From pinot pioneers to tractorless vineyards and plenty of Italian inspiration.
Among the myriad charms of NSW’s Southern Highlands is its relatively new cool-climate wine region, which produces a broad range of varietals including chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling, pinot gris, pinot noir, merlot and cabernet sauvignon.
It’s home to over 60 vineyards tucked into the rolling hills and more than a dozen cellar doors that vary from modern to French provincial in style but always offer a warm country welcome and – more often than not – good coffee, fine food and sometimes antiques as well as the excuse to explore the charming towns and villages of the region and get among its beautiful rural landscapes.
A five-minute drive from Bowral, Centennial Vineyards is a gracious estate that showcases the region’s cool-climate wine growing at its best.
Vines including chardonnay, riesling, pinot gris, pinot noir, gewürztraminer and tempranillo are grown here over 30 hectares (with a small vineyard in Orange) and can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, beginning at the cellar door.
Enjoy a range of experiences including a Pinot Flight – which will see you taste your way through nine different styles of the region’s cool-climate star, pinot noir.
Or take part in a session of wine and painting, an Italian cooking class with Stefano Marvello among the barrels, or a winery walk.
And when you’ve worked up an appetite, sit down at Centennial Restaurant for a relaxed lunch (think hearty country meals like lentil and vegetable shepherd’s pot pie) or a Devonshire tea with vineyard views.
With the first vines planted at this old dairy farm in 1983, Joadja Estate is the oldest continuous vineyard and winery in the Southern Highlands.
Today this boutique spot run by a dynamic young couple and located in the hills above Berrima grows pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and malbec grapes – which are turned into the funkiest of bottles whose illustrated labels each pay tribute to a local town.
Its cellar door, with its warm and rustic atmosphere, serves wood-fired pizzas and local cheeseboards alongside its artisan wines and the property also stocks produce from neighbouring purveyors (including Sutton Forest Olives olive oils and vinegars and Joadja Distillery whiskey and gin) and plays host to live music sessions, Music in the Vines, on long weekends.
Although the Southern Highlands is a relatively new Australian wine region, the very first vines were actually planted by German vigneron Joseph Vogt in 1855 before they were destroyed by bushfires 60 years later and the area given over to cattle farming.
But in 2000, Tertini Wines’ founder Julian Tertini re-established vines on the property and today this family-owned winery near Mittagong sustainably produces pinot noir, riesling, chardonnay and alternative varieties like arneis (an Italian white).
Its low-key cellar door offers one of the best cellar door experiences around: a cosy spot complemented by a log fire where you can sample the winery’s award-winning drops alongside good coffee and local cheeses.
Artemis Wines is a family-run winery located five minutes from Mittagong and eight minutes from Bowral that was not only the third to be established in the region but the first to plant pinot noir grapes – and as such, brothers Anton and Mark Balog are known as pinot pioneers in these parts.
Its small and funkily rustic cellar door, clad in River Red gum, packs a big punch and plenty of atmosphere.
Tuck up inside next to the fire in winter and sip on red wine and mead while nibbling on a cheese and charcuterie board (Friday–Sunday); or spill onto the lawn in summer with a beer or cider, and wood-fired pizza on Sundays.
Tractorless Vineyard is home to a world of sustainable wines created using a combination of old-world knowledge and skills with new-world winemaking techniques guided by biodynamic principles – all with the help of vineyard-grazing sheep who double as solar powered, fertilising lawn mowers.
Visit the Berrima site to take a back-of-the-ute vineyard tour to meet these woolly workers while tasting the range of wine on offer here and sampling a gourmet grazing board.
Or be led through a seated guided wine tasting with the winemaker experience for an insight into the ins and outs of property and its fascinating practices (book here in advance).
Alternatively, visit Tractorless Vineyards’ urban cellar door in Braemar for a tipple of wine, cider or beer (it’s also home to Bowral Brewings) and to browse the farm shop; or have a Tractorless Vineyard guided wine, cider and beer tasting experience at The Mill Bowral.
Bendooley Estate, just outside the historic town of Berrima and complete with rolling Southern Highlands views, is not only home to a renowned restaurant, cottage accommodation and Berkelouw’s famous Book Barn.
