April was a tough month on a personal front. Some months are like that. By the time the end of the month was in sight, we were hanging out for our 3-night stay in Mudgee. With a mutual aversion for weekend crowds, we opted for a midweek stay.
“What’s there to do in Mudgee,” Peter asked. “Is it just wineries and food?”
With Peter’s blood sugar levels just a smidgin over the benchmark, an orgy of wine tasting was clearly not on the cards for us. As for the food scene...
“Peter, did I tell you that two of Mudgee’s best restaurants - Pipeclay Pumphouse and The Zin House - will be closed when we’re there? They’re only open from Thursday to Sunday.” I then added, “Alby & Esthers’ menu looks great but I’ve been told they’re under renovation due to storm damage.”
Following a thunderous expletive, Peter said, “Should we just cancel Mudgee and go to the south coast instead?”
Quickly coming to Mudgee’s defense, I showed Peter the Home Page of where I planned on booking our 3-night stay, a self-contained studio in the midst of the 300 acre grounds of Rosby Winery & Guesthouse. From the pages of their website, it oozed tranquility and effortless chic. After highlighting what else there was to do in Mudgee besides food and wine - a plethora of charming neighbouring villages and national parks with spectacular scenery and world heritage listed bushland waiting to be explored - Peter’s mood picked up considerably. Signed and sealed.
With accommodation and restaurants booked, we departed Sydney at 10:30 am on a Monday and opted for the scenic route via Bell’s Line of Road instead of the sterility of the Great Western Highway. Stretching our legs and grabbing a bite to eat at a thoroughly forgettable eatery at Bilpin, we continued on for another 178 kms and arrived at the main town of Mudgee by 4 pm. We located Henry Lawson Drive with ease and drove for another 7 minutes before sighting the “Rosby Wines” signpost and turning right on to Strikes Lane.
Gingerly navigating the dirt road of Rosby Estate, we soaked up the magnificent scenery of sprawling paddocks that included 6 hectares of grapes. Turning left towards the signpost marked “Guesthouse” (straight ahead was the “Winery”), we made our way to the allocated Studio parking space. Rotating our stiff lower backs and limbs after stepping out of our dust-coated car, we grabbed our bags and, as per our instructions, let ourselves into the Studio.
While Rosby’s Guesthouse & Studio presented well on their website, the reality was far more beautiful and inviting. Light and fresh country air flooded into the self-contained space from the generously sized windows and sliding doors, bringing the magnificent view of the gardens and paddocks into the living space and bedroom. The decor, while sumptuous and luxurious, put guests at ease with a refined-relaxed aesthetic. Classic furniture pieces, updated with modern-neutral upholstery, were adorned with Kilim scatter cushions, adding an eclectic touch. Rugs and throw rugs gave extra appeal and comfort. Original artworks by Resident Artist (and Rosby co-owner), Kay Norton-Knight dotted the walls, a refreshing change to the generic prints of the majority of accommodations. The bedroom featured all white built-in wardrobes and bedlinen, expanding the space. Flowers in vases peppered the lounge room, bedroom and bathroom and an abundance of quality magazines and books were freely scattered for the guests’ enjoyment.
As for the kitchen, it was extremely well stocked. From good quality pans, cooking utensils, crockery, glassware and a dish-washer, we also had everything we needed for a breakfast of kings: eggs from the Rosby chicken coop, middle rasher bacon in the fridge, a variety of tomatoes and chili from their vegetable patch, and even gluten-free bread and cereal for me. A ‘Welcome’ note from Amber Norton-Knight, Kay’s daughter, awaited us on the dining room table, along with the front door keys and a complementary bottle of Rosby Shiraz, cheese and biscuits. Indeed, from the moment we walked into “our” Rosby space, the attention-to-detail whispered, “You are welcome and valued as our guests.”
Rosby Studio Bedroom
Over 3 days and nights, Mudgee wove her magic spell around us, manifesting in golden moments.... ... like our private wine tasting with Gerry Norton-Knight of Rosby Wines the first evening of our arrival. Leading us on a short walk to a middle paddock that boasted one of the highest points on the property, we savoured his wines against a magnificent sunset and 360 degree panorama of the surrounding paddocks....
... like our dinner at The Wineglass Restaurant, where Peter gently chided a gentleman at the next table for speaking a little too loudly with his business associates, preventing Peter and I from conversing with each other and fully appreciating Chef Scott Tracey’s slow roasted chili jam lamb rump together with an excellent Bunnamagoo Cab Sav. As serendipity would have it, the gentleman was no other than Bunnamagoo’s winemaker Robert Black, a delightful gentleman who we caught up with 2 days later at the Bunnamagoo winery....
... like the natural splendour of The Drip, where we hiked amidst a charming ferny glade and gazed up at huge honeycomb cliffs that lined the gorge’s wall...
... like Ferntree Gully, were we descended into an enormous rainforest gully and walked alongside lyrebirds, feeling like fairies traipsing through the Garden of Eden like it was our first day on Earth....
... like gazing in wonder at each and every glorious sunset and sunrise from the comfort of the Studio grounds at Rosby, and the sumptuous breakfasts that we prepared for ourselves with the produce that they provided for us, which we ate al fresco....
Such stuff dreams are made of.
And so on our last day at Mudgee, we took pains in leaving ‘our’ Rosby Studio as close to the way that we found it. Somehow, we had made it our own as we knew that we would be back.
Mudgee Nature Walks
Ferntree Gully, Growee (NSW)
While the Mudgee region is renown for tantalising the taste buds, its great outdoors have as much to offer its visitors.
