Home Australia | Oceania Tickled pink by Shoalhaven wineries

Tickled pink by Shoalhaven wineries

by Bernard O'Shea
Shoalhaven’s wineries play second fiddle to its coastal scenery, but venture off the highway into the woods and you’re sure of a big surprise. 


You probably wouldn’t visit a winery just for a cuppa, and if you were wanting to explore a wine region in New South Wales, the Shoalhaven most likely wouldn’t be the first to spring to mind. The Hunter Valley vineyards tend to hog the limelight, although Orange in Central NSW is giving it a run for its money with its esteemed cool-climate wines.

The Shoalhaven, on the other hand, is better known for its beaches: holidaymakers tend to make a beeline for popular coastal spots such as Jervis Bay, Mollymook and Ulladulla. Wineries? In the Shoalhaven? Really?

Well, yes, as it so happens, the Shoalhaven area just south of Sydney and Wollongong has lovely scenic vineyards, and their wines win their fair share of industry awards.

At Cambewarra Estate, however, you might be more tempted to go for its strongest cup of tea. So strong it weighs 70 kilograms. The saucer it sits on is bulkier at 110kg, and the cup can comfortably accommodate three people (four at a squeeze). Here patrons are given the VIP High Tea Cup Experience. “It’s the only place in Australia where you can have a high tea in a tea cup in a vineyard,” says proud owner Amanda Cole, the ‘Director of Loveliness’ at Cambewarra. But don’t worry, wine is also served!

Vines at Cambewarra Estate near Nowra, with Mount Cambewerra in the background.

The chardonnay vines at Cambewarra Estate, with Mount Cambewerra in the background.

Gourmet experience

The wine tasting experience has improved markedly over the years. Gone are the days when you’d drive up to a big shed in a vineyard, do some stand-up sampling at the sales counter and try to spit elegantly at the spittoon. If you were hungry, you’d probably have to make do with a packet of peanuts or crisps.

Now it’s all about sit-down meals on scenic terraces, championing local produce, gourmet fare fresh from paddock to plate, relaxing in the rustic ambience and breathing in the fresh country air. This is epitomised at Cambewarra, on the Illaroo Road a little north-west of Nowra. Its restaurant and garden terrace have commanding views over the vines, which slope gently down to a tree-lined perimeter, beyond which lies the imposing Cambewarra Mountain. It’s the perfect setting for lunch (served on Fridays to Sundays and select public holidays), accompanied by the estate’s output – chardonnay, chambourcin, cabernet sauvignon, verdelho, and red and white ports.

“My parents bought the place in 1991 and planted the vines – it was a dairy farm at the time,” says Amanda. “My husband Brett and I managed the business for three years, and now we own it.”

Baptism of fire, teacup in a storm

The big tea cup was Amanda’s idea. Cambewarra can serve high teas on request, catering for up to 120 people, in its dedicated high tea room or out on the lawns. But Amanda wanted something that would be the icing on the cake. Over the course of six months, she scoured the Australian market and manufacturing possibilities, to no avail. So she had it custom made overseas (where exactly is a trade secret) and had it shipped in.

Wherever it came from, the cup must have wondered what kind of life it was in for when it arrived in Australia. First there were the awful bushfires of late 2019 and early 2020 which hit the Shoalhaven and parts of Australia. The fires came dangerously close – within five kilometres – and the estate had to be evacuated, but luckily Cambewarra was spared.

It wasn’t so lucky some months later when a flash flood sent waist-high water through the estate’s Bed and Breakfast quarters, cellar door, function room and wine-making area. “I though my tea cup would float away,” Amanda said at the time.

To make matters worse, COVID lockdowns and strict social distancing laws meant business suffered. “When we could only have 10 people at a time it was very unique – and very weird,” she says.

Another cup?

The end of the lockdowns had another effect: people couldn’t wait to get out and explore parts of Australia.  “They’re still coming,” says Amanda. “The south coast is a bit of a hidden gem – there’s literally something for everyone.”

Is she tempted to get a companion made for the one and only big tea cup currently in Australia?  “I’d love another one,” Amanda says. “But whether the world needs another tea cup, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Other Shoalhaven wineries you should investigate

  • Silos Estate, on the Princes Highway about halfway between Berry and Nowra, is a large property which also serves as an alpaca farm and has a restaurant and guest cottages on site. Its specialties are rosé, shiraz, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and – occasionally – malbec. But if you know someone who likes fortified dessert wines, its Tri Colore makes a great gift. The stacked bottling is a work of art – have a look here.
  • Mountain Ridge Wines. Just one kilometre from Seven Mile Beach at Shoalhaven Heads, as its name implies, it lies on a ridge leading to Cullungutti/Coolangatta Mountain. It produces a variety of wines made from the estate grapes and two sister vineyards, as well as grapes sourced from other regions.
  • Two Figs Winery. On a hilltop overlooking the Shoalhaven River, this is a small, boutique winery. It’s best to book ahead for tastings as the maximum group size is currently six people. As well as the likes of chardonnays and rosés it makes interesting blends, including the ‘Sunday Afternoon’ (verdelho and sauvignon blanc) and ‘Sienna’ (cabernet sauvignon and shiraz).

If you’d like to do the wine route but are worried about going over the drink-driving limit, it’s a good idea to book a tour with one of the local specialists. We did ours with Wine Knot Tours. TTW

Photos © Zora Regulic (top four images) and Amra/Cambewarra Estate. Bernard O’Shea travelled a guest of Shoalhaven Tourism. More on the region’s vineyards here.

See also

A little star twinkles in the vineyards of Orange NSW
Hot on the tails of humpbacks in Jervis Bay
The Lady and the ramp at Jervis Bay Maritime Museum
The beaches at Jervis Bay

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