Geoffrey Dean recently spent three weeks touring the state’s most important wine regions as guest of Visit Victoria. In view of my own extensive 2017 writings on Yarra, Mornington & Geelong, that trio is excluded. The report is in two parts.
Part I – Introduction
Victoria is home to 20 registered wine regions, more than any other Australian state. Even on a three-week driving tour it was not possible to visit all, for Victoria is almost 10% bigger in area than Great Britain. Moreover, road access was sometimes restricted due to the devastating floods that hit the south-east in the last three months of 2022. Victoria’s wine regions are spread far and wide across the state, so the most remote regions such as Murray Darling and Swan Hill in the north-west, Henty in the far west, and Alpine Valleys in the far north-east are not included in this report.
The two parts of the report are dedicated to the western and eastern halves of Victoria. Diversity is Victoria’s hallmark, along with natural beauty; it is arguably Australia’s most interesting wine-state, for both the drinker and wine tourist.
While the Yarra, Mornington and Geelong have long been renowned for the excellence of their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in particular, the Macedon Ranges (north-west of Melbourne) is proving their equal when it comes to these varietals. Higher and cooler, the region’s typical annual crush is small – around 2,000 tons compared to the Yarra’s 38-40,000 – but fruit quality and site are both outstanding. Half a dozen high-grade wineries can be found in the Ranges, notably Bindi Wines, where Michael Dhillon makes tiny-production icon labels. Matt Harrop, another highly regarded winemaker, is fashioning wines of exceptional calibre at Curly Flat. Top-class cool climate Shiraz/Syrah is also being made at Hanging Rock winery (in the same location as the true-life events of the celebrated 1970s film ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’), and at Cobaw Ridge. Excellent Riesling can likewise be found at Passing Clouds and Granite Hills.
The entrance to Bindi’s vineyards and winery is deliberately anonymous, with just the number 343 on the gate on Melton Road near Gisborne. Dhillon, a youthful-looking 54-year old, has achieved cult status for his world-class Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, which sell out in days. He has 32 harvests behind him at Bindi (which means ‘beautiful place’ in the Aboriginal language) but has not yet released the most recent six vintages of his estate Pinot planted to a high density of 12,000 vines per hectare on sandstone, quartz and clay with some volcanic rock at 450m. “I’m glad we haven’t released them yet as I wanted to see how they evolve in bottle,” he said. “The yield is very low despite the density – we’ve been sitting at between 18-25 hl/ha for the past five years, and have had three completely different growing seasons in the last three years. 2021 was one of the best vintages ever with daytime warmth of 27C at the end of a long growing season, but night-time cool of 10C. What I really like is the volume of fine tannin that built in the skins and the concentration of flavour while keeping the freshness. We used to export to the UK, and we will get there again.”Read Tasting Notes
Heathcote & Bendigo
Immediately north of the Macedon Ranges is Heathcote and its famously red Cambrian soils. Calcium rich and water retentive, they produce small, concentrated grapes and rich wines with inky depth of colour and high-quality complex fruit, notably Shiraz. Jasper Hill is the region’s star performer, with similarly fine wines made at neighbouring Sanguine Estate. Heathcote has a temperate climate, often cooled by southerly winds, while neighbouring Bendigo is a little warmer. It was launched as a region in the 1970s by Balgownie Estate’s voluptuous Shiraz. Very good examples of the same varietal are now made by Sutton Grange Winery and Sandhurst Ridge. Pictured is Jasper Hill’s Emily McNally.Read Tasting Notes
Grampians & Pyrenees
The scenic Grampians, on granitic soils between 300-350m at the western end of the Great Dividing Range, is a cool climate region of note, especially for spicy, peppery Shiraz with ageing potential. Mount Langi Ghiran Vineyards make top-class examples, possessing vines going back to 1969 (Pictured: Damien Sheehan of Mt Langi Ghiran in front of old Shiraz vines). In a sub-region of the Grampians named Great Western, Best’s Wines produce a wide and outstanding range.
This includes a coveted Pinot Meunier from vines planted in 1868, and several fine Shiraz labels. The most famous of these is the Thomson Family Shiraz, only made in exceptional years from 15 specific very old rows, and named after the winery’s owners since 1920. Rieslings are also top-class, with lime pith notes and marked acidity from super cool nights. Neighbouring winery, Seppelt, was established in 1851 and also makes excellent Riesling from the renowned Drumborg vineyard in Henty in Victoria’s far west, as well as a super-premium St Peters Shiraz label from ancient granitic and schist soils. Seppelt’s 3.7km of underground drives should not be missed.
Meanwhile, the Pyrenees (something of a misnomer) is the region sandwiched between the Grampians and Bendigo. Neither particularly cool nor mountainous, it is home to another premier league Shiraz winery, Dalwhinnie, as well as to a fine sparkling wine and Pinot Noir producer, Mitchell Harris.Read Tasting Notes
Go to PART II: Rutherglen, Beechworth, King Valley, Upper Goulburn/Strathbogie Ranges, Gippsland.