-winning Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and being a total olive fiend, I am delighted when Judy invites us to drop by the on-site café for a tasting platter.
In fact, this sincere country hospitality started before we even set foot onto the property, with an email containing a friendly introduction, handy directions, and assurance that the place would be warm and toasty for our arrival. Sure enough, the fireplace is roaring and the self-contained, open-plan cottage is homely, welcoming and beautifully presented with extra special little touches including a bottle of local red wine, chocolates and artisanal teas. There’s a king-sized bed with plush bedding and crisp linens, a bathroom with laundry facilities, lounge area by the fire, a dining area next to an expansive, and fully-equipped kitchen complete with pre-prepared breakfast basket. But the real highlight was the outdoor Jacuzzi, which overlooks the olive grove.
With an hour-and-a-half to go before our dinner reservation, we jump into our bathers with childish giddiness and make a run for it, the cold air nipping at us. We soak in the steaming hot, bubbling water, and sit back to marvel at the endless starry night above us.
While it is mostly known for its family-owned wineries, Mudgee has firmly cemented its spot on NSW’s culinary map, offering locally sourced produce from the surrounding region (particular local delicacies include honey, cheese, olives, and olive oil) and authentic paddock-to-plate dining experiences.
In recent years, Mudgee has seen a growing number of refined and innovative restaurants pop-up, most of the them attached to cellar doors, leading to an increasing amount of foodies and discerning palettes from all over the country to travel to the region and discover its delights.
One such fine example is Pipeclay Pumphouse, located at Robert Stein Vineyard & Winery. Since opening in 2013, this award-winning restaurant has been the locals’ go-to for a refined paddock-to-plate experience within its open-plan dining room, featuring a fireplace, floor-to-ceiling windows and wrap-around terrace overlooking the pond and vines. In addition to its breakfast and lunch a-la-carte menus, it offers a seasonally driven five-, eight-, and 10-course menu for dinner, paired with Robert Stein’s renowned wines. It is highly recommended you make a reservation in advance, and its not hard to see why.
We opt for the eight-course degustation, which is also flexible so you can mix and match different options to your preference. Ingredient driven and beautifully presented, Chef Andy Crestani’s passion for seasonal, local produce is prevalent in every dish, showcasing the flavour of the region. Highlights include the Pipeclay Produce charcuterie featuring a selection of the property’s own salami, pork rillette topped with local macadamia and pork terrine, and duck liver parfait with a side of cornichons, pickled red onion and crusty bread on a bed of rocket. Another knockout was the gnocchi, sautéed in a rich duck and juniper ragu and topped with a poached egg, followed by a decadent braised beef brisket accompanied by a side of baby potatoes with truffled salt and topped with crispy onion flakes.
The next day, after savouring our country breakfast basket at Blue Shed Retreat, we take a 15-minute drive to Rosby Wines. Spanning 400 acres, this stunning property is home to cabernet sauvignon and shiraz vineyards, guesthouse and studio with rolling countryside views, cellar door, a purpose-built studio for hosting events, and an outdoor art gallery and sculpture trail, making it one of the most unique sites in Mudgee.
As we pull up into the lush green garden, we are greeted by the owners, husband and wife Gerald and Kay, and their two dogs. It’s a beautiful, sunny autumn day and artist and sculptor Kay takes us for a walk through the collection of sculptures dotted around the garden, featuring original works, mainly by local artists such as Nigel White.
This outdoor exhibition was born from Kay’s passion of the arts and her desire to provide artists with a new platform for exhibiting their work, and every year since 2011 Rosby has hosted an art workshop program followed by the Sculptures in the Garden event. This two-day annual event takes place on the second weekend in October, and features artist talks, demonstrations, garden tours, gourmet experiences with local providores and a chance for local artists to exhibit their works. The not-for-profit event has proven hugely successful, attracting more than 2,000 every year and raising almost $250,000, which has gone to local charities as well as funded the establishment of a public sculpture walk in Mudgee’s Lawson Park.
Following our tour with Kay, Gerald treats us to a wine tasting under the shade of an old tree, and before we know it, its time for lunch.
