In many ways, Victoria is the most interesting, the most dynamic, and certainly the most varied оf Australia’s wine states, even if today it is nowhere near as quantitatively important, as it was at the end of the 19th century of when it had as much vineyard as New South Wales and South Australia pul together. The gold rush of the mid-19th century helped to establish a wine industry (just as it had done in California), but then phylloxera arrived in the 1870s and was fatally destructive. Today Victoria produces less than half as much wine as South Australia, which has never known phylloxera, even if Victoria has almost twice as many wineries: 600, the majority relatively small scale.
The state is the smallest and coolest on the Australian mainland, but it can boast the most diverse conditions for vine-growing, as you can see from the 19 official wine zones mapped opposite. They range from the arid, heavily irrigated inland Murray Darling region around Mildura, which straddles the Victoria New South Wales border and grows 75% of all Victorian grapes by Volume, to the mainland’s coolest wine regions.
The most important survivor of phylloxera, however, was the incontrovertibly hot North East Victoria Zone, which continues to specialize in fortified dessert wines unlike anything produced anywhere else. Marked differences between day- and night-time temperatures and long, dry autumns are the secrets to Rutherglen’s famous “stickies”, which benefit from Australia’s longest harvest. They are based on raised dark-skinned Muscat and the more caramelized “Topaque”: the new name for the Muscadelle of SauLernes and Bergerac also grown here. After years of aging in old wooden casks they can achieve astonishingly silky richness, none more so than Rutherglen’s Hare Muscats. Some truly boot-strapping reds arc also made around Rutherglen and Glenrowan, the Jerez and Oporto of Australia, with the ancient Rhone Durif variety a specialty of Rutherglen.
Also in this corner of die state are three much higher, cooler wane regions: King Valiev, Alpine Valleys, and Beech worth all of potential interest to skiers as they head hopefully towards the snow-fields of the Great Dividing Range. The family-owned Brown Brothers of Milawa is by-far Ihc dominant company of King Valley. Its flagship sparkling wine, Patricia, a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, is based on one of the company’s highest vineyards, Whitlands at 2,600ft (800m). Brown Brothers was also one of the first in Australia to experiment with alternative grape varieties. Italian grapes have become a particular specialty here, not least. The mysterious trees belong to new overachiever William Downie, who is making both Pinot Noir and Petit Manseng in a range of locations.
Just the look of all these wine regions is exciting enough. This is clearly a stale with great variation today, but it also has a glorious wine-producing past. Partly thanks to the 19th-century gold rush, it was a: ore time Australia’s leading wine state. Butt phylloxera did not help…
Thanks to the pioneering work of the Pizzini family. Prosecco pioneer Dal Zotto has a similar Italian heritage, as does Dc Rortoli which sources its Roll a Riva wines from a single vineyard here.
Many of these producers source grapes in the Alpine Valleys region, whose vineyards range between 180 too 600m. It, too, has more than a smattering of Italian and other alternative varieties. Gapsted is the label of the Victorian Alps Wine Company, a contract winery much used by companies outside the region – not least because this region is still plagued by phylloxera.
At rather lower altitudes around the historic gold-mining town of Beechworth some superlative, California-influenced Chardonnay is made by Giaconela, famous, too, for Roussanne and its reds, while some markedly transparent. Shiraz and Italian varieties are Castagna’s specialty. Some gloriously intense grapes, Including some unusual Camay, are grown at Sorrenbcrg, one of the first of the modern wave of vineyards, which still cover just a tiny fraction of the area planted in the early 19th century. Salvatore has swiftly built a reputation for its muscular Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Unsurprisingly, the region’s fruit draws lop winemaking talent from afar; Rrokenwood and Gary Mills of Jamshced both produce Beechworth wines.
