Day 2: Small Family-Owned Wineries and Farm-to-Table Dining
We were up at dawn with the kids. Thankfully, despite the chaos that is traveling with several generations, we managed to enjoy a slow morning. Embracing that slow country life meant putting a pot of coffee to sip and savor in the early morning light on the terrace, followed by a big family breakfast.
After breakfast was consumed and pants were found, we headed out for the day. For the second day of our five-day tour of Mudgee, we are venturing to nearby Rylstone. Small, intimate, family-owned vineyards and a sleepy heritage town await us. Visiting Rylstone embodies all the principles of sustainable agritourism that can help revitalize rural economies and many other great perks.
If you don’t have a designated driver, as we did, then you can even catch the train throughout the region to visit some of these smaller towns. We first pulled up to the Naked Ladies Winery, where we had booked a table for a special outdoor live music event. Naked Ladies Winery is a small family-owned farm and vineyard. With only a handful of outdoor tables, surrounded by chicken coops, grazing pastures, vines, and stretches of farmland, you’ll feel right at home and part of their family.
Our hosts welcomed us and got us settled at our table with a couple of bottles, including their Rosé and specialty Chardonnay, which was the perfect wine to start our day. We were still a bit full of breakfast, but we had to sample some of their snack platters. As a small business, if you want to enjoy lunch with them, call ahead, and you can also enjoy pizza.
The kids played on the grassy lawn while bees flittered to and from the lavender bushes, and the Naked Lady flowers swayed in the breeze. Eventually, a family band took center stage, serenading us with folk songs. It might have been the happy buzz of wine or the intensity of the day’s heat, but looking around at the smiling faces of my family and the farm setting, I felt like I was center stage in a cheesy Rom-Com at a family wedding. Thankfully, our families get along, and I don’t have an evil mother-in-law.
Everyone agreed that we needed coffee, so after we settled the bill, the owner of Naked Lady Wines suggested we head into downtown Rylstone and visit a local coffee shop. I don’t have to be told twice to visit a historic town to support small businesses. Rylstone has plenty of coffee shops, but our host recommended The Saffron Kitchen, and we were not disappointed.
Energized by coffee, the next stop was at a French-style vineyard De Beaurepaire Wines, since French reds and near and dear to my heart. Down a long, dusty, and bumpy road lined with grapevines, we were greeted by farm workers waving at us from a distance. At the end of the road, we found the rustic yet refined tasting room offering a different ambiance from the farm at Naked Lady’s. My family settled on a large picnic bench surrounded by a lush lawn and art installations, and I went inside to get the wine for our self-guided tasting. De Beaurepaire Wines is named after the family founders with the same name. The family chose this region in Rylstone because the limestone bedrock, climate, and terroir are very similar to their homeland in Burgandy.
We booked the Lawn Bar experience, a self-guided tasting of pre-selected wines. You can, however, book a vineyard and tasting tour, a masterclass, or a specialty tasting. All this must be booked in advance – they do not take walk-ins or large groups. The pre-selected wines, surprisingly, weren’t exactly to my liking, so if I were to visit with just Ganesh, we would book a signature tasting for a more immersive experience like the farm tour. – But we had a dinner reservation to make back a the Blue Wren Restaurant.
The sunset exploded in incredible colors as we returned to our accommodation to eat dinner at the on-site restaurant. There was a large lawn and play area for kids outdoors, so as my niece and nephew ran out their extra energy, the rest ordered a lovely selection of vegetarian farm-to-table food and a couple of bottles of wine. Dinner was filled with great conversation as we watched the sunset fade from pink and blue to deep orange and yellow.
Walking back to our farmhouse, we spotted several kangaroos bouncing among the vineyards in the distance and bats flying overhead. A night of board games and more wine awaited us in our cozy home in the Australian hinterland.
Day 3: Honey, Biodynamic Wines, and Wetlands
Day three of our Mudgee wine-tasting itinerary focuses on the wineries around Mudgee. We also shake things up to enjoy alternative things in the Mudgee region. While wine tasting is undoubtedly the highlight of visiting Mudgee, you’ll want to take time to visit some of the natural protected areas, heritage sites, and other agricultural delicacies to round out the trip. Don’t worry; we managed to do all this, plus a lot of wine tasting.
