Berry is also forging ahead with key festivals as many other areas have been forced to cancel because of COVID-19 restrictions.
QANTAS has announced the airline won’t be resuming international flights until March next year. On the bright side, Australians have a whole continent at their disposal to stave off the cabin fever of coronavirus lockdown and my home state of NSW is bigger than Spain and Germany combined. In June, the experience of just being able to hit the highway seemed like a truly liberating experience and our first road trip took us to Mudgee.
The annual Flavours of Mudgee event, which draws more than 12,000 visitors a year, is still scheduled for November 21st. But there are more than 40 cellar doors to sample in the meantime. We made a pitstop at Roth’s Wine Bar, which has been serving up good food, wine and music since 1923. The wine cellar features most of the local bottlings and the cosy hangout is a reminder that Roth’s operates one of NSW’s oldest wine bar licenses.
Mudgee wineries started the social media hashtag #winefromthebush to attract more visitors post-lockdown. A true standout is Gooree Park Wines, the largest winery in the region, and also a renowned thoroughbred stud. At the cellar door, you can go upmarket like the racehorses going through their paces on the manicured property with the Premium Collection, including 2017 Crowned Glory Shiraz. Or stock up on everyday drops such as Gooree Park Chardonnay.
Next stop Lowe Wines, one of the NSW’s first organic and biodynamic vineyards. Specialising in small batch winemaking, enthusiasts from all over the world join the Lowe winemakers every year during vintage because the wines are a showcase for slow winemaking. Zinfandel holds pride of place at Lowe, but we took home a superlative Organic Merlot and Headstone Rosé. If you are travelling with friends or family, book ahead for a one-hour designated tasting on the outside terrace.
The Mudgee Homestead Guesthouse is located only 11 minutes’ drive from Lowe’s and nine minutes from Robert Oatley Vineyards and Robert Stein Winery. An imposing Federation-style property on 16 hectares, birdsong is a natural alarm clock and the surrounding bushland is home to a mob of kangaroos. There are two plush guest lounges where you can feel like a member of the squattocracy, a billiards room and the seven guestrooms could grace the pages of Country Style magazine.
On weekends, guests can enjoy a four-course meal, courtesy of head chef, Janelle Bull, formerly of the renowned Cleopatra’s in Blackheath. The property’s own vineyard – the Frenzied Fox – is planted to the Italian varietal, Negroamaro, to produce deeply-flavoured reds and a rosé dubbed The Blushing Fox.
I fell in love with the south coast of NSW when Tourism NSW invited me to spend a long weekend on the stretch of coast from Batemans Bay to Ulladulla. If oysters are a passion, this is the region for you. The Narooma Oyster Festival has been re-scheduled to April/May next year, but there are plenty of places offering luscious bivalves to go or taste.
A leading mecca for oyster fans is Tathra Oysters. The Rodely family have been farming Sydney rock oysters on Nelson Lake for 32 years. Their tagline is – Imagine an oyster-growing area in the middle of a National Park. No, it’s not a dream. The park under discussion is Mimosa Rocks National Park and Tathra have scooped up more than 180 awards for their oysters since 1988. But bookmark a visit for later this year because they only sell oysters in peak condition during a seven-month season from December to June.
There’s no season at Eden Smokehouse. Operated by Stan Soroka, the company is also one of the south coast’s must-stops. With a laundry list of awards for its smoked meats and seafood, it’s a tough choice deciding what to take home. The smoked eel is right up there with the best you’ll find in the Netherlands, which prides itself on the delicacy. Other hot tips are the smoked old-style bacon and smoked Mexican chilli mussels.
Tilba, the picture-perfect town made famous on River Cottage Australia, is – fits the bill of that over-used expression – idyllic. Only a short drive from Horse Head Rock, Gulaga National Park and Mount Dromedary, one of the best places to stay a couple of nights is The Bryn at Tilba. Billing itself as a 4.5-star B&B and set in four hectares of park-style gardens, this is the elegant country house experience bar none.
One of the highlights of Tilba is Tilba Real Dairy. Its predecessor, the ABC Cheese Factory, opened in 1891 and the business is still housed in the building of the same name. Two local dairy farmers, Nic and Erica Dibden, now own the company and specialise in artisanal cheeses made from the milk of their pure Jersey herd. A variety of cheddars, Persian and Greek fetta, parmesan, pecorino and haloumi are just the headliners.
Berry is only two hours drive from Sydney and 2.5 hours drive from Canberra yet delivers the country getaway vibe in spades. A major drawcard for its chic boutique shopping, the town has also become a major magnet for girls-just-want-to-have-fun groups. The Luxe South Coast tour specialists offer women-only trips such as the Wine, Vine and Dine tour that includes visits to three local wineries or you can enjoy scones amid the vines on the High Tea and Bubbles Tour.
Berry is also forging ahead with key festivals as many other areas have been forced to cancel because of COVID-19 restrictions. The South Coast Food & Wine Festival will be held from October 16th to 17th at White Sands Park, Huskisson-Jervis Bay. Exhibitors include Two Figs Winery, Coolangatta Estate, Cambewarra Estate and Jervis Bay Brewing and Pigs Fly craft beers. Food and produce stalls on hand for the two-day blowout include Kangaroo Valley Olives, Jim Wild’s Oysters, Nomad Kitchen BBQ and the South Coast Beef Producers Association.
The Berry Gardens Festival will take place just before the food festival on October 15th to 18th, allowing access to eight gorgeous gardens. The most glamorous and secluded place to stay is Mount Hay Retreat. Located on 145 hectares near the spectacular escarpment of Broughton Head, the property is a working farm surrounded by native bush. There are five luxury suites with soaring ceilings and all the trappings of a 5-star hotel. All of them sport panoramic views, but when you want to do something active there’s a 35 metre indoor heated pool, a giant outdoor chess set, ornamental koi to feed and a “cloud swing”. Crooked River Wines, Silos Estate and Mountain Ridge Wines are only a short drive away.