The winemakers and viticulturists of the Orange region, in Central Western NSW, regard altitude — and therefore many of the climatic conditions that they grow their grapes in — with an almost religious zeal.
It’s hardly surprising when you think about. It is after all, the only Australian wine region — and, indeed, quite possibly the only wine region in the world — defined expressly by altitude.
Only grapes grown within the local-government areas of Orange, Cabonne and Blayney, and also planted at an elevation of more than 600 metres and in a contiguous area centred on the peak of Mount Canobolas, can be used to make wine designated as from ‘Orange’.
Grapes grown below that 600-metre contour can only be labelled with the broader ‘Central Ranges’ appellation.
Winemakers such as James Sweetapple (Cargo Road Wines), Debbie Lauritz (Cumulus Estate), Will Rickard-Bell (Chill Wine Company, and contract winemaker for a number of smaller growers), Tom Ward (Swinging Bridge), Justin Jarrett (See Saw Wines) and Drew Tuckwell (Printhie Wines), and grape growers such as the Robson family (Ross Hill Wines) and the Crossing family (Angullong) are well aware of the importance of that contour line and the significance it holds.
A couple of the district’s larger vineyards — Cumulus Estate, on the Euchareena Road north-east of Molong, and Angullong, near Cadia to the south-west of Orange — straddle the contour and have to sometimes differentiate between grapes grown in adjacent rows.
“There’s obviously no difference in the quality of grapes between one row and the next,” said Cumulus winemaker Debbie Lauritz.
“But a line had to be drawn somewhere to maintain Orange’s reputation as a cool, high-altitude grape-growing region, and we’re happy to put up with a bit of inconvenience to help drive that reputation.”
For Cumulus it means using only grapes from above the 600-metre contour for its premium Climbing, Cumulus and Six Hundred Above brands, and leaving those from below for the slightly cheaper Rolling and Luna Rosa labels.
The region certainly makes the most its unique position, with two annual events designed to take advantage of its growing reputations with both wine and a range of excellent produce and restaurants.
Firstly, there’s Orange FOOD Week, usually held in April each year and claimed to be Australia’s longest-running regional food festival. And then there’s the Orange Wine Festival, which will be held this year over two weekends from October 13-22.
As well, the district organises a number of tastings and events in places such as Sydney’s Wahroonga and Barangaroo.
Events at the upcoming Orange Wine Festival include tastings, dinners, masterclasses, etc, at many of the district’s 34 cellar doors, plus a range a range of happenings at various other establishments — such as Wiradjuri Indigenous cultural tours and recitals at the Orange Regional Conservatorium — and a range of key festival ‘signature’ events such as night markets in the city’s Robertson Park, an Orange Wine e Show tasting and masterclass and the Vino Express, an all-inclusive rail journey from Sydney.
For more information and to download a full festival program, visit www.orangewinefestival.com.au
John Rozentals was a guest during an Orange Wine Festival media familiarisation visit.