Mudgee is a quiet achiever and keeps a low profile. Have a look at the current edition of James Halliday Wine Companion and there are only a handful of wineries in the voluminous book. Why? Well there are a couple of theories. Maybe the producers are going well without the added promotion that comes from gaining entry. Alternatively, it could be viewed that the readers of Halliday are not their target market.

Mudgee is an Aboriginal word for “nest in the hills”, and the region is surrounded by rolling hills. It is located on the central western tablelands of New South Wales approximately 260 km north-west of Sydney. The climate is hot (MJT 23.2, GDD 1983) but differs from the Hunter in recording a lower rainfall (100mm less), especially in summer. Mudgee does not suffer from the mould or mildew problems of the Hunter Valley and vintage usually starts about a month later. There can be a slight risk of frost and hail damage. The volcanic quartz and sandy clay soils produce wines of great depth and character. Currently there is 1,922 hectares planted which has dropped from 3500 hectares in 2010. It’s an old region and has gone through some tough times with plenty of vines being pulled up and I witnessed abandoned vineyards on my travels. At the same time there is some signs of a recovery with new plantings going in.

Italian varieties were originally planted by Carlo Corino for Montrose way back late 1970’s, so Mudgee has a long history in these varieties. It has taken 50 years but they are now prospering. See later in the article.

There are 36 cellar doors but only 10 wineries which means the majority of vineyards get their wines made by contract winemakers.
David Lowe makes the certified organic Lowe Family Wines. A fellow Legend of the Vine recipient, David has had a stella career which stated as winemaker at Rothbury Estate in the Hunter Valley at the tender age of 21. He has been heavily involved in the NSW wine industry, as well as championing the Mudgee wine region for decades. I’ve known David for a long time, he has generously supported wine education and been a guest presenter on many occasions to my students. In an amazing coup for Australia, Lowe took out the prestigious International Zinfandel Trophy at the 2005 International Wine Challenge in London, for their 2003 Lowe Family Zinfandel, and continues to make a Zinfandel from low yielding unirrigated vines, when conditions are right. His 2021 Zinfandel ($95) has prune and raisin notes with some chocolate, liquorice and liqueur cherry. Textured with lashings of ripe plums and black cherries on the palate. There is still a pleasing restrained element to this full bodied wine. Highly recommended.
In 2011 Kim Currie came on board as Director and Executive Chef and runs the onsite Zin House restaurant and Althea by Zin a French bakery in the township. All these ventures makes Lowe the third largest employer in Mudgee. The cellar door has an open plan design and feel, with plenty of room to roam and discover their kitchen and market gardens.

Lowe Cuvee 2023 ($45) is a tank fermented sparkling wine made from chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot gris. It has some hints of lees contact, nutty, and is light but showing some texture on the palate. Overall, a pleasant wine. Recommended.

David has championed preservative free Shiraz and his 2023 ($28) is deep, inky with pure sweet black fruits and carries the 15% alcohol well. His most impressive wines were from traditional Mudgee grape varieties. The Merlot 2021 ($45) was earthy, dusty, with cedar oak supported by some blackberry. Medium bodied on the palate with savoury, dry chalky tannic finish. Highly recommended.
The 2021 Block 8 Shiraz ($45) has similar earth, cedar, herbal and some tobacco. Palate had more mint with some medicinal notes. Not fruit driven at all. Which is what makes this a traditional red. Recommended. The 2019 Block Shiraz ($75) is a notch up the quality scale. The earth and tobacco is backed up with mulberries and blackberries as well as vanilla. It’s textured and savoury on the palate with meaty tannins. Highly recommended. On reflection I found a number of Mudgee shiraz more closer to cabernet sauvignon in taste.
New plantings are going in at Lowe Family wines and it is interesting that it is all alternative grape varieties. Plantings include ansonica, vermentino, pecorino, aglianico and nero d’avola. It is typical of how the region is moving towards these Mediterranean grape varieties rather than the traditional shiraz and cabernet sauvignon.

Photo of Lowe Family Wines underground storage/fermenter amphoras.

Robert ‘Bob’ Stein planted his vineyard in 1976 and comes from great pioneering stock as his ancestor Johann Stein came out from Germany in 1838 with the first cuttings of Rhine Riesling. Johann went on to work with the Macarthur family at Camden Park. Bob’s grandson Jacob Stein (photo below) now makes the wines at Robert Stein. Jacob has a reputation for producing a range of riesling including a Reserve 2022 ($60) that has pungent lemons and limes with pleasant floral notes. The wine is dry minerally and elegant on the palate. It is sourced from vines planted in 1976 and recommended.

