Gold was first discovered here in 1851 and was the first major gold find in Australian history. There is still a working mine in the area.
It's a pretty place in the gorge where the Summerhill and Lewis Ponds Creeks meet and there are walks for those who want to explore the old workings and tunnels. But you need to keep to the tracks. Old shafts abound and not all are documented.
For the old miners, who worked around 500 claims, the gold ran out 10 months after the initial discovery and all that is left of the township now are remnants of some buildings and a grave yard.
Back in Orange we sought out the new Charles Sturt University Winery tasting rooms. The University in Wagga Wagga has its own vineyards and a working winery as an essential part of their Viticulture and Wine Science degree courses. They not only use their own grapes, including those grown on the Orange campus, but also bring in fruit from other cool climate areas of New South Wales. These include the Hilltops region around Young through to Tumbarumba in the Snowy Mountains and down to Gundagai.The nicely appointed tasting rooms had just opened with an enthusiastic crew in place so we got right royal treatment tasting all the way through their range from sparklings, whites, reds to rose'. We didn't venture into their fortified range.
An early advocate of screw cap closures, the university now puts all its sparkling wine under crown seal replacing the wired cork ( Mon dieu! Sacrilège!!!!)
We liked their 2011 Sauvignon Blanc made from fruit grown in their Orange campus vineyard, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot made predominantly from Hilltops fruit, 2009 Cabernet/Shiraz from Orange and 2010 Tempranillo from Tumbarumba with its minimalist "T" label.
And getting a 25% discount for being an alumni member was icing on the cake. Since its inception in 1977, the CSU winery has been awarded over 28 trophies, 98 gold, 18 silver and 483 bronze medals in national wine shows.
The next stop was Ross Hill Wines on the slopes of Mt. Canobolas. They had two wine ranges, one fruit driven and one with a little more winemaker's input. The winemaker, Phil Kernery, was running the cellar door and it was interesting to listen to his philosophy.
'Good wine starts in the vineyard' was a catch phrase not high on his list.
We tasted through both ranges and appreciated in this case the complexity that the winemaker's input can introduce. In many cases I have found that too much of it, especially in the whites, can overpower the fruit in a negative way. But that was not the case here. The Pinnacle 2011 Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc were simply wild yeast fermented yielding wines of intensity, complexity, fine texture and length.
The Pinnacle 2010 Pinot Noir was naturally fermented by wild yeasts, macerated on skins for 4 weeks and matured in 25% new French oak for 10 months. A very light style but the intensity of flavour and the length were amazing.
The Pinnacle 2010 Shiraz for me, was the red wine of the trip.
The tasting notes say " hand picked and naturally fermented by wild yeasts in small open fermenters at our brand new Wallace Lane winery, matured in small French oak for eighteen months, this wine is powerful, aromatic and densely layered, showing the capacity of the Orange region for growing multi dimensional reds of great character"
Can't argue with that!
During our discussions, we found out that Ross Hill makes Hedberg Hill's wines and that there was stock of the late harvest Riesling we liked so much being prepared for release in their cool store. Phil called Peter up and we 'bid' for two bottles on a cash basis.
Peter kindly agreed.
So after a tour of the winery that was the end of our wine tasting adventure. We wanted a simple meal that night so found a new Japanese restaurant in town, Mr.Sushi King which, despite the hokey name, fitted the bill exactly.
Next morning we headed home via Canowindra through more beautiful country to Cowra and then basically back along the route we had come with all our booty clinking away in the back of the car.
Plenty of wine to put down and lots for current drinking.
Life is pretty good!