It also lays claim to a vineyard complete with a show-stopping cellar door and tasting room that combines wine, fine cuisine and modern art (a large John Olsen painting was specially commissioned for the space) and striking architecture hewn from local stone with century-old pine and steel beams.
Enjoy a wine tasting or a light lunch alongside your drop of choice, with a menu ranging from a deli board of terrine, cured meats, pickles, bacon jam, crispy chicken skins and olives to pizzas and ground beef burgers.
PepperGreen Estate is a vineyard and olive grove set on the slopes of Canyonleigh (the so-called ‘outback’ of the Southern Highlands where kangaroos abound at dusk), with a cellar door and tasting room in Berrima located in an iconic former antiques store.
Here, its range of pinot noir, shiraz, riesling, chardonnay and sparkling, and not to mention olive oils, can be sampled in a tasting experience; if you’re here on a Wednesday upgrade it to the Wine & Canapés Experience hosted by the PepperGreen sommelier in a private cellar room.
Hungrier still? Sit down for breakfast or a wine-paired lunch at the Tasting Room with a menu by renowned Southern Highlands chefs Mark Chance and James Thompson that includes dishes ranging from coconut bread with honeycomb butter and caramel sauce to potato gnocchi with prawns, tomato, lemon, chilli and basil.
Mount Ashby Estate is a unique spot in the charming town of Moss Vale that combines a boutique vineyard and cellar door with a French-inspired café (La Palette) and the Sally Beresford Showroom (based in the historic, relocated Bowral Produce Store – circa 1918) where provincial antique furniture is restored.
Open Thursday to Sunday, it’s all wrapped up in a rustic old dairy farm complex with grazing cattle never far from view.
Sit around French farmhouse tables in the cellar door and cafe to enjoy wines – try a deep purple merlot, an elegantly balanced shiraz or a salmon pink rosé – with a homemade soup with crusty bread or a charcuterie plate.
Southern Highlands Winery, located in the tranquil Southern Highlands village of Sutton Forest, is a flagship space boasting 34 hectares of land and 12 hectares of vines run by three families of Italian heritage.
Its contemporary cellar door has floor-to-ceiling glass which makes for stunning views out to the vines and rolling green hills, grazing cattle and lakes beyond the daily workings of the winery – which you can experience for yourself via a guided tour.
Alternatively, enjoy a wine tasting (daily) or head to the Italian restaurant for a local-produce-focused lunch (Thursday–Monday) or dinner (Friday and Saturday).
For another winery experience with an Italian twist in Sutton Forest, head to Sutton Forest Wines to sip on its award-winning boutique wines that include a Chianti-style red that blends pinot noir and sangiovese.
Its cellar door and cafe is open Friday to Sunday and serves antipasto platters, focaccia, espresso, teas, cakes and gelato as well.
Sutton Forest is quite the hub for boutique wineries and cellar doors – also don’t miss Eling Forest Winery, a pioneer in the region whose cellar door and cafe operates within the property of a beautifully maintained heritage listed homestead (circa 1834), and Cherry Tree Hill Wines, which boasts Hungarian roots and the best riesling in NSW.
For another taste of northern Italy in the Southern Highlands, head to St. Maur Wines in the (very English-feeling) village of Exeter where Treviso-born Nerio Panizzutti and his son Marco make small-batch, single-estate wines from their pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and merlot vines.
Sample these hand-crafted wines and some good old-fashioned hospitality at the cellar door set within a rustic dairy farm (open Thursday–Monday, groups of six or more by appointment only), where estate dog Sienna is on hand to welcome you.
And how does the languid flavour of Italy come into play? St. Maur’s oak-matured Lot 41 estate range is all about taking it slow while its SAINT series celebrates family, friends and time-honoured practices.
A couple of minutes down the road from St. Maur Wines, Sallys Corner Wines is another family-owned operation, run by Allen and Dawn Davies and named after a colourful character, Sally, who owned a convenience store here in the Cobb and Co. days of the mid-1850s.
Hear her story as you sip on the vineyard’s award-winning wines in the modern and eclectic cellar door (open Saturday, Sunday and public holidays or by appointment).
See also nearby Cuttaway Hill Wines for more award-winning drops in the Sallys Corner area.