Hilltops wine region: A beguiling regional landscape

Canola field in Hilltops wine region
Hilltops Wine Region is undulating and decidedly rural. It is one of the most picturesque grape growing destinations in Australia. Based around the towns of Young, Harden and Boorowa on the south western slopes of the Great Dividing Range, most of the vineyards in the region are approximately 500m in altitude and produce exceptional cool climate wines.

We recently spoke to Jane Adams, spokesperson for Hilltops Wine, about her favourite aspects of life in the countryside and vineyards around Young, often referred to as the ‘Cherry Capital’ of Australia.

The Hilltops can look and feel very different depending on the season. In Spring, the rolling landscape is typically a verdant green and the vine rows wear a bright chartreuse cloak of new spring growth. Add stunning fields of golden canola and blossoming orchards of plum, cherry, and wild almonds, as well as gambolling spring lambs and you’ll wonder why it took you so long to discover this fabulous cool climate wine region.

Head to the Hilltops Wine Region

The early Hilltops vineyard plantings predominantly date back to the seventies. Cabernet and Shiraz, have long thrived there, benefiting from summer’s warm days and cool nights, a feature of the continental climate. Another plus is the typically settled autumn, aiding long, slow ripening that conjures intense fruit flavours in all varieties.

More recently the region’s vignerons have planted Italian origin varieties that are thriving. Now that people are thinking outside of Shiraz, the workhorse grape of Australia, a lot of the newer plantings from the Hilltops vignerons are alternative varieties, ranging from Prosecco to Fiano, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, and Graciano.

Vintage variation

A bunch of grapes from Hilltops Wine Region
A wine glass and two dining plates

Image Credits (Left to Right): Freeman Vineyards, Sir George Hotel

The consistency of the seasons also supports many different types of grapes and while the original plantings of Cabernet, Shiraz, and Riesling are still there, newer varieties, such as Prosecco, Pinot Grigio, and Fiano are growing beautifully in the area.

Vintage 2023 in the Hilltops was challenged by excessive winter rains that continued into a cool spring and summer. Daunting conditions, but not insurmountable for lateral thinking vignerons willing to help each other out – and it wasn’t just the gumboots that got a regular workout. Tractors were even spotted being pulled out of bogs by a snow plough.

There is no doubt this small NSW region (600 hectares under vine) where family enterprises dominate, is punching above its weight. Expect to taste exciting and different wines in rustic cellar doors where the welcomes are warm.

Gaining a reputation for Italian varieties

Italian varieties thrive in the Hilltops – and there is a possible explanation. Like Young, Verona in Italy is also famous for its cherries. Close examination of viticultural data shows similarities between the climate and soil of both locations, one in the northern hemisphere, the other in the southern hemisphere. In Hilltops the soils are integral to the production of high quality grapes. They predominantly comprise well-draining red loam resting over decomposed granite rocks. Most vineyards are also well-irrigated, making the fertile landscape perfect for viticulture.

The consistency of the seasons also supports many different types of grapes and while the original plantings of Cabernet, Shiraz, and Riesling are still there, newer varieties, such as Prosecco, Pinot Grigio, and Fiano are growing beautifully in the area. Hilltops wine region is fast developing a reputation for its Italian-origin varieties and Freeman Vineyards also has the only plantings in Australia of Rondinella and Corvina, varieties that originate from Verona.

Image Credit: Freeman Vineyards

Off the beaten track

Hilltops is a bit off the beaten track. It’s a two-hour drive from Canberra, which makes it perfect for day trips or weekends. If you’re travelling from Sydney, it’s closer to a four-hour drive and is best suited for wine lovers seeking a beautiful weekend in the country, interspersed with tastings at cellar doors. There are also a number of country and vineyard cottages enjoying lovely rural and vineyard views.

The Cranfield Restaurant, Wine Bar, and Providore recently opened in the old 1888 Masonic building in Young. The seasonal menu is perfect for anyone wanting to get to know the region, with locally sourced produce, meat, and wine from the abundant orchards, vineyards, and farms.

The village of Jugiong is also located in the Hilltops region and boasts the Sir George Hotel and The Long Track Pantry a thriving produce store and cafe serving home-style breakfasts and lunches. It’s well worth a visit for anyone wanting to enjoy the best of what local Hilltops produce has to offer.

When you get to Boorowa be sure to look for the Occasional Wine Bar where host Jeremy Clarke pours local wines and regularly hosts visiting authors for readings and discussions about writing.

Planning your tastings in the Hilltops Wine Region

Several cellar doors offer wine tastings, such as Ballinaclash, Chalkers Crossing, Freeman Vineyards, Grove Estate, Lockwood Vineyard, and Trandari while other Hilltops wines are available at the local regional wine store in the tourist information centre in Young. Many tastings require bookings and are seated, which means that visitors get to have a far more personal experience of Hilltops wines.

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