The Orange wine region is defined as the area above 600m in the local government areas of Orange, Cabonne and Blayney and can be usefully described as a circle around Orange. The Orange region is ideal for grape growing and winemaking because of the combination of geology, soils, climate and temperature. Together these factors combine to produce grapes and wine of distinct flavour and colour. The climate perhaps plays the biggest part in giving Orange some distinct natural advantages – the cool temperatures during the growing season coupled with dry autumn conditions are ideal for grape growing.
Mount Canobolas, an important geological feature also plays its part, not only giving the district its rich basalt soils but also, because of its altitude, giving greater reliability to the rainfall. The climate and soils also influence the selection of varieties for planting. The region is planted to 60% red wine varieties and 40% white wine varieties – which says something about the region but also says something about the national palate in the 21st century.
Of the red varieties in the Orange region, Shiraz (27%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (14%) are the most widely planted with Merlot (12%) and Pinot Noir (5%) also featuring in many vineyard plantings. The early planting of Shiraz in the region was limited but expanded rapidly during the 1990s as the region proved itself a quality Shiraz region. The best sites for Pinot Noir are likely to be at the cooler, higher altitude sites. There are also small areas of other, newer varieties – Sangiovese, Barbera, Tempranillo and Zinfandel. As the region matures vignerons are focussing on refining variety selection with the advantage of decades of experience. This and clonal selection are likely to see some shifts in sub-regional specialisation over time.
In the whites, Chardonnay (15%), Sauvignon Blanc (11%), Pinot Gris (6%) and Riesling (3%) are the main varieties, examples of which have won national and international recognition. Plantings of Pinot Gris are expanding but it comes off a low base so may never challenge Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc as the most widely planted white variety in the region. There are small areas of Viognier, Semillon, Marsanne, Arneis, Verduzzo and Gewurztraminer, all of which have made fine wines.