Continuing Geoffrey Dean’s exploration of Victoria’s wines. See also Part I.
Adjacent to the border with New South Wales lies the town, and gem of a wine region, of Rutherglen. This is home to one of Australia’s great gifts to the world: their unctuously sweet aged fortified wines. These are made from Muscat and Muscadelle, although the latter is now branded as Topaque after the Hungarians objected to the use of Tokai. The climate is a continental one with hot summer days and cool nights thanks to airflow from the foothills of the Victorian Alps. Vineyards are planted at an altitude of around 175m on red loam over clay with some sandier soils. Good still red wine is also made from Shiraz, Durif and Cabernet Sauvignon. Leading producers include Morris, Campbells, Stanton & Killeen, All Saints Estate and Pfeiffer Wines. Picture is All Saints winemaker, Nick Brown.Read Tasting Notes
Although Beechworth is the smallest wine region in Victoria, tucked away in the north-east corner of the state, it boasts a plethora of premium wineries. They benefit from an elevation of 400-500m. Rick Kinsbrunner was the first to plant there in 1982, and has achieved a cult following with his Giaconda wines. While producing superb Shiraz and Pinot Noir, he and son Nathan are best-known for their Chardonnay. High quality versions of the same varietal are also made by Savaterre, Fighting Gully Road, Adrian Rodda and Serengale Vineyard.
Very much the sage of Beechworth, Rick, 75, is one of those cerebral types who thinks out of the box, none more so than when he bought the land where he established Gioconda. “I had read Beechworth would be a very good place to grow grapes,” he recalled, “and one day I was driving towards the town when I saw a ‘for sale’ sign. I just bought the property without any research. It was just good luck and good instinct.” Despite the stellar reputation that he and his son Nathan have forged for it, they have no sign by their gate a few kms out of the old gold-mining town. It poured with rain on the cool November morning I went there, when Rick confessed: “This is the wettest year here since 1993 – already we’ve had 1000 millimetres.” The rain stopped us from getting amongst the vines but allowed ample time to taste Chardonnay, Shiraz, Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo from barrel. The fruit quality was stunning. “We have to be one of the most natural producers around,” he said. “Organically-farmed vines, wild yeasts, no pumpover, natural malo when and if it goes through, no filtration, bottling by gravity. No new oak for the Nebbiolo but 25% for the Chardonnay, a bit less for the Pinot and a bit more for the Shiraz. Our Chardonnay style is dependent on a bit of new oak as the flinty, matchsticky notes you only get from new barrels. This ’21 Pinot is the best I’ve made for years.” All of Giaconda’s bottles are aged in a 60-metre cave he excavated from hillside granite.
A shortish drive south-west of Beechworth takes you to the beautiful King Valley in Victoria’s high country. Continental in climate, it has both warm valley floors and cool upper slopes, allowing it to produce one of the widest range of varietals in Australia. Three long-established wineries are its mainstay – Brown Brothers in Milawa at the northern end of the region, along with Pizzini and Dal Zotto in the pretty village of Whitfield at the southern extremity. Elevation varies from 155 to 860 metres, with the soils being largely red clay loam. The region is the home of Australian Prosecco, with all three producers above making substantial amounts of it. A legal battle is currently being fought with the Italy over naming rights. Italian influence pervades the varietals grown, which include Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Arneis, Fiano, Brachetto, Verduzzo, Colorino, Teroldego and Pinot Grigio.Read Tasting Notes
Upper Goulburn & Strathbogie Ranges
From Whitfield, a scenic hour’s drive through mountainous forest takes you to the town of Mansfield in the Upper Goulburn wine region. One of Australia’s coolest, it is a low-density population area of great beauty with snow-topped mountains, river flats and pristine lakes. Soils are a low-fertility mix of granite, sandstone and limestone. White varietals flourish, notably Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Riesling. Ros Ritchie makes outstanding examples of the latter under her own label as well as a splendid traditional method bubbly, while her brother David Ritchie, winemaker at nearby Delatite, fashions a wide range of quality whites and reds. Strathbogie Ranges, just to the north-west of Upper Goulburn, is another cool climate region that is a mix of farming country and forest with rocky outcrops. Soils are alluvial sandy loam and decomposed granite. Fowles Wines are the pre-eminent producer, with their Upton Run vineyard yielding top-class Riesling and Shiraz.Read Tasting Notes
Comfortably the biggest wine region in Victoria, Gippsland stretches from Phillip Island by the Mornington Peninsula to the border with New South Wales 400 miles away. It includes Bass Phillip, which is regarded as one of Australia’s greatest small producers. Situated in the notably cool climate of south Gippsland, its Burgundian-style Pinots are highly sought-after and are amongst Australia’s most expensive. Burgundian winemaker Jean-Marie Fourrier (pictured) bought out founder Phillip Jones in 2020 with two Singaporean partners. Further east in Gippsland, in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, Narkoojee is another quality producer, notably of Chardonnay planted in 1990 on an old dairy farm. Meaning ‘Place of Flowers’ in Aboriginal, Narkoojee also fashions fine perfumed Pinot. Meanwhile, on Phillip Island, the Purple Hen winery is winning plaudits for its Pinot, having claimed a gold medal for its 2021 vintage at the Victorian Wine Show last October. As another newish producer making its mark, it typifies the Victorian wine industry’s enterprise and continued potential.Read Tasting Notes