After another slow morning and a quick dip in the pool, we rounded up the gang and drove to Mudgee Honey Haven. Pollinators are critical to the health and vitality of Mudgee and global food and agricultural systems. Supporting local, organic, and natural honey producers is one way to ensure the preservation of bee populations for generations to come. Stepping into the Mudgee Honey Haven was a delight to the senses; the entire store is stacked with local organic and sustainable honey, jams, chutneys, olives, olive oil, preserved fruit, wax products, beauty supplies, mead and teas, and so much more!
As I wandered through the store, helpful staff were on hand to educate me about local bees and products. My niece enjoyed the live bee hive display. We sampled some of the mead and honey ice creams before stocking up on plenty of goodies to take with us. They don’t sell wine on-site, but everything complimented local wines perfectly, so take the opportunity to purchase chutney, nuts, and honey to make a charcuterie board. Our niece and nephew enjoyed the outdoor mini golf course, made using repurposed hives. After playing a few rounds of chaotic family mini gold, we drove to our next stop.
Two giant blooming wisteria framed the grand entrance of Lowe Family Wines, housed in a tin barn. Walking up and setting eyes on this beautiful property furnished with vintage upcycled pieces, surrounded by a small lake, farm animals, and blocks of vineyards, I instantly knew this would be my favorite stop for the entire trip. Their reputation was only helped by being a family-owned property specializing in bio-dynamic farming practices and vegan bio wines.
To prevent the use of chemical pesticides, Lowe Family Wines starts with healthy and robust soil that naturally fosters productive vegetation growth. This concept reduces the need for fertilizer with a self-supporting agricultural system that strengthens the plants. The farm also relies on age-old farming practices that determine activities based on the astrological calendar to maximize a healthy return. Lowe is certified organic with these techniques, alongside other practices to reduce waste. They also have a great selection of vegan wines, making them my top choice for sustainable sipping in Mudgee.
Having called ahead to book a vegetarian picnic and tasting, we grabbed our basket of cheeses, spreads, bread, and nibbles from the staff and found a spot on the lawn. We snacked, explored the property, and challenged each other to lawn bowling. The tasting room and vineyards are located in the Tinja Farm complex. You could easily spend a whole day exploring the gardens, orchards, olive groves, and cork trees – visiting the farm animals, tasting wine, dining at the restaurant, and indulging at the on-site bakery.
After some exploring, we sat down for our wine tasting, which included their signature bio, vegan preservative-fee Shiraz. Add a taste of their Block 8 biodynamic Shiraz, Mudgee Red Gold, and Rosé.
After a satisfying afternoon at Lowe Family Wines and the Tinja Farms, the kiddos returned home with their parents for a long nap. Ganesh, myself, and his parents continued our wine tasting and exploration for the afternoon. After a great experience with Walter of Walter Wines at Flavors of Mudgee, we visited their vineyards next door to Lowe. Their cellar door is bright, modern, and chic. They have great sparking Chardonnay and Shiraz and a Cabernet, Merlot, and classic Shiraz collection.
Yeats Wine is also right next door, and their lovely outdoor patio and lawn with wood furniture is a delightful place to spend a lazy afternoon. Yeats is a small boutique family-owned producer. They specialize in estates wines from one of Mudgee’s oldest vineyards. Try their Riesling, Rosé, and of course, the Shiraz.
After a few tastings, we needed a bit of a break from wine, and our designated driver (thanks, Ganesh’s dad) took us to the Putta Bucca Wetlands. Sadly, this small pocket of restored habitat is just a fragment of the incredible ecosystem historically provided by the Cudegegon River. The area was converted into a Quarry by colonizers and recently restored. The conservation site is a habitat for the at-risk-of-extinction platypus and Eastern long-neck turtles. It is also an excellent spot for birding, so bring your binoculars. It is a tiny habitat with only about 1km of trails near some loud construction, but it is a nice natural escape and a glimpse into the past.
