It’s no accident that the wines of the Orange region are gaining such a stellar reputation. As pointed out by Wine Australia, the cool-climate styles produced in Australia’s highest wine region are making a serious impression on everyone from well-versed sommeliers to curious wine lovers looking for ‘the next big thing’. These light- to medium-bodied wine styles are also eminently suited to the way Australians are choosing to eat – as easy to pair with Asian-inspired flavours and shared Mediterranean plates as they are to savour on their own. As tastes venture beyond those big, bold, high-alcohol drops long considered emblematic of the Australian style towards fresher, more elegant, aromatic and (frequently) lower alcohol wines, Orange is perfectly positioned – literally – to take its place centre stage.
Redefining cool-climate wines
While there have long been specific definitions of the term ‘cool-climate wine’ that may have once discounted Orange, due to its latitude, they are, to some extent, evolving, according to Victoria’s International Cool-Climate Wine Show regulations. What truly sets the Orange region apart from other Australian cool-climate regions, such as Western Australia’s Great Southern, Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, or Tasmania, is its altitude combined with its continental conditions, rather than its latitude (traditionally, a defining characteristic). While Orange’s elevation spans from 600m above sea level to more than 1000m, its cool temperatures are actually a result of its geographical situation, protected as it is from maritime influences by the Great Dividing Range to the east.
This provides the region’s typical continental climate – mild summers and cold winters, with more than nine hours’ sunshine during the day tempered with cool nights through the growing season, followed by prolonged, cool autumns. However, due to its unique topography, most vineyards are planted on the higher slopes, so are less affected by the cold-air channels and extremely low temperatures found in the valleys below.
Mount Canobolas, also responsible for the region’s rich volcanic soils, acts as a ‘syphon’ for the cold air in winter, decreasing seasonal fogs and allowing for high levels of winter sun, particularly at these increased elevations. The result of this topographic quirk is that more ultraviolet light is available across a longer period to build the phenolic levels in the grapes (those compounds responsible for flavour, texture and colour in the resulting wine). This becomes apparent when tasting the superb bright fruit found in premium Orange cool-climate wines, particularly pinot noir and chardonnay.
The growing conditions in the Orange region at 800m and above resemble those of Beaujolais in France’s Burgundy region, although there, the spring and autumn temperatures are cooler, and average annual rain days more plentiful. Among the predominant grapes grown there are pinot noir, pinot gris, gamay and chardonnay, mirrored, in no small part, by the varieties that characterise our own region. Here in Orange, elegant chardonnay and sauvignon blanc figure strongly in the white category, while fine-boned, fruit-driven shiraz styles and pinot noir are proving the regional heroes in the red.
Tasting the terroir
Swinging Bridge’s premium pinot noir and chardonnay grapes are grown at our home vineyard, Hill Park, situated at an elevation of 900m, as well as at Balmoral, between 890m and 910m, and Wattleview, sitting at a lofty 1070m.
Our Orange Wine Show 2018 gold-medal winner 2016 ‘Block D’ Chardonnay, for example, encompasses the essence of the Balmoral vineyard, offering the finest characteristics of grapes grown at high altitude. Its brilliant yellow-green straw hue in the glass, and nose of crisp green apple tempered by spicy vanilla oak derived from French oak barrel maturation leads to flavours of grapefruit, green apple and an elegant balance of fine acid and minerality. Clean, bright and eminently suitable for cellaring.
The 2017 Swinging Bridge ‘Wattleview’ Pinot Noir, sourced from the vineyard’s Blocks 2 and 3, not only perfectly reflects its high-altitude terroir, but embodies the best of this cool-climate variety. This smooth, silky wine exhibits a fine, brick-red colour in the glass, with subtle floral and berry aromas that lead to flavours redolent of cherries, cassis and violet.
These are great examples of why we think Orange is so exceptional – that it can produce such brilliantly fresh, fruit-driven wines of such subtlety and elegance, which are so indelibly stamped by the unique terroir of this cool-climate region.