NSW – Cowra – Wild West proves fertile ground for grapes

By Winsor Dobbin
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Mulyan Garage Cellars, Cowra, NSW

Mulyan Garage Cellars, Cowra, NSW [©Hamilton Lund and Tourism NSW]

Hot air ballooning in Canowindra, NSW
Hamiltons Bluff cellar door, Canowindra, NSW
Kalari winery, Cowra, NSW
Japanese Gardens, Cowra, NSW

 

Cowra and Canowindra, neighbouring towns in the Central West of New South Wales, have been producing wines commercially for over three decades but both fly under the radar nationally despite a number of excellent producers offering good value for money.

Cowra, 310 kilometres west of Sydney, lies on the banks of the Lachlan River. It has a population of just under 10,000, while Canowindra, 32 kilometres further north, is home to just 1,500 people but is known as Australia’s hot-air ballooning capital. Its many old buildings are often used as sets for period movies.

The Cowra district has long been a source of top-class chardonnay; providing the fruit for the initial Petaluma Chardonnay and for Rothbury Estate for many years and now re-inventing itself as a boutique region.

While Cowra and Canowindra’s reputation was built on the quality of chardonnay, the new generation of wineries, including Mulyan, Windowrie, Swinging Bridge, Tom’s Waterhole and Cowra Estate have received a number of national trophies and awards for varieties including shiraz, sangiovese and shiraz viognier blends.

“Although Cowra and Canowindra have been making wine for over 30 years, it is the future that we are excited about,” says Tom Ward from Swinging Bridge, which uses fruit from both Cowra and Canowindra. “We have the vineyards, people, and commitment and we are pleased to be seeing in a new era for our region.”

Today, Cowra and Canowindra are home to around 40 vineyards and several cellar doors.

 

Stop 1 – Tasting at Taste Canowindra

This one-stop cellar door for the area’s boutique wine producers offers up to 60 wines from several local wineries on tasting, lunch daily, local arts and crafts and sometimes live music. Coffee and cake are available throughout the day. Wineries featured included Rosnay, Wallington, Falls Wines, Gardners Ground and Swinging Bridge.

You must taste: The Swinging Bridge shiraz and chardonnays (the 2008s are excellent), the Wallington 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc and the excellent organic wines from Rosnay, including the 2009 Sparkling Chardonnay.

Open: Daily 10am-4pm for tastings and lunches (12pm-2pm)
42 Ferguson Street, Canowindra
Phone (02) 02 6344 2332

 

Stop 2 – Tasting at Hamiltons Bluff

Hamiltons Bluff is a family-owned winery in the Belubula River Valley just outside Canowindra offering a small range of quality boutique wines and warm country welcome from owners Jamie and Julia Andrews, who also own the atmospheric old Royal Hotel downtown.

You must taste: Mature sangioveses from 2004 and 2005 and the interesting dessert-style sangiovese, the Dolce Nero 2007.

Open: Daily by appointment
Long Corner Road, Canowindra
Phone (02) 6344 2079

 

Stop 3 – Walk through downtown Canowindra

Gaskill Street, the main shopping thoroughfare in Canowindra, is a dogleg curved street that was built to cope with bullock teams that needed to turn. It hosts the annual 100-Mile Dinner, an outdoor event held each April that showcases the best food and wine of the region as part of Orange FOOD Week. The many historic shops and pubs in Canowindra are often used as sets by film-makers, while there are several idiosyncratic shops, including David Isbester’s lovely artworks at the River Bank Gallery, the organic fruits and vegetables at Gaskill Greens and delightful kitchenware, cookbooks and utensils at the Bendy Street Emporium. Pop into the Royal Hotel, where bushranger Ben Hall once held locals captive, according to local legend.

 

Stop 4 – Lunch at Windowrie Estate’s The Mill

This beautifully restored old mill building, the oldest in Cowra, is home to the Windowrie Estate cellar door and The Mill Wine Bar, on the verandah, where visitors are welcome to enjoy a glass or two of wine. Several Cowra wines are available to accompany snacks including marinated chicken wings, seasonal fruit and cheese platters and local olive tasting plates.

You must taste: The Windowrie The Mill chardonnays and verdelhos are outstanding and offer excellent value for money.

Open: Daily 11am-5pm. Friday 11am-8pm
6 Vaux Street, Cowra
Phone (02) 6341 4141

 

Stop 5 – Tasting at Rosnay Organic Vineyard

Rosnay, outside Canowindra, is an organic operation that sells olives and olive oils, as well as some very good organic and biodynamic wines made by Sam Statham that have a cult following. It’s part of the Rivers Road organic farms set-up. There’s also an on-site cottage available for rental by those looking for a genuine rural experience.

You must taste: Rosnay’s “Pick up a beautiful red” campaign promotes its shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and triple blend reds, all very good, but the 2009 Sparkling Chardonnay is also stellar.

Open: By appointment
Rivers Road, Canowindra
Phone 1300 767 629

 

Stop 6 – Tasting at Mulyan Wines

Established in 1994 by local graziers Peter and Jenni Fagan, Mulyan is one of Cowra’s quality leaders with a growing reputation for hand-crafted wines that are made by Drew Tuckwell with occasional input from daughter Sarah, an award-winning winemaker at De Bortoli in the Yarra Valley. The cellar door is part of the family homestead, which dates back to 1886.

You must taste: Mulyan makes outstanding chardonnays and an exceptionally good shiraz viognier blend.

Open: Weekends 10am-5pm.
North Logan Road, Cowra
Phone (02) 6342 1336

 

Stop 7 – Dinner at Neila

A long-time favourite with locals and visitors alike in Cowra, and a one-hat regular in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide but unfortunately open only three nights a week, Neila specialises in fresh and locally grown produce. Chef Anna Wong and her partner Jerry Mouzakis’s menu features adventurous dishes like citrus caramel pork hock with pickled shoot salad, and lamb fillet with pumpkin, Puy lentils and coriander stir fry.

Open Thursday to Saturday from 6.30pm
5 Kendal Street, Cowra
Phone (02) 6341 2188

 

Stop 8 – Overnight at Cowra Crest Motel

A classic country motel with modern luxuries, the Cowra Crest is set back off the street with large comfortable rooms, equipped with fridges, microwaves, electric blankets, TVs and videos. You can stroll to any of the town restaurants and attractions. There’s a genuine country welcome and doubles start from under $100 per night.

Open: Nightly
133 Kendal Street, Cowra
Phone (02) 6342 2799

 

Don’t miss:

  • The annual 100-Mile Dinner held each April in the main street of Canowindra to celebrate the food and wine of the Central West (as part of Orange FOOD Week).
  • The beautiful Japanese Gardens and War Cemetery in Cowra, where the famous Cowra Breakout took place in 1944.
  • The annual Canowindra hot-air balloon fly-in each April
  • The replica of the United Nations peace bell in Cowra
  • Tasting wines at the unique straw-bale winery and cellar door at Wallington’s outside Canowindra
  • The Cowra Cork and Fork food and wine festival held each October
  • The Age of Fishes Museum in Canowindra, which celebrates one of the world’s greatest fossil discoveries
  • The range of verdelhos in several styles at Kalari winery

 

Regions

  • Central Ranges (NSW)
  • Cowra (NSW)
  • Explorer Country (NSW)

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