In early February 2022, while looking over voluminous Sydney Harbour from Luna Park, there will likely be a watershed moment for the owners of two southern NSW wineries as finalists at the 2021 NSW Tourism Awards.
The setting will be in stark contrast to two years prior for Courabyra Wines and Cupitt’s Estate, when both wineries faced a very different scene of razed hills and a smouldering landscape due to the Black Summer bushfires.
Courabyra sits high in the Snowy foothills near Tumbarumba, and Cupitt’s Estate is situated just inland from the coast near Ulladulla. While both had flames licking at their boundary fences, Courabyra sustained damage to its vines.
Cupitt’s Estate escaped relatively unscathed, barring the suffocating effects of smoke taint, from which few wineries in southern NSW escaped.
There was no snapping back from that, with two years of staggered convalescence during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the rewards of recovery, reflection and recuperation have yielded both wineries a finals position among the 29 categories in the 2021 NSW Tourism Awards.
Courabyra Wine’s Cathy Gairn is extremely pleased to have received the award nomination. Locals since 1987, she and her husband, Brian, run a cellar door and restaurant, and have received national food and wine awards that have helped spotlight Tumbarumba as a must-see Australian destination.
Cathy’s contribution to the wine and tourism industry in the region resulted in her being awarded Tumbarumba Citizen of the Year in 2004, and Albury District’s Woman of the Year in 2017.
She admits the past 24 months have been disruptive.
“We’ve had lots of ups and downs with COVID-19, having to close, open, and then we went through it again,” says Cathy.
“That was a bit heartbreaking in one way, but in another it gave us time to regroup and gather our thoughts and think about what we were doing. It [COVID-19 lockdown] was a bit of a blessing because we were able to fix a lot of the damage to the property.”
She is also blessed that each time the doors to the winery opened, locals and visitors would arrive in droves.
“Honestly, it has been such a show of support for us,” says Cathy. “We were able to get through it OK because there were always people who just wanted to get out, who wanted to meet friends and family.”
What has been most revealing to Cathy has been the number of people visiting the region for the first time.
“A lot of people have travelled here who have never been here before and they say, ‘Oh my god, I had no idea how beautiful is it,’” she says. “It’s been a real eye-opener for them.”
As finalists in the 2021 NSW Tourism Awards, Cathy says she was shocked Courabyra Wines was selected.
“Given there are so many wonderful businesses around the whole of NSW, it’s a bit surreal,” she says. “But we’re very proud of the team here.
“When so many bad things happen you kind of think what’s next, then all of a sudden things start to turn around.”
Cupitt’s Estate was established by Griff and Susie Cupitt in 2007 after a vineyard first planted in 2003 provided enough fruit for their first vintage.
Today the family imprint has grown to include a brewery, fromagerie and restaurant alongside the winery.
Griff and Susie say they proudly carry banner of the Shoalhaven as a finalist in the Tourism Restaurants & Catering Services category of the NSW Tourism Awards.
Also representing Shoalhaven at the awards will be luxury purpose-built bed and breakfast property The Ridge Retreat at Mollymook. Further south, the NSW Sapphire Coast will be represented by Eden Visitor Information Centre.
The unique initiative of professional guide and Wiradjuri man Mark Saddler has also seen Wagga Wagga’s Bundyi Cultural Tours named a finalist in the awards.
Mark’s special brand of touring takes visitors off the beaten track on a personal tour of his country – which is the ancient Wiradjuri country of the Riverina – where language, native species and a taste of bush tucker is part of the experience.
The ever popular Deni Ute Muster in Deniliquin is also a finalist.
Now in its 31st year, the NSW Tourism Awards celebrate business excellence, acknowledge business innovation and reward exceptional customer service.
Winners will be announced at the Gala Awards Dinner at Luna Park Sydney on Thursday, 3 February, 2022.
Relevant category winners will go on to represent NSW at the Australian Tourism Awards on Friday, 18 March, 2022 on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.