There are few breweries in New South Wales where you’ll be so well rewarded for the simple act of arriving. Being on the outskirts of Ulladulla it can take a while to get here, wherever you’re coming from. You’ll be fully compensated for your journey.
As you approach along unpainted roads then hit the gravel driveway you’re greeted with a quite majestic scene, one that slopes gently downward before rolling out across undulating fields and farms. The scene is cut diagonally by a cerulean river and bookended by the Budawang Ranges. Everything else but the sky is green. This is all very dramatic considering you haven’t yet left the car park.
Cupitt’s is a family run business best known for its winery and restaurant. It’s actually considerably more than these things and has a great many layers to reveal, but you need to start somewhere. So, to the table.
The restaurant is upmarket and wildly popular. That means it can be noisy, but that's what happens when a lot of people are enjoying themselves in an enclosed space. The presentation of the meals is such that you’ll be reliving them through your Instagram account for days afterward. They’re rustic dishes, magnified by colour and garnish and sauce. No filter required. They encourage refinement when all you really want to do is shovel it down in a flurry that leaves your tablecloth splattered like a Jackson Pollock piece. It’s a compliment to the chefs.
But you don’t have to commit to napkins and table service. You can order from a casual menu and sit on the lawn. And you should. Memorable as the restaurant dining may be, it’s no match for removing your shoes to get the feeling of grass between your toes and a view of vines stretching out below you. If you’re visiting from the city it’s about now when you start to ponder whether country life might be for you. Ploughman’s and Pinot. Rivers and mountains. Selfies in the sunset.
Their winery is small but they work it hard. Built to handle ten tonnes of fruit they get through about a hundred during a vintage. A small percentage of the grapes are grown on site but most comes from the eminent wine regions of the country. In a given year it allows them to produce more than twenty different wines. The cave, where the wine rests over winter and beyond, is an attraction in itself, an old stone creamery now rammed with hogsheads, puncheons and barriques that arcs back beneath the restaurant. To view this as a cross section would show a layer of diners above, winemakers like miners toiling beneath them.
They care what happens underground here. They have to. The soil grows produce that provides for the restaurant, with almost every scrap of excess from the kitchen bound again for the ground, turned to compost to continue feeding the sprawling garden and resident fowl. Almost every scrap. Whey is no good – too acidic, affects the plant growth. Whey? Why, yes, they have a fromagerie. Cupitt’s makes its own cheese. This place has layers.
It has a brewery, too. It’s small, with a brew length of just 300 litres. Glorified homebrew, some would say. But, like the winery, they work with what they’ve got and they work it hard. And they get results.
They make a handful of beers you would expect, beers most breweries make because that’s what most people arriving at a bar like to drink: kolsch, pale ale, IPA, et al. They also make an English Mild. No one in Australia makes English Mild! If you want to see a grown adult from Albion shed a tear of longing for home, follow their face as they walk up to the bar and proffer their pennies for a pint on hand pull.
There are more beers. They use fresh local hops at the onset of autumn, make maltier beers in winter, fruity and hoppier beers in summer. They make a Smoked Porter because it’s delicious but also how would the fromagerie make a Smoked Porter cheese otherwise? They also blend beer and wine. Crush the grapes and add the juice to the wort – ferment them in the same vessel. This is genuinely experimental, pointy end beer nerd stuff. And yet for a wine crowd it’s perhaps familiar ground, the path of least resistance into the beer world. Co-fermented gateway beers.
Cupitt’s, should they wish, has an ability to scale this experimentation exponentially. Every harvest they have access to as much grape juice as they want and a stockpile of oak barrels greater than they could possibly use. They’re still learning how this fusion fully works, but a competition medal for the first of these beers at their first time of asking ought to give confidence that there’s plenty worth exploring in this realm.
The Cupitt family – aided in no small part by a clearly talented team – have shown they’re open to exploration, to adding more layers to this business. Most of their growth over more than a decade has been organic; trying new things, doing what they think is right, getting people though the door and giving them an experience. It’s an approach that’s turned a tiny winery into a bonafide, all-encompassing destination where you want for nothing. Except, perhaps, just to stay a little longer.