Guide to the Cowra & Hilltops wine regions
With more than a dozen wine regions and hundreds of vineyards, NSW is known as the birthplace of Australian wine. Discover two of the state’s lesser-known wine regions, Cowra and Hilltops, home to boutique vineyards and cosy cellar doors.
Cowra Wine Region
Tucked into the lush Lachlan Valley, around 4.5 hours from Sydney, Cowra is a quiet country town that’s famous for its Japanese Gardens and interesting war history. It’s also known for wine. The first vines were planted here in the 1970s and there are now 40 vineyards dotted around Cowra and the nearby village of Canowindra, around 30km north. The area has a continental climate, with hot summer days and cool winters, making for excellent chardonnay, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon.
The Cowra Visitor Information Centre is a great place to start, with more than 45 wines from the region available to taste and purchase. The team can also recommend a wine tour that will take you to vineyards not generally open to the public. Then sit down for lunch or dinner at The Quarry, the only fine-dining restaurant in Cowra set among the vineyards just outside of town. The award-winning wine list is bursting with the best local drops and the menu highlights delicious local produce.
Cellar door sipping
There are four cellar doors in the region that you can visit, clustered around the village of Canowindra. The Statham family of Rosnay Organic have been producing French-inspired wines for more than 25 years. They specialise in organic, preservative-free and natural wines made using only their own chemical-free grapes – book a farm tour to see how they are grown. The straw bale cellar door is warm and welcoming, and the walls are covered in works from local artists. You can also pick up tasty local produce including the farm’s organic figs and olives.
Nearby, Wallington Wines is another family-owned operation crafting organic and biodynamic vintages. Producing small batches of elegant, medium-bodied wines, each bottle of their rosé, chardonnay, tempranillo or GSM is hand-crafted. The pretty straw bale cellar door is open for tastings by appointment and is also a popular spot for weddings or events. Antonio’s Wines draws inspiration from the winemaker’s Italian heritage, producing authentic, fruit-driven varietals like pinot gris, pinot noir and prosecco. Tours and tastings are available on the weekend, and bookings are essential.
Windowrie Wines is one of the pioneers of the Cowra wine region with the first grapes planted in 1987. Though the cellar door is no longer open for tastings, the annual Windowrie Long Lunch held each October is perfect for an afternoon of indulgence.
Hilltops Wine Region
Around an hour southwest of Cowra sits another petite wine region, Hilltops. Set around the towns of Young, Harden and Boorowa, the vines are grown above 500m on the slopes of the Great Dividing Range. Higher altitude, cold winters and warm summers make Hilltops a cool climate wine region, with around 20 vineyards specialising in wines with rich, concentrated flavours like cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, pinot grigio and, more recently, nebbiolo.
Taste wines from 10 local vineyards at the Hilltops Region Wine Centre, part of the Young Visitor Information Centre. A number of wineries offer tastings at the Young and Region Farmers Markets, held on the first, third and fifth Saturday of the month. Also in Young, The Cranfield is a new restaurant and wine bar inside the historic 1888 Masonic Hall. Named after George Cranfield, a prominent local citizen and mayor of the town in the late 19th century, it serves up local produce and Hilltops wine. In Boorowa, drop in to the Occasional Wine Bar where everything on the wine list is local.
Tastings in the Hilltops
A handful of Hilltops wineries have cellar doors you can visit for a tasting and tour. Grove Estate Wines has been named the region’s best cellar door by Gourmet Traveller magazine for the past 10 years. Take a seat on the large outdoor deck that overlooks the vines and sample their award-winning range, including cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and a signature nebbiolo. Tasty platters of local produce are also available.
Freeman Vineyards specialises in Italian varietals, producing delicious prosecco, fiano, sangiovese, tempranillo and the rare Secco Rondinella Corvina. The tiny cellar door is open by appointment and only seats six people, making for an intimate tasting experience. Celine Rousseau, head winemaker at Chalkers Crossing, was born in France and trained in Bordeux. They produce small batch runs of French-inspired wines like shiraz, reisling, chardonnay and semillon. Make an appointment for a tasting or a tour of the state-of-the-art winery.
Ballinaclash brings together the Hilltops region’s two most famous exports; wine and cherries. Visit the cellar door for a guided tasting of their award-winning single vineyard wines, made exclusively from their own fruit. There’s also a range of estate-grown produce available to purchase or you can pick your own cherries and apricots during the season (usually November and December).
For something a little stronger, visit, housed inside the former JD’s Jam Factory. They produce a range of spirits, like whisky, bourbon, gin and rum, as well as liqueurs flavoured with local fruit.
Where to stay
There are plenty of accommodation options in both the Cowra and Hilltops regions, ranging from budget-friendly pubs and motels to stylish cottages and vineyard stays.
The Shearing Shed and Keswick Cottage are luxury self-contained cottages just outside of Cowra, both perfect for a romantic couples’ retreat in the country. In town, the Cowra Services Club Motel offers modern rooms just steps from the main street. Stay in the midst of the vines at Rosnay Organic winery in the original 1910 farmhouse or in a secluded glamping tent.
In Grenfell, halfway between Cowra and Young, Grenfell Hall is an elegant Edwardian mansion that’s been turned into a charming bed and breakfast. Groups will love Wonga Homestead in Young, a 1912 homestead that’s now a luxe stay for 18 complete with swimming pool, tennis court and grand gardens.