However, given its incredibly diverse terroir, Orange excels with many grape varieties. Elevation is just one factor that stamps the wines of the Orange Region as being individual and distinct. Grapes grown at 600 metres are vastly different from those from the significantly cooler 1000+ metre. There’s a ‘rule of thumb’ that for every 100 metres in elevation, the thermometer drops 1 degree over the growing season. It may not sound much but the impact on the selection of grape variety to suit a particular site is quite significant. Pinot noir planted at 600 metres has more robust flavours than the more delicate wines from the highest sites.
Orange stakes its claim as a ‘cool climate’ winegrowing region based on its warm (but rarely hot) summer days, cool nights and crunchy cold winters. Site selection is critical to ensure full ripeness is achieved, especially in the cooler years. Vineyards to the west of Orange facing the warm westerly sun are best suited to bolder reds and fuller flavoured white varieties. The highest vineyards on the slopes of Mount Canobolas (which peaks at 1395 metres) are perfect for aromatic whites, chardonnay and pinot noir and sparkling wines made with the latter two grapes. More easterly and north-facing vineyards attract the cooler morning sun with the grapes ripening slowly to produce fine grape flavours and the elegant wines for which Orange is justly famed. Orange’s high elevation and subsequently crisp nights allows the slowly ripening grapes to retain good levels of natural acidity bringing a freshness and vitality to the resultant wines.
Elevation is just part of Orange’s intricate matrix with the complex geology of Orange an equally important factor. Mount Canobolas is an ancient volcano which has been weathered down to produce rich basalt-based soils – deep red in colour and full of nutrients. Orange sits on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range, its undulating topography once the eastern shoreline of Australia’s vast inland sea. The sea left behind the Borenore Caves and broken outcrops of limestone. Shales, slate and greywacke add further geological diversity to the Region. The vine produces its most intense flavours when it struggles in poorer soils, so the exposed ridges offer some of the best viticultural sites.
The early pioneers planted an assortment of varieties – in some cases the decision was based on personal preference, others what wines were fashionable at the time with the availability of vine cuttings an equally determining factor. Traditional varieties like chardonnay, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon predominate. Aromatic whites, pinot noir and cabernet franc are gaining momentum with the more recent plantings of Italian varieties like prosecco, arneis, nebbiolo, sangiovese, barbera and montepulciano entering the mainstream. Spain likewise receives a nod with tempranillo showing promise.
This eclectic range of grape varieties reinforces the Region’s remarkable diversity, which is reflected in the Orange Wine Region’s multiplicity of wine styles. Viva la difference