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Go West

Henty, the Grampians, Pyrenees and Ballarat – there are plenty of tasting treasures to be unearthed in the wine regions of Western Victoria.

We need Western Victoria and its wine. We need its different taste and the perspective it brings: a balanced, middle-weighted, pepper-infused, mint-garnished, spicy, smooth, sometimes savoury, sometimes rustic kind of alternative taste.

Vineyards are vast and isolated here, attached by dirt roads to country towns and sometimes just the smallest of hamlets. Wines are made by men and women of the land, people like John Thomson at Crawford River in the Henty region, who talks of his “peasant genes,” and who has four generations behind him who have farmed sheep and cattle on the land. He and his wife Catherine branched into wine in 1975.

“I didn’t set out to grow grapes,” he says. “I set out to make wine.”

There was, he adds, more money in the latter. It’s a common enough story around these parts.

Western Victoria is a collective term for four independent wine regions: Henty, the GrampiansPyrenees and Ballarat. This is home to Shiraz (plenty of it) and Cabernet Sauvignon (less of it) along with Chardonnay and a little Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir with a gaggle of Italian varieties bringing up the rear.

The Back Story

It’s the flagpoles out front issuing a kind of multi-national wave of welcome that stump first time visitors to Taltarni. There’s the Aussie flag to the forefront shouldered on either side by the American stars and stripes and the French tricolour.

What does it all mean?

 

Like a few wineries in Western Victoria, it’s all about history and foreign influences. Taltarni’s story involves a wealthy Californian owner who set up the operation in 1972, and his long-time French winemaker who laid the foundations for its enduring, elegant wine style.

The French were among the first to see the potential that lay in the Pyrenees, with Cognac-based Rémy Martin arriving at Avoca in 1960, ostensibly to make brandy, but wine quickly followed. They called their enterprise Chateau Rémy. We know it today as Blue Pyrenees Estate.

But the biggest influence on the region was gold. Discovered in the 1850s, it made towns like Ballarat and Great Western magnets for prospectors from around the world.

After the gold, people like Joseph and Henry Best stayed and moved into wine. Joseph built a substantial winery and used unemployed gold diggers to carve out underground cellars. It was the beginning of what came to be Seppelt, one of the biggest Sparkling wine producers in the country.

Henry Best planted vines fronting Concongella Creek at Great Western. But it was the purchase of the site by Frederick Thomson in 1920 that really saw the Best’s Wines story take off.

The Grampians

Western Victoria is a land of wide plains running smack up against some pretty spectacular hills and ranges, none more impressive than the rugged National Park that gives the Grampians its name.

Mountain walkers, climbers and cyclists really love this part of the world. With a range of B&Bs, hotels and camping sites to choose from, most make Halls Gap their HQ. Wineries like Mount Langi Ghiran and The Gap are just down the road.

Mount Langi Ghiran is best known as the producer of archetypal cool climate, peppery Shiraz, which first drew the industry’s attention to a budding new style in the 1980s.

How pepper gets into the wines of Western Victoria to such a degree that it might be called a phenomenon has only slowly been revealed by scientists at Melbourne University working with the winemakers at Mount Langi Ghiran (it’s got to do with a cool climate and wet seasons).

On paper, the region (19 vineyards, eight cellar doors) looks small, but its history and influence belie its size.

The Great Western sub-region was the commercial cradle of Sparkling wine production in Australia at Seppelt and is synonymous with a great Aussie icon, Sparkling Shiraz. Grampians Estate and Seppelt lead the pack, but for added gravitas, tour the Seppelt underground drives to feel the history and finish with a glass of spiced-up red bubbles.

One of the state’s great restaurants, the Royal Mail Hotel, can be found in a highway town called Dunkeld. Five and eight course degustation menus star local produce, alternatively there is an informal wine bar.

Or there are the local Mount Gambier wines to try, including up-and-coming Pinots, at Tosca Browns in Hamilton.

Henty is a developing wine region as far west as you can go before you bang into South Australia. Volcanic, gravelly soils over limestone are the key to some of the best Rieslings in Australia made here at Crawford River Wines.

And what a treat to find a one hat quality restaurant such as The Pickled Pig in Warrnambool.

