Verjus. Winery tasting rooms are called cellar doors in Australia. Was this just another Australian word I hadn’t heard yet? It was in my ORANGE & DISTRICT WINE & FOOD GUIDE. This publication grouped verjus among olive oil, nuts, and jam while listing Orange’s products. I looked verjus up. “The acidic juice of crab apples or other sour fruit, such as unripe grapes”. Actually, it was a very old Middle French word–vert (green) jus (juice).
Orange. A town, population around 39,200, about 160 miles west of Sydney. It was named for Holland’s Prince William of Orange. The area is actually too cold to grow oranges. In New South Wales, Orange was once shortlisted as the potential federal capital, but the area lacked enough water. Ironically, It rained almost the entire time we were there.
Canobolas. A 4,577 feet mountain southwest of Orange. Canobolas sounds like the Latin word for dog balls. However, it derives from the Aboriginal word for conjoined twins. Canobolas is the highest mountain in New South Wales’ central tablelands and the highest peak west of the famous Blue Mountains. Its volcanic northern slope is becoming Australia’s newest wine region.
Australian friends John and Trish like entering cellar doors as much as Ruth and I do, so we’ve gone to the Hunter Valley and the Adelaide Hills together. This time we decided to explore Australia’s “wine region of great potential” according to a book John lent me. The region’s first commercial grapes date from 1983, but Orange was not officially listed as a wine region until 1997. There are now about 30 wineries there.
Orange has similar climate and soil to France’s Burgundy. Altitude ranging from roughly 2,000 to 3,600 feet, its wineries are the highest in Australia. Snow occasionally falls. 2009 marked the end of a 10 year drought and 2011 brought a lot of rain. Grapes ripen slowly and evenly here with good acidity. Orange’s elevation means more ultraviolet light to intensify fruit flavors. That’s why this area has been traditionally known for apple, berries, plums, etc. Orange’s best wines are whites with Sauvignon Blanc judged the best. Pinot Gris and Chardonnay are also mighty fine. Reds are less successful.
Philip Shaw is said to be the area’s most renowned winemaker, but we didn’t make it to his cellar door. We started at Stockman’s Ridge. Its owner works in Sydney and his mother runs the place. We all tried out the wine barrel chairs that had just been delivered for his birthday. At one point Valerie said tartly, “If you want $2 million, start with $3 million.” Stockman’s Ridges’ 2010 Pinot Gris was sensational. On to Gordon Hills Estates. The couple running it wants to sell, and Maggie told us as she poured the Chardonnay they’re especially proud of that she’s tired of Orange being referred to as an up and coming wine region. “We’ve arrived!” she insisted correctly. By the time we made it to Borrodell, it was late afternoon and rain was intensifying. Luckily, this vineyard high on the slopes of Canobolas had a 3-bedroom cottage available to rent. The next morning John spoke of returning while I watched 3 wallabies bound across the lawn.