Welcome to the other Mudgee: Where snobs meet bogans in Australia's wine regions

 There are no double doors, but the Federal Hotel in Mudgee might as well be a Western saloon. There's dead silence as we arrive in our suits and ties and bright dresses, as punters pause from watching the horses on TV and nursing schooners at the bar to swing around and stare.

We're different. We're on our way to a wedding and as such we're the only ones in here not wearing footy jumpers or high-vis workwear. We're also the only ones with any women in our party by the look of it.

We sidle up to the old wooden bar with the beermats on top and the stack of Keno cards nearby and try to figure out what's good to order here. Eventually my partner speaks up: "Can I have a gin and tonic please?"

The barman snorts. "I hope you don't want lemon with that."

Um… I guess not? Meanwhile he tips a shot of Gordons into a middie glass and then rummages around the back of an old bar fridge until he emerges with a huge, quarter-full bottle of tonic, which he cracks with a noticeable lack of hiss. This is not, you assume, going to be a good gin and tonic.

I opt for a schooner of New.

Welcome to Mudgee. The other Mudgee. If you've been a recent visitor to this regional NSW centre then you probably know one side of it, the relatively new side, the side that has high-quality wineries in beautiful locations – Logan, Robert Stein, Lowe – the side that has upmarket cafes and classy restaurants that take the best of Mudgee's friendly, small-town vibe and adds a touch of the gourmand.

That's the side that attracts the tourists, the side that probably attracted you. And it's great. But Mudgee has another side too, old Mudgee, classic Mudgee, some would say "real" Mudgee. The Mudgee of high-vis workwear and schooners of New, of chocolate milk and bacon-and-egg breakfasts, of no-frills, no-bullshit Australiana.

It sounds like a strange dichotomy, but I love it. I love that you can find this contrast in so many of Australia's regional hubs now, particularly those that have suddenly become popular with tourists since the food and wine set arrived.

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Mudgee is a great example, a place that has changed markedly since people started wanting to travel to where the wineries are.

This is a town where you can go from the rough-and-tumble of the Federal to the classic charm of the Lawson Park Hotel to the hipster-friendly vibes of the Mudgee Brewing Company, depending on your budget and mood. You can spend the night at the Big 4 caravan park and then go have a flight of tastings and a cheese platter with a view at Logan Wines.

It's a similar story pretty close by in Orange, too, where a boom in the wine industry during the early 2000s has helped revitalise the town, driving tourism and fostering a whole new eating and drinking scene.

Check out the wood-fired cuisine at Charred Kitchen & Bar, the "modern regional" menu at Lolli Redini, the seriously good pastries at Racine Bakery. Swing by for a wine tasting at Borrodell Estate or De Salis or Philip Shaw. These are not the options of a typical regional centre.

But Orange still has its classic old venues, the ones that range from the charming to the frightening. It still has its rural feel if you go looking for it – and you don't have to look too far.

Keep searching around Australia and you find this phenomenon again and again, this contrast, this dichotomy, in the small towns that have become wine-industry hubs. You see it in Beechworth in northern Victoria, throughout the Grampians in central Victoria, in Clare Valley in South Australia, in Mt Barker in Western Australia.

In all of these places and so many more, visitors get to enjoy a slice of two Australias, the old and the new, the traditional and the tarted-up, they get to experience a regional centre in a state of flux.

This contrast will strike you as odd, sometimes. And as a visitor, you will make mistakes.

You will wander into the wrong café, the one the hipsters haven't invaded yet, and pay $4.50 for a really-bad-but-scalding-hot coffee. You will call into a pub for a cheap counter meal and find yourself paying $40 for a sous vide rainbow trout with kipfler potato and fennel salad. You will walk into the Federal in Mudgee, all dolled up for a wedding reception, and realise, going by the stares, that this is not really the venue for the occasion.

But this is regional Australia, in all of its fluctuating glory. It's worth copping the Western saloon feeling for the experience.

The writer paid for his own travel. See visitmudgeeregion.com.au for more

See also: The most snobbish form of travel is not as wanky as it seems

See also: Inside the secret Aussie wine cave you'll (probably) never get to visit

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