Nadia O’Connell grew up on the Central Coast, but after living abroad with her husband Francis for many years, in 2015 they returned to run Firescreek Winery at Holgate. Today, their 2.5 hectare winery follows organic permaculture and regenerative farming practices to produce award-winning fruit wines – each made from scratch using nature’s ingredients. Visitors can explore their garden oasis, sample wines at the cellar door, or join a botanical mixology workshop. In between harvesting blooming elderflowers by their property’s pond, Nadia took a moment to bottle her Central Coast tips for us.
What do you love most about the Coast?
“I so love my job here! After travelling for years I never thought I could stay put in one place, but now I never want to stop doing what I’m doing here. Every day I’m making things that have the potential to be world firsts, such as our blueberry and lavender wine or Australian native wines – that’s truly exciting.”
What’s a typical day involve for two winemakers on the Coast?
I must admit I super love my job. One of the best parts of running your own business is the variety – there’s so many angles you can explore.
I like to start my day with a trip to Spoon Bay or Forresters Beach for a morning walk or jog, then I come home and get my kids off to the lovely Holgate Public School around the corner. Then I organise the garden and I check on our 10 beautiful Wyandotte chickens, which help out on our farm by scratching, fertilising and eating weeds and bugs as part of our organic farming. These extra helpers provide a win-win partnership as they also give us fresh eggs! My Mum often helps out at the family winery too – we’re about to bottle our lemon and elderflower wine, then we’ll pop fresh elderflowers into each bottle.
Some days we run special experiences at our winery, such as a Foraging & Mixology Workshop we launched. We search for plants in our organic garden and I identify species to ensure they’re edible, then students create their own mini cocktails with flower garnishes - which are often so lovely and unique! Then they can explore the garden and drink their creation.
Serving customers is part of every day at our winery – and it’s really quite special. I always encourage visitors to explore our grounds and listen for the bellbirds. We’ve put so much work into the garden over the years, people may as well enjoy it.
Where do you like to go for brunch on the Coast?
I like to do a bit of exercise and then go out to a local café. Once a week I meet up with my old school friends to explore a different bushwalking track. Recently we did Box Head track on the Bouddi Peninsula, and then ventured down to The Fat Goose café at Hardys Bay for lunch afterwards. Another time we walked to Crackneck lookout and then went for lunch at Kew Dining in Erina Heights.
What's your favourite go-to outdoor activity on the Central Coast?
I love being outdoors. I love walking from Putty Beach along the Bouddi Coastal Walk, as you get to see the ocean along the entire route. An evening at secluded Spoon Bay with a picnic of prawns, wine, nibbles and the family is also one of my favourite things to do.
Where do you shop for amazing local produce on the Coast?
Apart from shopping in my own garden, we host the Matcham and Holgate Monthly Produce Share event at Firescreek Winery. Everyone is welcome. People bring their excess produce or plants, lay it out, take what is fair, talk to local growers and learn something new. If you can’t bring any produce along, simply donate to a charity of choice.
What top three things do you highly recommend on the Coast?
- Central Coast Scenic Sips - Founded by a group of likeminded local alcohol producers, this trail links Six String Brewing, Distillery Botanica and Firescreek Winery all within a few minutes from one another.
- Meet the Makers Trail – Another wonderful local tourist trail linking Little Creek Cheese & Luka Chocolates (which I pair with our wine) in Wyong, our fruit winery, The Chocolate Factory at West Gosford, and Broken Bay Pearl Farm at Mooney Mooney.
- Visit Crackneck Point lookout to see the whales when as they migrate along our coastline.
What's your favourite place on the Coast to enjoy dinner and a drink?
I like to go somewhere by the water, like the many bars and restaurants of Terrigal, as I’m a bit of a beach girl. For my 50th birthday we went to Suq Restaurant in Wamberal, and it was delicious. We ordered share plates . There were just so many unique flavours we couldn’t pick a favourite dish! As I work with lots of weird and different flavours in winemaking, I love places that offer something different on the plate, so I give Suq full marks.
Do you have a hidden gem on the Coast you’d be willing to share?
At one end of Forresters Beach there’s a natural rockpool, and when it’s warmer I take my kids snorkelling there with my friend, a marine biologist from local environmental movement Take 3 for the Sea [LINK TO THEIR GUIDE]. We spot all kinds of marine life such as turtles, rays and a kelp garden.
What’s one of the most special things about living on the Coast?
For just three weeks every year, we get fireflies in our part of the Central Coast. I get so excited about this. It means when I should be cooking dinner indoors, I am grabbing the kids to go outside and see the fireflies in our garden! They just go, “Come on Mum, we already saw them last night”, but as it’s for such a short time I like to make the most of it!
Also, after speaking with many Sydneysiders who visit our winery, I think the Coast offers this wonderful friendliness and relaxed pace of living. Coasties aren’t all on holidays, we still work hard, but people here make the time to stop and have a chat. That’s definitely a gem of the Central Coast to me.