Boutique Elite: The Grampians Way
When you drive into the stunning little north-west Victorian town of Halls Gap, it’s common for jaws to drop. A ridge of rock-faced mountainside hovers over the town, so close it feels as though you can touch it. Surrounding these cliffs is exquisite bushland, perfect for hiking and climbing of all descriptions. It’s not the only drama in the region.
The Grampians wine region, of which Halls Gap is the focus point, is boutique by volume and elite by quality. It’s dripping with both history and character, but it’s also fresh with new ideas and styles.
Exhibit A: the historic Best’s winery at Great Western. Elegant but full-flavoured Shiraz has ruled the roost here almost forever. But Best’s is also home to, arguably, one of Australia’s most interesting and unrepeatable wines, in its Old Vine Pinot Meunier. This is a wine that’s more than the sum of its parts. It’s light but forceful, characterful yet clean. It’s grown on vines that were planted in 1868, and yet its quality has reached new heights in the past handful of years, thanks in no small part to the work of winemaker Justin Purser.
Indeed Best’s, which has one of the most charming ‘old school’ cellar doors known to humankind, has just acquired an expansive new vineyard, and continues to press towards better and more. Best’s might be 150+ years old, but its future is as exciting as ever. The same can be said of the region as a whole.
head for the hills
The great thing about the Grampians/Great Western region is that most of the best food and wine stops are on the way to Halls Gap. You can stock up and then settle in and enjoy it all.
This is a flat-ish region for the most part, though the hills around Ararat – more often than not spotted with wind turbines – provide a natural border. Tucked into these hills is the spectacular Mount Langi Ghiran vineyard and cellar door. It’s worth the diversion from the highway; if there was a prize for ‘most picturesque vineyard’, then Mount Langi Ghiran would be a contender. Wine quality here is seriously good, Shiraz and Riesling most commonly the picks. Langi is one of those places you must visit at least once in your wine life.
Just outside of Ararat is Montara Wines. This winery has been operating for nearly 50 years, but wine quality has taken a leap north of late; winemaker Simon Fennell has the whole range humming. All the wines here are fresh and well-balanced; they’ve gone from a maybe-visit to a must-visit.
The town of Ararat itself doesn’t have much to offer food and wine tourists, but if you divert here to ATR Wines (near Armstrong, on the way to Great Western), you are in for a treat. This producer has shot out of the blocks in recent times and is now a star worth following. We’re talking red wines here, beautiful red wines.
From new to old: make a beeline then for Great Western itself. Talk about character. Salingers Café, in the centre of ‘town’, is good for lunch and it’s a great stop on your way to or from the giant that is Seppelt Great Western.
No visit to this region is complete without stopping at Seppelt Great Western.
Of all the characters in all the towns, none quite match what Seppelt has to offer. The wines are almost always uniformly excellent, but it’s the underground cellars or ‘drives’ that we’re referring to here. Tours are held several times each day and to say that they are a ‘must’ is an understatement. Walking these drives is unique in Australian wines terms, and utterly fascinating. The drives were dug out by gold miners, starting in 1868, and they now store gold of the liquid variety. The tours include a guided commentary. Stories. The place is crammed with stories.
Though, of course, it’s what’s in the bottle that counts, and this is where the nearby Grampians Estate excels. This unassuming producer gets the fundamentals right. We’re talking well balanced wines with more than their fair share of flavour (and interest).
Another name you might hear as you travel this region is The Story. This wine brand doesn’t have a cellar door or overt regional presence, but it’s had a commitment to the Grampians/Great Western region for over a decade now. In short, if you see the wines around, they’re certainly worth a pour.
You may not have heard of the Fallen Giants winery at Halls Gap, but you have to visit. What a vineyard, what a site. It’s just outside of Halls Gap and when you drive up the long, straight driveway, you understand instantly why this is such a special place. The vines are some of the oldest in the region, the quality is high, and the drama of that high country backdrop. Truth is, the wines absolutely speak for themselves in quality terms, but a stunning view and site never hurt.
The most spectacular food in the region is without doubt at the multi-award winning Royal Mail Hotel at Dunkeld. This is a fair drive south-west of the main wineries (it’s 90kms from Great Western), so you’re best to both pre-book and pre-plan.
For a more casual choice, you can’t go past the Live Fast Café in Halls Gap. It’s an unassuming place tucked in behind the main street; the quality of the coffee here is as good as you’ll get anywhere.
A new and welcome addition is the Papers Scissors Rock Brew Co. in Halls Gap itself. I guess you’d call the food Asian-influenced, but really it’s just the perfect accompaniment to the beers on offer. In fact the only ‘problem’ with this new venue is that the space isn’t big; again, best to pre-book a table.
Finally, this region cannot be spoken of without mention of the hiking/bushwalking options. The mountains around Halls Gap really are the stars of the show here; you’d be mad not to head out and explore. That said, even if you don’t, the range and volume of wildlife wandering around the Halls Gap town itself has to be experienced to be believed.