Flaunting one of the most hedonistic drives to a wine region, Orange has always been a food and drink lover’s paradise. You can stop to pick up award-winning apple pies in Bilpin, forage for native botanicals when you hit the ridge along Bells Line of Road and grab a few handcrafted spirits in Bathurst before you even make it to Orange’s doorstep.
While Orange is a relatively young wine region when it comes to vine age (the first commercial vines were planted in 1980), there is a sense of community, of bringing people and ideas together, prevalent among the wineries that makes it feel like they’ve all been around for a lot longer.
“We’re really too big to fail now,” says Tom Ward, former president of the New South Wales Wine Industry Association and owner of Swinging Bridge. “We’ve got the right soils, people and vineyards – everyone’s got skin in the game and wants to create a community, so the best fruit is staying in the region and not being shipped out to other places.”
He says the majority of the larger companies walked away in 2007 because of drought and oversupply of grapes, leaving an opportunity for smaller producers to revive the region. “Lots of passionate, like-minded people who question everything are driving innovation and experimentation,” he says.
This progress of ideas will propel the region even further with the new generations working alongside their parents and other contemporaries in the community. “I had to bash down a few doors with Dad to let me experiment with a few projects that never saw the light of day,” says Gilbert. “But eventually, he was really happy with them – an expression of regionality and varietal focus that maybe wasn’t coming through in previous classic releases.”
People are already starting to notice new life flowing through Orange with well-crafted and aged sparklings and different varieties for the region, such as mourvèdre and cabernet franc seeping through to restaurant lists and retail shelves. With varieties like these and what Ward considers to be “premium chardonnay and pinot noir that can stand up alongside its counterparts from Mornington, Tassie and Margaret River”, there’s never been a more exciting time to discover Orange wines.
The Wiradjuri people are recognised as the traditional owners and custodians of Orange and its vineyards. The Wiradjuri people were a hunter-gatherer society whose movements followed seasonal food gathering and ritual patterns. Their connection to the land spans across most of New South Wales (and has done for more than 60,000 years), making the Wiradjuri nation the most significant cultural footprint in New South Wales and the second largest geographically in Australia.