We arrive at Gilbert Family Wines for the The Cellar by Gilbert ‘Food Over Fire’ long lunch experience. Inspired by her country upbringing and love of open fire cooking, chef Pip Sumbak showcases Mudgee’s seasonal produce in an interactive, outdoor dining concept. While cooking over fire is a basic cooking method, it poses its own challenges and requires chef Pip’s full attention. We watch her work around the fire pit, set up in the backyard of the cellar door, throwing ingredients and stirring them about, adjusting and improvising with impeccable expertise, all the while engaging guests with her bubbly conversation and big smile. Watching her, its easy to see her genuine passion for what she does and her joy is infectious.
As the smoky aroma wafts through the air, we take our seats at the long communal table and the share feast, fit for kings, commences. Medleys of wood fired vegetables, dips and bread, charred lamb ribs, porchetta stuffed with sage and wild fennel, honey glazed pumpkin, and my favourite—melt-in-your-mouth Jerusalem artichokes with mushrooms and hazelnuts.
The conversation with fellow guests flows, as does the wine, each course perfectly paired with Gilbert wines, then its back to the garden for the final course—honey dumplings cooked over the fire and topped into bowls of homemade grape, hazelnut and pomegranate ice cream. Lunch couldn’t have ended on a sweeter note.
It’s a clear and crisp Saturday evening and we venture into town to check out the nightlife and stare in awe at the many beautiful heritage buildings dotted around. The warm glow from the restaurants, bars and pubs spills out onto the street, as does the buzzing noise of music and patrons from within them. This is no sleepy country town by any means and there’s a jovial energy filling the air as we wander past various venues filled with locals.
While we’re still recovering from lunch, the temptation of a glass of wine is too strong to resist, and we wander into Alby & Esthers Provence-inspired courtyard, and settle in for the evening. OK, we had a charcuterie board and maybe some baked camembert too. Don’t judge.
Before departing our lovely Blue Shed Retreat the next morning, we spend some time with Judy in the café and gift shop, trying some samples and picking up some olives and tapenade to take home. They also serve light breakfasts, coffees and teas her and stock a range of local, artisanal foodie and body products.
For brunch, we stop at Artisan on Lewis, a family owned café and art gallery, with a lush courtyard garden. All menu items here are proudly seasonal and locally sourced, with everything made in-house, from natural ingredients and from scratch. There’s also a quirky collection of arts, crafts, jars of pickled goods, and other interesting nick-nacks.
Sitting outside in the late morning sun, I devour my mushrooms and poached egg on toast, and enjoy an excellent coffee, before heading next door to Loft, a furniture, homewares and gift shop for a browse.
As morning gives way to afternoon and that familiar Sunday feeling starts creeping in, we make one final stop on the way back home, pulling up at Logan Wines, its expansive outdoor deck beckoning us to sit outside and prolong our weekend getaway, if only for an hour more. After one last wine tasting (a very modest one as there is driving to be done) and charcuterie board of Mudgee’s local delights, its time to hit the road. On the way home, we’re already planning our next visit to Mudgee, but with hearts and bellies full and batteries charged, we’re ready to conquer another busy week back in the city. •
Photography by Lana Bogunovich and various establishments.
Located 268 kilometres north-west of Sydney CBD, Mudgee is a three-and-a-half-hour drive or 45-minute flight.
Where to stay
Blue Shed Retreat at Karrabool Olives offers an authentic country experience and hospitality at its finest. karraboololives.com.au/accommodation
There are also plenty of other options, which you can find out more about on the Mudgee visitor info site. visitmudgeeregion.com.au
Where to dine
Pipeclay Pumphouse pipeclaypumphouse.com.au
The Cellar by Gilbert gilbertfamilywines.com.au
Alby & Esthers albyandesthers.com.au
Artisan on Lewis artisanonlewis.business.site
Where to wine
Rosby Wines rosby.com.au
Gilbert Family Wines gilbertfamilywines.com.au
Logan Wines loganwines.com.au
Robert Stein robertstein.com.au
Where to shop
Loft offers a beautifully curated collection of furniture, homewares and gifts. loftfurniture.com.au
Cherry Red for women’s fashion, featuring Australian, New Zealand and international designers. cherryred.com.au
Karrabool Olives cafe and gift shop for high-quality olive oils, olives, body products and other local artisanal treats. karraboololives.com.au/cafe
Mainly Mudgee Gifts for locally made gifts and souvenirs. Mainly-Mudgee-Gifts
Whatever Mudgee for an eclectic selection of fashion, jewellery, gifts, art and more. whatevermudgee.com.au
Visit Mudgee Region visitmudgeeregion.com.au