The Pyrenees

Major Thomas Mitchell, the 19th Century explorer, was a bit of a romantic, clearly. He named this part of the Great Dividing Range, the Pyrenees, as the dense, blue-hued hills reminded him of the mountains dividing France and Spain. Given the hills outside the towns of Avoca and Moonambel rise to 800 metres compared to some 3400 metres in Europe, that’s a bit of a stretch, but point taken. This is a pretty part of the world.

It is here that the wine lover will confront the Pyrenean wine character known in academic circles as 1,8-cineole. The rest of us call it eucalyptus, aka, mint or menthol (the cineole is sourced from leaves and stems that find their way into fermentation), and it’s often found on either a red wine’s bouquet or flavour, or both. Its usual vehicle of choice is the Shiraz grape, which dominates plantings, but it can be found in any number of red wines.

That eucalyptus in wine should be such a powerful influence is not so surprising. Gum trees are everywhere around these parts. For those who applaud its inclusion in wine, it’s part of the land, a question of terroir.

The Pyrenean red winemaking style is understated, medium-bodied and earthy.

Best in Bubbles

And strange as it may seem when so many producers today seek the super cool regions like Tasmania for sourcing grapes for sparkling wines, the Pyrenees does an excellent job with bubbles.

Blue Pyrenees Estate 2010 Midnight Cuvee beat some of the country’s top Sparklings to be named World Champion Australian sparkling at the inaugural Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships in England in 2014. A 100 per cent Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs style, Midnight Cuvee’s success comes thanks to 10 years of refinement in the vineyard and winery by winemaker, Andrew Koerner. And, yes, the fruit is harvested at midnight at optimal coolness.

Taltarni is another leader in Sparkling wine, sourcing grapes grown on the estate in addition to Tasmania for its successful Clover Hill brand.

The region’s great white, whether for still or Sparkling, is Chardonnay. It has undergone changes over the last decade or more, moving away from a rich heavyweight to a more fruit-powered, streamlined number.

At Dalwhinnie, the importation of a Chardonnay clone from Champagne has served to highlight citrus and grapefruit qualities with sustained acidity and textural weight. It is a wine of great presence in the glass.

While Mount Avoca’s early reputation was built on Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz, I suspect that it is the Italians coming through – Pinot Grigio, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Lagrein – that now attract the drinker’s attention.

The adjoining region of Ballarat is smaller again, but its focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay indicates that it is heading in a different direction to its neighbour.

Eastern Peake Winery at Coghills Creek is a Pinot Noir maker par excellence, and is one of the few open for tastings seven days. Or, for a relaxed look at the wines of the west over a meal, head to Mitchell Harris Wine Bar in North Ballarat, part-owned by former Domaine Chandon Sparkling winemaker, John Harris.

Events Out West

Avoca Riverside Market  - Dundas & Cambridge Streets, Avoca, on the fourth Sunday of each month.

Blue Pyrenees Estate Avoca Cup  - Avoca Racecourse, Racecourse Road, Avoca, each October.

Grampians Grape Escape Food and Wine Festival  - Showcases regional wine and fare during a month-long festival in April, culminating in the Grampians Escape Weekend tastings, auction, grape stomping and live music in Halls Gap.

Staying out West

Pyrenees

Eagles Nest at Dalwhinnie Vineyard, Moonambel Redbank Chestnut Cottage

Mount Avoca Vineyard Eco-Luxe Lodges, Avoca

Warrenmang Vineyard & Resort, Moonambel

Grampians/Henty

Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld

Boroka Downs, Halls Gap

Aztec Escape, Halls Gap

Links Retreat, Ararat 

 