While the Honey Haven had a lot of produce from non-native honey bees, we managed to spot some native bees while on a walk at Putta Bucca. They were hard to photograph but were unlike any bee I’ve seen! The Putta Bucca wetlands and spaces with native biodiversity are critical in Australia. Can you spot the native bees in the photo below? They have a nest inside the hollowed-out branch.
Did you know the European honey bee is an introduced species in Australia? Australia has endemic pollinating bees that are not found anywhere else. These bees have evolved to pollinate Australia’s incredible flora over millions of years. Learn more about Australia’s unique bees and ongoing conservation efforts spearheaded by a 4-year-old’s curiosity.
We returned home to join the kids for a family night around the backyard campfire. I showed the kids how to toast marshmallows and make smores for the first time. It would have been a hit if marshmallows didn’t have such a “yucky texture.” We sat around the fire for hours, telling stories, drinking wine, and enjoying the plethora of wildlife that came and went from our site – from bats to cockatoos and kangaroos. Being in rural New South Wales was a breath of fresh air and the relaxing atmosphere we needed.
Day 4: Small Winemakers of Mudgee, Downtown, and More Tastings
Our day started with a democratic vote, as all family holidays should :) On the ballot was whether we should visit the historic gold-mining town of Gulgong. I am suspicious that my niece put it on the ballot for their 4.9-star-rated playground. Just kidding – but the town is full of heritage homes, gold mining history, museums, and more. However, we voted not to go because we hadn’t seen much of downtown Mudgee and decided that was the best way to spend our morning.
The first order of business during our time in downtown Mudgee, was coffee at Alby & Esthers, an adorable cafe tucked away in a brick inner courtyard off Market Street. If you didn’t have breakfast, this is also an excellent spot for brekky or brunch.
The four streets, lined with locally-owned small boutiques, cafes, breweries, restaurants, and art galleries, surrounding the Mudgee Clock Towner make up the central downtown area. While exploring downtown, we stopped at the Mudgee Art House, Lizzie Lulu Designs, Willow Collective, and wherever else caught our eye. We strolled along the Cudgegong River Walk and visited Lawson Park.
We dined outside the Square Cafe for an early lunch of tasty vegetarian food in a diner off the main drag. We were saving ourselves for more wine tastings in the afternoon, but the Mudgee Brewing Company might be a welcome break if you’ve had your fill of wine. Remember that most cellar doors close around 4 pm, so you could also eat lunch at a tasting room if you’ve booked a few tastings. We had a kidless afternoon to sneak in more tastings before things closed.
With food lining our stomachs, it was time for more wine tastings. Our first stop was the Mudgee Small Winemakers Center. Now this isn’t your standard cellar door. Mudgee is still a relatively rural region, especially compared to Margaret Valley or Hunter Valley. Many of this region’s wine growers and producers are small and off the beaten track. It can be hard for them to market their products, get people to visit their shop, or perhaps they don’t have room to sell their wine. That’s where Johnnie and Sally Furlong come in to save the day! The Furlong’s wanted a central location to market and sell their small-batch wine and help out their rural neighbors.
Stepping into what felt like an old-timey saloon with a dark wooden bar, old wine barrels repurposed for tables, and wicker chairs, we were greeted by a rosy-cheeked Johnnie. Within minutes of sitting down, we were one of the crew, chatting with Johnnie and the four other patrons like old friends. Despite cultural differences, the whole room found common ground in supporting small rural businesses and talking about and tasting some of Mudgee’s best-kept secrets.
Two of my favorite wines were the Two Furlongs Shiraz and Chardonnay, which featured commissioned art by Cheree Stokes and an Indigenous artist. In fact, Johnnie was an advocate for the surrounding Indigenous community, featuring many art pieces on both his wines and on the wall.
The Furlong’s have been in the wine industry for more than most in Mudgee, their expertise dating back to the late 1970s. Aside from trying the family’s award-winning wines like the Show Reserve Merlot, we also had access to other small producers like Rosebank, Black, and David Hook.