* The Drip: Located in Goulburn River National Park, 50 kms north of Mudgee on the Cassilis Road. The Drip refers to a towering sandstone cliff-face adorned with weeping grasses and ferns and dripping clear spring water into the river below. There’s a sandy beach and large fallen rocks that you can sit on. The 1.5km track takes about 30 minutes each way.
* Ferntree Gully: Located 40 minutes southeast of Mudgee via Lue (pronounced Lu-ee), just off the Bylong Valley Way (17 kms from Rylstone). A signpost on the main highway will point you towards a 3 km dirt track, which leads to the picnic area and start of walk. With a choice of two walks - the Sydney Peppermint Walk and the Gully Walk - we chose the more demanding, albeit dramatic, of the two. The Gully Walk took us 1 hour in total, including scenic stops.
Bunnamagoo Winery, Mudgee (NSW)
Mudgee has over 40 family-owned cellar doors, making it a very tough call to choose the ones to visit in a limited amount of time. Listed alphabetically, below were some of our favourites:
Bunnamagoo - Owned by the Paspaley family group, grapes destined for Bunnamagoo Wines are hand-picked into small bins, to save the first juice. Each vintage is pondered and the vigneron’s and the winemaker’s personal responses are discussed while the grapes are still on the vine. After vintage the wines are given time to slowly mature and develop before bottling and release. The vintages regularly sell out and may be hard to find. http://www.bunnamagoowines.com.au/home/.aspx
Di Lusso Estate - Di Lusso Estate vineyards specialise in Italian varieties and blends growing eight varieties of grapes, with up to fifteen wine styles on offer at any one time. Well worth the visit, if only to walk through their beautiful gardens and enjoy an antipasto platter in their courtyard with a glass of your favourite tipple, underneath a lush canopy of grapevines. http://www.dilusso.com.au
Gilbert Family Wines - Gilbert Family Wines began its journey in 2004 by fifth generation winemaker Simon Gilbert. Simon continues to craft great wines of purity, elegance and vibrancy, varietally true to itself, clean and technically sound. Gilbert’s newly open Cellar Door, ‘The Cellar by Gilbert’ has been awarded Best Cellar Door in Mudgee, in the category ‘Best Additional Experience’ by Gourmet Wine Traveller. https://www.gilbertfamilywines.com.au
Robert Stein - The Robert Stein Vineyard traces its family history back to the earliest days of Australia's pioneers. Brought out from Germany by the Macarthur family (of sheep-breeding fame) in 1838, Johann Stein carried with him the first cuttings of Rhine Riesling to survive in Australia. Over a century later tradition was revived when in 1976 Robert "Bob" Stein, a great-great grandson, purchased 75 acres at the present location in Mudgee and embarked on a rigorous planting programme - Shiraz being the first rootlings planted. Under Bob's watchful gaze, modern equipment and technology combines with honourable traditions to produce a variety of red and white table wines of award winning quality. The Robert Stein winery also boasts an additional attraction, its Vintage Motorbike collection, which includes rare motorcycle collectables and photographs on display. The museum is open daily and entry is free. https://www.robertstein.com.au
Rosby Wines - Rosby Wines are the epitome of low-impact viticulture and truly boutique wine production. Borne from 15 acres of 20-year-old cabernet sauvignon and shiraz grapes — planted, pruned and picked by hand — the vineyard is carefully managed to produce high-quality, low-yield crops. http://www.rosby.com.au
Restaurants & Cafes Open Midweek
Eltons, Mudgee (NSW)
* The Wineglass - Owned and run by f ormer Rockpool Head Chef Scott Tracey, who purchased the restaurant and moved to Mudgee to provide a healthier lifestyle for his young family. The Wineglass offers a seasonal menu that’s inspired by the regions local produce. Open Sunday to Saturday.
* Isabella’s Trattoria - Despite not having a website that we could check the menu out on - Isabella is more than happy to text you an image of their menu if you ask for it - this restaurant delivers what it promises and more. Delicious, generously portioned, and down-to-earth Italian home cuisine. BYO, no corkage.
* Eltons - An elegant 1890s building, offering a global menu, cool vibe and craft beers on tap.
* Kelly’s Irish Pub - Don’t let the term ‘Irish Pub’ deter all you quiet diners from giving this traditional pub a shot. While it rocks over the weekends with live bands, it’s positively tranquil during the week. The food is surprisingly good (try the crisp skin salmon) and should the Mudgee winter chills get to you, there’s a huge fireplace you can dine right next to.
* The Butcher Shop Cafe - This hip cafe is well worth the visit, if only to check out its bones as an historic butcher shop dating back to 1875. Enjoy freshly squeezed juices and coffee made from home-roasted beans amidst aged metal ceiling rails and tiled walls. Try the ‘Butcher's Benedict'. Open for breakfast and lunch only.
29 Nine 99 Yum Cha & Tea House, Rylstone (NSW)
Rylstone - Rylstone makes a worthwhile detour either on the way back to Mudgee after a visit to Ferntree Gully (as we did) or on the way back to Sydney after your Mudgee stay. You can pick up a brochure for the Rylstone Heritage Walk and learn more about the town's colonial-era sandstone buildings, including its four stone churches and early stone and timber cottages. Don’t miss a leisurely yum cha lunch and tea at the iconic 29 Nine 99 Yum Cha & Tea House. Somewhat of a Rylstone institution, this restaurant/ gift shop is owned by artist Na Lan, who grew up in Xian (central Shaanxi province). The restaurant is named after the date she married her Australian husband, Reg (the 29th of September 1999).
Gulgong - About 30 km from Mudgee, Gulgong was originally a 19th-century gold rush town. With approximately 130 buildings with National Trust classification, you can take a self-guided walking tour of the town's historic sites.
Self-prepared breakfast at Rosby Guesthouse & Studio (Mudgee, NSW)