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Wine
Mudgee - nest in the hills
Words by Keren Lavelle on 12 Sep 2016
There’s a zest for life, a sense of passion and purpose, among the winemakers, restaurateurs and providores of this Central Western NSW region. Friday night, with the sun setting and the moon rising, is a fine time to arrive at Lowe Wines, high on a hill-rise, with its vista of vines and cerulean blue hills beyond. There’s time enough for a quick catch-up with the very busy winemaker David Lowe, just before hundreds of guests are seated at tables in his winery for dinner and a show. Lowe is a sixth-generation descendant of the first Lowes to take up farming on this property, and he’s a passionate convert to organic, indeed biodynamic, farming measures. "When I took over, the soils here were completely degraded, needing drastic repair, and biodynamics seemed the fastest and best way to fix them,” Lowe says. Biodynamic farming techniques involve burying cow horns with a mixture of fermented manure, minerals and herbs at specific phases in the lunar cycle ‘to harmonise the vital life forces of the farm’, as one authority explains it. While it’s based on belief more than theory, it’s certainly working here. David is famous for his premium, certified organic wines; some made without any preservatives, notably a Shiraz, demand for which is high. Adjacent to the winery is The Zin House, Mudgee’s only restaurant with a SMH Good Food Guide chef’s hat. Chef Kim Curry is David Lowe’s partner, so naturally, flights of Lowe Wines accompany her degustation menus, which are inspired by what’s fresh and in season – 60 to 70 per cent of the ingredients are sourced locally, many of them grown here on the farm. PALPABLE PASSION There is a long tradition of organic winemaking in Mudgee, starting with Australia’s first organic vineyard, Botobolar in 1971. At Vinifera Wines, the McKendry family is celebrating having achieved organic certification for their wines. After Tony and Debbie McKendry recognised climatic similarities between Mudgee and Spain’s Rioja region, they embarked on Spanish varieties like Tempranillo, Graciano and Gran Tinto – all of which have been very popular – however, it’s their Chardonnay that leaves me smitten. The passion emanating from the winemakers – indeed, from all the Mudgee producers – is palpable. They care deeply about quality, and are continually improvising and experimenting to improve quality and variety. The other striking feature is how collaborative they are – they share advice and ideas, and as winemaker Peter Logan tells me, they have fun together – the winemakers field their own indoor soccer team in a local comp. A STUNNING OUTLOOK With over 40 cellar doors in the fairly compact Mudgee wine region, there’s a lot of choice. There’s also plenty to please the eye, like the stunning tasting room and deck at Logan Wines with its sweeping view of Apple Tree Flat and its surrounding pyramidal hills. Peter Logan, celebrating his 20th vintage, is happy to show off his latest range called Ridge of Tears, two very different styles of Shiraz. Each is made from low-yield fruit and treated much the same, but ‘terroir’ is the variable – one comes from Logan’s Orange basalt-based vineyard, the other from Mudgee’s more loamy soils. The terrace at Moothi Estate has another gorgeous view, especially at sunset. ‘Moothi’ is another version of ‘Mudgee’, meaning ‘nest in the hills’ in the Wiradjuri language, extremely apt for this beautiful place. Jessica and Jason Chrcek now run Moothi Estate vineyard, which her parents started. At their cellar door, they serve award-winning platters of cheese, pickles and smallgoods – the lamb pastrami is a great discovery. At another family enterprise, the Robert Stein Vineyard and Winery, the multitalented, third-generation winemaker Jacob Stein (playing striker in the winemakers’ soccer team), also has responsibility for looking after the ‘old world’ varieties of pig that graze on the property. His brother-in-law, chef Andy Crestani, roasts the resulting free-range pork at the winery’s restaurant Pipeclay Pumphouse, and it appears as one of the dishes in the dinner degustation. (I’m keen to come back for breakfast to try the bacon and egg gnocchi with truffle oil.) Just about every cellar door will serve you High Valley Wine & Cheese Factory’s handmade soft cheeses, and they return the complement by serving local wines in their tasting room. The couple behind High Valley, Ro and Grovenor Francis, are no slouches. They already had 40 years of farming experience, and 20 years of viticulture behind them before venturing into dairy manufacture. The walls of their tasting room are plastered with the awards their wines and cheeses have won. ALL AGES ADVENTURES I discover local passion isn’t confined to producers when I meet ‘mine host’ of Mudgee’s Getaway Cottages, Elizabeth Etherington, a former mayor of Mudgee. These six holiday dwellings appear to be houses on an ordinary street a few minutes’ walk from the centre of town, but you soon discover that they all back onto a 3.64-hectare farm-stay wonderland on the banks of the Cudgegong River. “I’m a baby boomer,” Etherington explains, “and I grew up with plenty of space to play