The thriving regional city of Orange NSW is well-known for its superb produce, paddock-to-plate approach to dining and enviable world-class wines.
Art and local produce at Racine Restaurant in Orange NSW
I’m sitting at a long wooden table that’s doning a crisp white tablecloth for a Champagne lunch at Orange’s Racine Restaurant. I can’t help thinking that Australian still-life painter Margaret Olley would have loved the many wonderful things that are arranged in a considered yet somehow haphazard way. Everywhere I look there’s another delightful ensemble of everyday man-made objects and pieces plucked from nature that Olley could very well have set up herself.
Herbs in terracotta pots framed by sparkling wine and Champagne glasses grace the tables. A handwoven gardener’s basket spills over with fat pumpkins and purple carrots. Bunches of grapes, dried flowers and twigs of rosemary surround it. A Chesterfield-style faded green velvet couch and a few simple wooden chairs sit against a corrugated iron wall beneath a web of fairy lights. And the place is positively peppered with flowerbeds and veggie patches.
Orange F.O.O.D Week
I’m in Orange NSW for its famous F.O.O.D Week and my senses are already in overdrive. I can see why this picturesque city attracts hundreds of artists and producers of fine food and wine.
People stroll into the buzzing garden party, whisking up a glass of champers before taking their place and introducing themselves to neighbours. Recent tree-changers and tourists do their best to blend in. Carefully selected R.M. Williams outfits and still-stiff Akubras are quite clearly not as farm-worn as those sported by the locals. Nevertheless, it’s an incredibly merry bunch and lunch. The locals are keen to embrace those who have come to experience the beautiful place they call home.
Every shared platter is a delicious arrangement of local produce accompanied by something Racine does exceptionally well – breads and pastries. There are exquisite dips, wines from newcomer Nashdale Lane (which does a sauv blanc that will lure chardonnay and pinot grigio fans to the other side), quiches whipped up courtesy of the free-range chooks and bowls laden with verdant salads, everything picked from the surrounding gardens. Treats from Racine Bakery follow, including a soft banana bread that melts in the mouth.
I learn over lunch that Orange didn’t get its name from the citrus fruit, as most assume. It’s roots are actually in apples and gold mining. Early explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell named the parish Orange. He’d been an associate of the Prince of Orange in the Spanish Peninsular War when both were aides-de-camp to the Duke of Wellington. Armed with this information, I farewell my new-found friends and head into town. I’m off to enjoy some of the many offerings that have been excitedly discussed at the table.
Montoro Wines and Ferment the Orange Wine Centre
Montoro Wines is a must for shiraz lovers and architectural buffs. Yes, it’s shiraz-only on this lush land. Owner and winemaker Bob Derrick is a long-time resident and former science teacher. His and wife Jennifer’s passion for wine and design has resulted in an extremely classy, pared-back cellar door featuring black wall panelling and polished concrete floors. Pared-back on the inside, that is.
Outside, the signature element of this stunning cellar door – designed by Source Architects – is the suspended concertina roof that soars majestically into the sky. It’s balancing on two sturdy metal frames that straddle the entire glass-box building and a sprawling outdoor deck area. The scene is complete with border collie wine dog Bailey bounding about. He’s a happy host with a penchant for posing in selfies with his favourite ball.
In 2017, Montoro won seven gold medals and a trophy at the Sydney Royal Wine Show, NSW Wine Awards and Orange Wine Show, across its eight varieties of shiraz. The Derricks have been selling grapes for years to other winemakers but in 2013 bottled their first wine. Since then they’ve been busy making more space on the mantelpiece for awards.
I grab my backpack and tuck in a half-bottle of white shiraz (Bob’s mother reckons that’s the perfect amount for a drink) and a bottle of the award-winning Opal Eyes Sparkling Shiraz. Stocked up, I head into town to visit Ferment the Orange Wine Centre. It sits inside a gorgeous heritage building. Owner Simon Forsyth has installed three Enomatic wine-dispensing systems in this super-cool bar, so guests can taste more than 50 local wines at their leisure. It’s buzzing all year round, from what I hear, with tourists and locals.
If Orange is a little too far to travel, perhaps the Hunter Valley might be a closer option? This boozy picnic in Pokolbin will temp your tastebuds.
Hotel Mercure Orange and The Greenhouse Orange
After sampling a few too many varietals, I walk down the road to my abode for the next few days – Mercure’s hotel in Orange, Templers Mill. Recently refurbished, the rooms are spacious and modern. Most importantly, it is within walking distance to everything in downtown Orange. However, a surprise awaits when you climb the stairs to the transformed rooftop of the Ex Services’ Club.
Here, you’ll find The Greenhouse. This rooftop wonder celebrates local and regional produce at affordable prices in various spaces, reminiscent of Sydney’s The Grounds. There’s an enormous café complete with hanging herb and flower gardens. A pizza bar dishing up some of the best in Orange, a children’s play area and a hall that looks like a rustic stable housing a restaurant and bar. A street food kitchen set-up, and a fine-dining degustation option in a more formal dining room setting complete the picture.
For more fabulous accommodation around New South Wales, cast your eye over these gems.
Produce, breweries and The Beekeepers Inn in Vittoria
My days in Orange NSW are filled with visits to more wineries, farms and niche sellers of lovingly produced delicacies. I mix in plenty of walks down leafy streets awash with autumnal colours. At Fourjay Farms, I learn about hazelnut production. I sample deliciously plump olives and tongue-tinglingly good preserves from Kalavista Organics and Franklin Road Preserve. Allocating tummy space for more nibbles, I taste the many different flavour sensations at Fresh Fodder dips.
A half-hour trip out of town, along sweeping hill and valley roads, I come to The Beekeepers Inn. It’s a beautiful property with farm implements from days-gone-by scattering the lawn. Here, I tuck into some of the best homemade scones, cream and jam in the region. Honey-lovers will be in a spin over the varieties of the sweet stuff available. Coolabah, blue gum, stringy bark, yellow box, lucerene, mugga iron bark and Christmas mallee. There’s also an antique store to explore and the 1859 Brewery. Its Summer Ale and Pale Ale are great additions to the craft beer scene.
Want a taste of farm life? Here are our 10 favourite farmstays in the country.
Cargo Road Wines tour in Orange NSW
On my last day, I find myself in dire need of a truly Orange sunset. I join a holistic vineyard tour with vigneron James Sweetapple at his beloved Cargo Road Wines. He takes guests through the process of growing grapes and making wine. He gives an engrossing talk about how he and his fellow vignerons strive to take care of the land that feeds them.
As the sun sets, shards of golden light make the wine in people’s glasses glow. James’ two dogs leap around the vineyards under the gumtrees. A kookaburra lands on a fence post to take a good close look at us as we happily swill the good stuff. Looking out over the tidy rows of vines and up at Mount Canobolas, I smile and sip my wine while thinking that everyone I’ve met in this beautiful place has mastered the art of being Orange.
Staying on the wine train? Read all about our escape in Hunter Valley wine country.