Mudgee is the third-largest wine region in the state of New South Wales, Australia. Mudgee got its unusual name from its original residents, the Wiradjuri Aborigines, but it got its start in wine production thanks to a group of 19th-century German settlers who came to Australia with winemaking expertise.
"Mudgee" translates to "nest in the hills," and the area is certainly well-named. The region is surrounded on three sides by the Great Dividing Range. Throughout the Mudgee wine region you will find gentle hills and valleys, so many that practically every Mudgee-related brochure and Web site you read uses the word "nestled" to describe vineyards, wineries, restaurants and lodging. This is beautiful country, no doubt about it.
Mudgee is often overshadowed by Hunter (the lower and upper Hunter Valley), its famous neighbor on the eastern side of the Great Dividing Range. In fact, Mudgee wine grape growers have, in past decades, sold all or part of their harvests to Hunter Valley winemakers; some still do so today. Mudgee has established its own reputation, however, and is best known today for its cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays.
Mudgee was first settled by Europeans in 1821, but the discovery of gold near the small town in 1851 brought prospectors and new residents to the area. Only a few years later, in 1858, the area's first winery, Craigmoor Winery, opened its doors. As the news of gold spread, more and more people came to Mudgee, first to look for gold and, later, to work in the growing wool and wine industries. Unfortunately, economic troubles hit Mudgee when the gold mines began to give out. By the early 1960s there were only two wineries operating in the area, Craigmoor and Mudgee Wines.
In the 1970s, Mudgee's wine industry rose from the ashes of the 1890s financial crash. Italian winemakers opened Montrose Winery and brought Old World grape varieties with them. Around that time, Australian winemakers discovered that a chardonnay clone with exceptional potential had been isolated in Mudgee; the area's cooler climate was perfect for this popular grape variety. This discovery contributed to the great chardonnay boom that put Australia on the world's white wine map.
While Mudgee boasts over 40 wineries today, the region suffers from a certain lack of exposure on the world market. The difficulties besetting other Australian wine regions – drought, corporate upheaval and declining sales, have affected Mudgee as well. Wine tourism, while well-established in Mudgee, is small in scale compared to the region's better-known neighbor, Hunter.
The Oatley family, founders of the Rosemount Winery, has purchased Craigmoor, Poet's Corner (which began life as Montrose) and Orlando Wines' Mudgee vineyards. The new company, Oatley Wines, is now bottling under three labels. The Oatleys aren't the only top-level winemakers here, of course – Huntington Estate, Frog Rock, Thistle Hill and many other Mudgee wineries bring home awards and make it onto wine critics' recommendation lists.
Geography, Soil and Climate
Mudgee lies northwest of Sydney and due west of the Hunter wine region. The area is surrounded by hills and mountains. Soils are volcanic or sandy loam over clay. Soil drainage is generally quite good.
As previously mentioned, Mudgee is somewhat cooler than Hunter, and has lower rainfall (approximately 27 inches per year). Summer and autumn are quite warm, but frost can be a problem in spring. Downy mildew also challenges growers on occasion. Drought can be a problem, too, and certainly has been in recent years. Most areas require irrigation.
Mudgee Wine Grape Varieties
Mudgee is most famous for its red wines, particularly cabernet sauvignon. Chardonnay is popular here, too, as well it should be. Growers plant a dizzying variety of grapes in Mudgee, including sémillon, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, riesling and gewürtztraminer on the white side, and shiraz, tempranillo, petit verdot, merlot, chambourcin, pinot noir, sangiovese and grenache. Some winemakers are experimenting with even more grape varieties, primarily from southern Europe.
Visiting Mudgee Wineries
Mudgee's 40-odd wineries welcome visitors; nearly every winery features a Cellar Door; some have restaurants and accommodations that add to traditional Cellar Door hospitality. The region's wine producers come together each September to put on the Mudgee Wine Festival, which stretches over the entire month and includes everything from horse racing to farmers markets, with plenty of wine tasting opportunities throughout the month.
If you want to get a glimpse of Mudgee wine history, head to Craigmoor Cellar Door, the region's first winery, now part of the Oatley Wines endeavor. Craigmoor was rechristened with its original name by Bob Oatley, its current owner; the winery was known as Poet's Corner until Oatley purchased it. Today Craigmoor serves as Oatley Wines' Cellar Door and wine museum.
Huntington Estate Wines offers another look at Mudgee's past. This well-regarded winery, which was established in 1969, produces some of Mudgee's best wines. Huntington Estate sponsors a music festival each year and puts on wine dinners, tastings and lunches in some of Australia's largest cities, so you can enjoy winery-organized events even if you can't take the time to drive to Mudgee.
Perhaps you'd like to spend a weekend in Mudgee and stay on a wine estate. Thistle Hill's bed and breakfast cottage is located on winery property. While you're there, try some of Thistle Hill's award-winning organic wines.
You can also stay overnight at Farmer's Daughter Wines. At this small boutique winery you can book one of the three reasonably-priced rental cottages; they'll even provide breakfast items you can cook yourself.
Mudgee is a region that is far less well-known than local producers would like it to be. There is a lot of room for wine tourism growth here; Mudgee is just a few hours' drive from Sydney and makes an excellent weekend destination. There are plenty of wineries to visit and many of them offer very good wines. Mudgee winemakers are well able to create top-quality wines, particularly from grapes that can tolerate cool spring weather.
The challenge seems to be that, at least right now, there are so very many types of Mudgee wine that consumers may find themselves wondering which Mudgee wines really are the best. If local growers and wine producers can work together to forge a true Mudgee identity, it's easy to imagine a whole host of opportunities for increased expansion and brand recognition.