A COUPLE of 19th-century botanic drawings on the wall of a cottage at Borrodell on the Mount – and indeed the mere fact that we’re staying there – say a lot about the endeavour and foresight of Borry Gartrell.
Borry bought this delightful orchard near Orange more than 40 years ago and in a way, the finely penned illustration of an apple represents the starting point of his horticultural and, more recently, hospitality adventure.
Until 20 or so years ago, the orchardists on the rich volcanic foothills of Mount Canobolas exclusively grew apples, cherries, peaches, pears, nectarines and plums and sold them fresh to Australian and world markets eager for their delicious flavours and high quality.
That changed when a few of the same orchardists, including Borry, discovered they were sitting on some of the world’s most prized viticultural dirt, and that Orange, with its absolute abundance of marvellous agricultural produce, had the potential to become a mecca for food lovers.
Enter the illustration of a bunch of grapes. Let’s pretend they’re chardonnay, because that’s the name of the cottage we’re staying in and what’s ripening on the vines surrounding it, but the veracity of the assumption doesn’t really matter.
What matters is that Borry and his wife Gaye Stuart-Nairn are turning their chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet, gewurz-traminer and shiraz into some of Australia’s finest wines and selling them under their own label.
What matters, too, is that a fair bit of that wine is sold through their cellar door and restaurant, Sisters on the Rock... and that some of the customers stay in the two cabins and two suites that nestle among the nearby trees and vines. For those who need to stay in town, the local cabbies have the route well under control.
The food at Sisters is absolutely first-class and matches the season.
Right now, as winter edges closer, that means entrées such as tandoori fillet of wild rabbit and confit duck leg, and main courses such as slow-roast pork belly and loin of local venison. I just want to go back for seconds.
Borry and Gaye have also successfully established the rare black truffle on the slopes above the restaurant something which should have more than just their chef Alan Meaney drooling in anticipation.
He loves using local produce and you can’t get much more local than just up the hill.
Not that Borry has neglected his apples – indeed, quite the reverse.
On the rise just above the cellar door is a block planted to more than 170 varieties, including many classified as “heirloom”.
He swears they’re the bane of his life, because the interest in them detracts from the emphasis he’d like to place on the rest of his and Gaye’s business, but you know from his exuberance as he hands out samples that he’s absolutely devoted to his pommes ... not to mention the fact that he’s turning quite a bit of his latest harvest into cider. I’ll drink to that.
Did anyone mention plum brandy? I’m sure Borry mulled something along those lines as we strolled through his orchard.
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN ORANGE
Play golf at the challenging and picturesque Duntryleague ( www.duntryleague.com.au), rated by legendary South African golfer Bobby Locke (he of the equally legendary plus-fours) as the best non-metropolitan course in Australia. The historic clubhouse offers elegant heritage accommodation.
Drive to the top of Mount Canobolas, the highest point on any straight line you can draw from Sydney to the Indian Ocean. The summit offers splendid vistas of Orange and the surrounding countryside. Nearby, you can climb the Pinnacle for more views, and picnic and swim at Lake Canobolas, which is just a short drive from Borrodell.
Stroll through Cook Park, right in the main street of Orange and winner of many horticultural awards. The surrounding streets are lined with gracious homes that would sit comfortably in the more affluent suburbs of Australia’s major cities.
Visit some of the charming villages that circle Orange, especially Millthorpe, renowned for its restaurants and galleries.
At least a dozen wineries are in the immediate surrounds, with most offering tastings.
Buy some of the world’s best cherries, peaches and apples directly from the district’s many orchards when in season.
Nearby Ophir and Lucknow yielded fabulous gold deposits in the 19th century and still offer an insight into those hectically exuberant days. On the way to Ophir, stop at the monument marking the birthplace of Banjo Paterson.
Borrodell: 298 Lake Canobolas Road, Orange 2800. Phone (02) 6365 3425. Visit borrodell.com.au.
Taste Orange: www.tasteorange.com.au has comprehensive details regarding local produce and foodie-orientated festivals.
Orange is about 260km west of Sydney. Head for Lithgow via either the F4 or Bells Line of Road, then through Bathurst to Orange along the Great Western Highway. For those driving directly from the Sunshine Coast, the best route is probably through Goondiwindi, Moree, Coonabarabran, Dubbo and Wellington.