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Three-and-a-half hours' drive west of Sydney will bring you to one of the most exciting emerging wine regions in Australia. Sitting on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range, the Orange wine region comprises the contiguous area that is at least 600m above sea level, centred around the city of Orange. The region also takes in parts of the surrounding Cabonne and Blayney Shires, but it essentially encircles the city of Orange.
Commercial vineyards have only been operating in the Orange region since the 1980s, but the region was well-known for its flourishing fruit orchards well before then. What gives Orange its unique point of difference is its altitude. With the lowest vineyards sitting at 600m above sea level, and the highest reaching up to nearly 1000m, the Orange region is one of the highest wine regions in Australia.
Although a young region in viticultural terms, Orange has grown rapidly from its humble beginnings forty years ago, to now having over 1500 hectares of land under vine today.
The climate of Orange is cool continental, with the major influence coming from the altitude of the region. Warm days give way to cold nights, with summer temperatures rarely getting above 32 degrees celsius during the day, then dropping significantly overnight, cooling the vines down and aiding in acid retention.
The highest vineyards in the region are on the slopes of Mount Canobolas (which peaks at 1395m), with most vignerons favouring a north to north-easterly aspect, to take advantage of the gentle morning sun. Vineyards on the western side of Orange often face west, and are more suited to bolder reds and fuller flavoured white varieties, benefitting from the warm, westerly sun.
It is not just altitude and aspect that give the Orange region its unique terroir. The soils throughout the region play a very important role too. Mount Canobolas is an ancient volcano which has been weathered down to produce rich basalt-based soils that are deep red-brown in colour, friable and well-draining. Alongside these soils are yellow-brown clay loams of mixed origin, including volcanic ash. Both these two soil groups promote considerable vigour, so vineyard management is vital.
There is further geological diversity through the remnants of Australia's vast inland sea, which has deposited outcrops of limestone throughout the region. These are associated with the famous terra rossa soils, which are littered through the region. Sites such as these are highly sought after by growers, as the limestone-based soils offer very low fertility, resulting in low yields of very concentrated fruit.
The Orange region produces an array of styles and varieties, from fuller-bodied reds through to light and aromatic whites. The three most widely planted varieties in the region are Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, with Pinot Noir nipping at their heels. But special mention must also be made of the Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc grown here - two aromatic varieties that produce wonderfully complex, dry, cool-climate whites.
Outside of these more conventional varieties, many winemakers are finding success with alternative varieties such as Cabernet Franc, Viognier, Gewurztraminer and Barbera, as well as many others.
Orange is certainly an innovative region, and one blessed with a diverse and interesting terroir. Together with the focus on fresh produce and gourmet food, the Orange has become a food tourist mecca, and one of the most exciting regions in Australia.
Ross Hill, Canobolas-Smith, Philip Shaw Wines, Swinging Bridge, De Salis Wines, Angullong, Bloodwood Wines, Patina, Mayfield Vineyard. It's also important to note that many winemakers outside of the Orange region still source fruit from within it. Producers such as Logan Wines, Gilbert Family Wine Co., and Eloquesta are all based in nearby Mudgee, but source large portions of their fruit from Orange.