While most other tasting rooms and cellar doors require reservations and you to choose your tasting in advance, the relaxed and easy-going vibe at the Small Winemaker Center is exactly what I expect from the unpretentious wine industry in Australia. We came in, announced, paid $5 for a tasting, and got to sample the wines that appealed to us and then some. Sitting around the bar, Johnnie shared life stories from Mudgee and gave us plenty of local insider tips.
It was hard to pull ourselves away from this true gem of a place in the heart of the Mudgee wine region. But we bought our wines and made our way to the next stop.
Before returning to our farmhouse for the night, we visited Petersons Winery. While this is one of Mudgee’s oldest and most reputable wineries, the wines didn’t suit our taste. The sparkling Shiraz was a notable highlight, along with the historic patio and incredible view, but overall we found the service and wines better at some other locations. But, hey, with so many great reviews on Google, knowledgeable staff, and plenty of loyal customers, I recommend you still visit them because I am sure you will have an excellent experience!
Before heading home, if you have time, I recommend stopping by another favorite from the Flavors of Mudgee, Slow Fox Wines. The Australian country-chic cellar door has one of the best ambiances in Mudgee. They welcome kids and dogs. Slow Fox embodies the slow movement principles with small-batch, hand-picked, and hand-made wines. They are only open on weekends or by appointment otherwise. For $5, you can taste signature wines like The Blend, a Bordeaux style of Merlot, Cabernet, and Malbec. Rob and Kate are great hosts and will ensure a great tasting experience.
If you have more time in your day or during a tour trip, see if you can make it out to 791 Estate – with a reservation. Fiona and Brenden are incredibly welcoming, and I love their container-style cellar door. They can cater to vegan and vegetarian diets with their Rosé, Shiraz, and Sav Blanc.
After a long day of exploring the very best of Mudgee, we returned home. The Shankar crew (Ganesh, me, and his parents) were in charge of the kiddos while their parents went out for a much-needed date night in downtown Mudgee. We had a vegetarian BBQ and made banana boats in the fire back at the farmhouse. Storm clouds rolled in, painting an incredible backdrop for our last night.
Day 5: Leaving Mudgee, and Road Trip Home
We enjoyed savoring coffee on the terrace for the last slow morning at the farmhouse as Blue Wrens flitted about in the lemon tree bushes. The namesake birds of the farm and vineyards were cheeky yet adorable and a welcomed addition to the wildlife around the farm. After splishing and splashing in the pool with the kiddos we packed our bags and hit the road. Check-in and check-out of Blue Wren Farmhouse was a breeze, as was communication with the hosts; I would highly recommend staying with them if you are visiting Mudgee with a large group.
We stopped at High Valley Cheese Co. This locally owned and operated fromagerie smoked cheddar, blue cheeses, soft cheeses, and crumbly goat cheese with locally-sourced milk. Stop in for a cheese tasting, or grab some to take home to pair with your wine as you reminisce about your time in Mudgee. For one last coffee, before you leave, you must stop at The Coffee Burrow for the best coffee in Mudgee.
The first stop on the road trip home is Pearson’s Lookout Over Capertee Valley. This is a quick pullout to stretch your legs and enjoy the incredible view over Captertee National Park and Gardens of Stone National Park.
Lunch on the way home was at The Lighgow Tin Shed. After our satisfying vegetarian lunch, we drove to the Hassan Walls Lookout. The road was precarious as we ventured off the paved route and slowly drove 4km up the mountains to the lookout point. We took about 20 minutes to walk around the walkway and to the rocky outcrop viewpoints. The view is incredible!
I hope you venture into the Blue Mountains National Park if you have more time. On a previous trip, we spent several days in the Blue Mountains and planned this nature-based itinerary with the help of our local friend. If you follow my itinerary, you will spend a few days hiking and soaking in the culture of the historic towns. Otherwise, just continue your drive home or home base in Sydney. For us, that is the incredible Northern Beaches.