Like the North Last wine country. Great Western, the district made famous by Scppelt’s “champagne”, never gave up, either. Now called Grampians, the region lies 1,100ft (135m) up al the westernmost end of the Great Dividing Range, on line-rich soil. Seppeltand Rest’s, a miniature, by comparison, has a long record of producing good still and sparkling wines in deep, cool caves hero. Grapes for the oceans of fizz made Seppelt Great Western come partly from Padthaway over the heavily patrolled (for phylloxera) border in South Australia and partly from irrigated vineyards along the Murray, but those for its extraordinary and deservedly celebrated sparkling Shiraz arc grown locally. Mount Langi Ghiran’s authoritatively peppery Shiraz eloquently explains why.
Pyrenees is the (ironic?) name of the rolling landscape to the east of the Grampians. This region is not notably cool (except sometimes at night) and its showpiece wines arc big reds from Red ton к and Dalwhirmir, which has also made a fine Chardonnay.
Henty, the third region of the Western Victoria Zone, lias forged its reputation on wines from the cool, marginal south. Seppelt pioneered the region, calling it Drumborg, and was at times tempted to give up, but climate change has worked in Henry’s favour. Crawford River, planted in 1975 by a ехgrazier, has shown that exceptionally fine, age-worthy Riesling can be produced here Further north and warmer – some 60 miles (100km) inland around Hamilton/Tarrington and a cluster of boutique wineries are becoming known for their cool-climate Shiraz. Tarrington Vineyards has demonstrated extraordinary devotion to duty with Burgundian varieties.
Inland, Bendigo in the Central Victorian Zone is even warmer. Its wines are epitomized (and were launched) by Balgownie’s sumptuous reds. Then Jasper Hill and others showed what could be done in Heathcote’s slightly cooler country to the east, especially on its own special red Cambrian soils. The region is renowned for hauntingly rich but juicy Shiraz, although, with the benefit of specially selected Tuscan clones. Greenstone has shown that Heathcote Sangiovese can be remarkably refined. Also in this zone is Goulbourn Valley, where David Traeger, Milehcllon, arid Tahbilk, once the sole survivor of the region, cluster in the far south. The special qualities here have earned it the status of a subregion called Nagambie Lakes, where, belying its name, a shortage of water is perennial. Rhone grapes thrive at Mitchelton and at Tahbilk which is old enough to be classed a national monument. It still lias Shiraz planted in 1860 and what are reputedly the world’s oldest Marsanne sines.
Upper Goulburn is another wine region overlooked by ski country. Its higher altitudes (at Delatite, for example) can make wines with unusually fine definition. including an impressive range of vivid Rieslings. The memorably named Strathbogie Ranges lies between the two Goulbuni regions and also makes some fine, taut Rieslings. It includes some extensive vineyards at up to 1,070ft (600m), where acidities are so high that Domaine Chandon grows Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as base wines for fizz.
Port Phillip and Gippsland
The Fort Phillip Zone is now the name for the regions clustered around the epicurean city of Melbourne. The Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley are considered separately overleaf, but the long-established Sunbury, on the plains just north of Melbourne airport, is even closer to the city center. Its standard-bearer has long been Craiglee, whose particular style of defiantly dry Shiraz has for decades remained admirably constant, savory, and long-lived.
North of Sunbury, towards Bendigo, lies the Macedon Ranges, which encompasses some of Australia’s coolest, not to say positively chilly, vine-growing conditions. Bindi’s efforts near Gisborne and Curly Flat’s near Lancefield show that this is fine Chardonnay and Pinot Noir country.
Pinot Noir is also the grape of choice for many growers in Victoria’s new coastal wine regions, particularly in the barren, windy wine country of Geelong, where maritime influence is paramount, and By Farr, Bannockburn, and Scotchmans Hill ripen bumptious Pinot. Shadowfax is another ambitious winery on the western edge of Melbourne which buys fruit in this district.
Finally, Gippsland, so big it’s both zone and a region that stretches far off this map to the east, contains another vast array of different environments so many that lire region is ripe for subdivision. The wine with the longest track record is Bass Phillip’s idiosyncratic Pinot Noir, grown just south of Leongatha, but William (Bill) Downie is proving definitively that this is Pinot country.