The Orange wine region is Australia’s highest, rising from about 600m to just over 1000m. This terrain offers the ideal environment for cool-climate wine-growing, with most vineyards being planted on the hillsides, greatly reducing the effects of the more extreme cold temperatures found in the valleys. With its relatively mild summer temperatures and cold winters, and, on average, more than nine hours’ sunshine daily during the growing season between October and April, Orange is also one of Australia’s sunniest cool-climate regions. Grape-harvesting time is highly dependent on a given vineyard’s elevation, with those at around 600m starting in February and running through to March or April in approximately weekly increments for each 100m increase in elevation.
Generally, rainfall in the Orange region is fairly uniform year-round, depending on the elevation and proximity to Mount Canobolas, with reliable winter rain allowing for good vine growth through spring and summer, before slowing as the autumn ripening season sets in. On the higher elevations, such as at Hill Park, cooler conditions and uniform annual rainfall allows for the majority of vineyards to thrive with minimal or no irrigation.
Dominating the surrounding terrain, Mount Canobolas’ ancient volcanic sediments are a major contributor the Orange region’s unique terroir. From the deep, free-draining basalt clay and silt that predominates between 800m and 1000m, to the lower slopes’ less fertile sedimentary soils at between 700m and 900m, the opportunity for growing grapes that express their singular terroir now sees some 1500ha under vine (and counting) across the region.
Tom Ward has long been a passionate advocate of Orange’s winegrowers and, since the early days of his time at Swinging Bridge, has sourced grapes from a number of premium blocks around the district, including premium Chardonnay from the 890m Balmoral block in Caldwell Lane and Pinot Noir from Yuranigh Road (650m). But it is Swinging Bridge’s home vineyard, Hill Park, at an elevation of 890m, that Tom regards as his showcase, having already produced a number of award-winning wines from the vineyard before making it his home.
“We’re constantly in the vineyard, which gives the insight we need to produce wines that typify the region, the season and showcase the finest grape parcels.”
Tom’s winemaking philosophy is equally as uncompromising: to make premium-quality wines that speak directly of their regional provenance, and more particularly, the unique terroir of the vineyard. “In a high-elevation, cool-climate region like Orange, the wines need to have brightness and no forced acidity. For a cool-climate Chardonnay, for example, we need the oak to support; not dominate. Most of our best input goes into creating wines with texture and long life.”
His winemaking focus, however, is not only on producing a collection of the highly finessed, elegant blends sourced from the best fruit around the region, such as those in the Swinging Bridge Winemaker and Selector Series, but to push into previously uncharted territory with his Hashtag Series.
“I’m prepared to experiment and try different things. It’s about having fun and showing off our wild side. It’s about pushing the boundaries to evolve styles and create new wines that people enjoy.”