The Robert Stein 2022 Reserve Chardonnay was highly recommended. It displayed some touches of struck match with hints of buttery MLF notes. Medium bodied in style. The Robert Stein Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($80) was blackberry driven with minty notes. Well balanced tannins and showed strong varietal characteristics. Highly recommended. Their top-flight, The Kinnear 2019 ($97) is predominantly a shiraz wine with a 7% cabernet. The wine is rich and powerful with plum and blackberry aromas. The palate is juicy, black fruit driven but has that telltale tannin spine that runs through Mudgee reds. Highly recommended. As was the 2022 Montepulciano ($44). It displayed that rich plum, blackberry bush and blueberry fruit nose commonly found with this variety. The palate was suitably plush with powdery dry tannins on the finish. The cellar door is well worth a visit which offers food throughout the week as well as farm produce and a motorcycle museum.

First Ridge Wines is located on rocky soils alongside the Lithgow/Bathurst road to the south of the of the town. Owner John Nicholas specialised in planting Italian varieties and pulled in top viticultural consultant Richard Smart to help with establishing the vineyard. It’s been a labour of love for the owners “it has taken 20 years to get the vineyard into shape” comments John. The wines are made by James Manners
First Ridge Prosecco 2023 ($32) was full of pear and apple with fresh, zesty, high acid as a prosecco should be. Their 2023 Fiano ($30) was fleshy with hints of peach. Firm and textured with a touch of creamy, nuttiness on the palate. Both wines are recommended.

First Ridge cellar door

They do a medium bodied wine called Marco 2022 ($38) which is a 50/50 blend of Barbera and Sangiovese. It is savoury, dry with soft tannins. Flavours of earth and cedar oak.
The 2021 Barbera ($45) is their top wine. It was black fruit driven with some mineral and earthy, cedar notes. It was rich and textured, firm and warm with black cherry flavours. Highly recommended.

There is something going on in this part of Mudgee with Barbera. At next door Skimstone Estate the Piemonte grape is also a star. I sat and tasted their wines with their French born winemaker Jean-Francois Esnault. He trained and worked in Bordeaux and completed vintages in Burgundy and New Zealand before finding his way to Mudgee. To say he is fixated on pruning is an understatement, but strongly believes that it is a vital task to ensure that quality fruit is produced from the vine.

The Skimstone Chardonnay 2022 ($35) is highly recommended showing attractive struck match, flint and biscuit. Palate is elegant, cashew nut driven with malolatic notes. It was similar to the 2022 Barrel Selection Chardonnay ($50) which was tighter and needs a bit more time. Looks promising, and had a long finish. Also highly recommended.
Their 2023 Rosé made from Sangiovese is fresh and perfumed with red cherry fruit. Dry, well balanced acidity with a long finish. Good stuff. Highly recommended.
Their 2021 Barbera ($38) had earth, plum and floral violet notes. Palate was savoury with liquorice, meaty, slightly jammy but well balanced with powdery tannins. Highly recommended.

Finally, Cabernet Merlot ($40) was, as you would expect from a French winemaker, a Bordeaux style red with leaf, mint and tobacco notes. The elegant medium bodied palate was textured with medium acid and tannins. A 60/40 blend and recommended.

Returning back to town, and along the Craigmoor road, Heslop Wines is owned by Bob and Julie Heslop, with the help from their son Liam. This was a Recommended winery in the 7th edition, but on this trip I didn’t get time to call in. Bob Heslop spent several years making wines from Mansfield wines, while son Liam has international experience in Sonoma and Piemonte. They have an eclectic range of wines including a White Frontignac, Zinfandel and a good example of Touriga Nacional (2019 vintage was recommended, as was their Shiraz). They are one of only a few wineries to have the Tinta Cao variety planted.

In conclusion, Mudgee has gone through a major correction in plantings and feels leaner and more ready to face the future. The region offers great food and wine experiences and, of course, good coffee. The alternative varieties coming out of cellar doors provides visitors with a refreshing option to the more traditional Mudgee reds. After saying that the mainstay shiraz and cabernet wines are still there and offer a different style of wine to so many other regions being more medium bodied, traditional, earthy, leafy and cedar driven. The cellar doors and town is well worth exploring.

Clive Hartley is an award-winning wine writer, educator and consultant. Check out his fortnightly radio show on Hepburn Community Radio called “put a cork in it”. Now out on Spotify. Want to learn more about wine? Try his book the Australian Wine Guide (7th ed) – available for purchase through his website –

Feature image is taken from Robert Stein’s cellar door