Get your nibble on because the gates are about to open on cherry season in the Hilltops Region.
In a year of plentiful rain, mild weather and astonishing growth, just the drive through the South West Slopes to Young will fill thy cup of natural wonders.
Out here, the crops are so thick and lush the farmers are actually smiling – and that includes fruit growers whose fragrant pallet-loads of shop, export and pick-your-own produce signals Christmas and summer all in one rapturous fruit salady sniff.
Anticipation hovers with every footfall in local streets, where all is good with the world as the harvest comes in. That’s a rarity amid the usual chatter about the weather and whatever the planet is throwing at local farmers.
The annual early December weekend Cherry Festival – the pinnacle of cherry season – may have been disrupted by COVID, but 10 days of community celebration from 3 December to 12 December will still highlight the cherry season, and the search is still on for the 2022 Cherry King and Queen.
For Cath and Pete Mullany of Ballinaclash Fruit and Wine, during the week, there was calm as the skies delivered yet another fruit-filling downpour and today the first bookings for the season.
The fact rain was forecast does little to deter visitors who signed up months ago – Cath says whether it rains or not, it’s the experience of being in the country that attracts most visitors.
“We have had calls where people have asked if we’re still open and are the trees are undercover,” she said laughing, “but this is what it’s all about, people want to come out, get into the orchards, pick their own cherries, fill their tummies and head home with enough to last a month”.
A business that’s grown from the dreams of Pete’s parents, who established the orchard with cherry and stone fruit trees in 1965, the enterprise has expanded to include award-winning wines. Many a visitor has wiled away hours watching the nearby vines waft in the breeze as they enjoyed the bounty of the district under a cooling, wide verandah.
Ballinaclash Fruit and Wine was named Young’s Business of the Year at the 2021 Australia Day awards for their excellence in customer service, industry-related productivity, and promoting the Hilltops region.
Come December, you can see why – the roadside shop and orchards are like flowers to bees as hundreds of bucket-clutchers mill around the gate, awaiting entry to the fruit-bearing trees.
Young has a huge selection of orchards to sample and purchase fresh cherries and those other stonefruit stars like peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, figs and the odd loquat – the fruit that time forgot.
Harvest is usually in full swing around this time, but the muted spring weather has delayed its start a couple of weeks.
In 2019, Chris Hall was named NSW Farmer of the Year. He and his family run Hall Family Orchards, an award-winning premium export quality cherry orchard near Wombat which uses regenerative farming practices and zero chemicals.
From atop his tractor on a hill last week, things were looking pretty good.
“We’ve got plenty of moisture in the ground, the dams are full and the trees are some of the best I have seen in the district for a long time,” he said.
“Everyone’s been doing a good job.”
A slightly delayed start due to cooler weather and rain, he said, meant more growth on already good-sized fruit, much of which will head overseas to South East Asia and some will hopefully be bound for the popular Harris Farm Markets.
The Hall family also open their doors to the public, welcoming the generations of families who return each year, a tradition for many that shows no signs of abating.
“Last year, I think many people would agree, the numbers were up threefold, and we didn’t have a cherry festival last year either. They just came here in droves,” he said.
“I think it will be very similar this year.”
For more updates, contact the Young Visitor Information Centre.