and roam, and with innocent freedom to explore. When I created Getaway Cottages, I had in mind to provide for today’s children the joy of nature, which many seem to miss out on.” To this end, Elizabeth Etherington has created a kids’ paradise, complete with an ostrich, a donkey, rabbits, flourishing vegetable gardens to raid for dinner, and plenty of toys and activities, including, for the big kids, a chip’n’putt golf course. In conversation, it transpires that Etherington is a producer as well, of the Orchy brand of fruit juices, which is a “100% Australian family-owned business since 1876.” Mudgee’s food manufacturing history goes way back. In town, Roth’s Wine Bar, holding the oldest wine bar licence in NSW, is the place to try (and buy) almost all of the district’s wines (due to the peculiarities of the ancient licence, you are also permitted to take away). Here you can dig into pizza, listen to live music, and try Roth’s special in-house drinks, such as the ‘1080’ (named after a poison bait) and ‘Diesel’. Before being licensed in 1923, when Roth’s was a general store, these were code names for the sly grog chalked up on farmers’ accounts. Also possessing a fine cellar, the recently renovated Oriental Hotel offers an elevated dining/drinking experience (and city views) on its second-storey deck, while at the nearby Wineglass Bar and Grill, owner and chef Scott Tracey serves breakfast, lunch and dinner (and provides chic boutique accommodation) in a restored 1850s former hostelry for mail coaches. BEER AND BITES It’s not all about the wine (and food), however, there are very fine craft beers to be sampled at the Mudgee Brewing Company (another live music venue), housed in a historic wool store; and adjacent to Vinifera Wines there’s Baker Williams Distillery, where distillers Nathan Williams and Helen Baker are having a lot of fun coming up with proof concoctions – butterscotch schnapps, anyone? Good coffee can also be found – at the Wineglass, you can buy the four-shot ‘bucket’, ideal for coping with a bad hangover. One of the most popular breakfast spots in town is the leafy courtyard café at Albie + Esthers, which transforms into a wine bar at night (of course). Tea is not neglected either – exotic varieties (and fresh handmade dumplings) feature on the menu of the delightful 29 nine 99 Yum Cha and Tea House at nearby Rylestone; it’s well worth stopping here for refreshments if you are making the 3.5 to 4 hour drive from Sydney. There’s lots more to explore – the old gold-mining township of Gulgong, the racehorses of Goree Park, the fine streets and shops of Mudgee itself, and more wineries – but when you eventually have to leave, FlyPelican can make light work of the trip with a 50 minute flight to Sydney. (Speaking of ‘light’, and speaking from experience, the aircraft’s 23kg luggage limit means it may be best to freight your wine purchases beforehand.) It’s good to know, however, that whenever you pine for a taste of more Mudgee magic, it can be quick and easy to return.
Wine
South Australian Wine Regions
Explore the South Australia regions that are keeping Australia on the world wine stage. Adelaide Hills Adelaide Hills ’ cool climate means vibrant whites are the lifeblood of the region with punchy expressions of Sauvignon Blanc and fine restrained Chardonnay being the two traditional white varietals. However, with its unique topography that creates several microclimates, the region is also perfect for Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio. The hilly nature of this beautiful wine region creates different levels of altitude and aspects. In the vineyards with a sunnier aspect, the style of Pinot G is rich and ripe, while on the sites with less sun, the Pinot G is lighter and crisper. Barossa Valley The Barossa Valley is arguably Australia’s most famous wine region. Classified as warm climate, the Barossa provides excellent conditions for full-bodied wines with Shiraz , Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache dominating the red plantings. Home to some of the world’s oldest Shiraz vines, the Barossa makes bold, earthy Shiraz with characters of currants, plums, mulberries and milk chocolate. 
  Yalumba, Australia’s oldest family owned winery has lead the charge into newer styles planting and developing alternative varietals like Viognier and Tempranillo. McLaren Vale
 McLaren Vale is one of the most geologically diverse wine regions in the world with unique interactions between geology, soils, elevation, slope, aspect, rainfall, distance from the coast and macro-climatic differences all contributing factors. With 3000 hectares of Shiraz vines, the milder nights and afternoon sea breezes create wines full of chocolatey richness with black fruit, violet, pepper and dark chocolate flavours. While its hero varietal is Shiraz, McLaren Vale’s amazing landscape of geology makes it a truly special place to create a diverse range of wines. Local wineries like d’Arenberg, Primo Estate, Stephen Pannell, Richard Hamilton and Serafino are growing alternative varieties like Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Touriga, Mataro and Montepulciano alongside classic varietals of Shiraz, Cabernet and Grenache. Clare Valley Riesling is the hero in Clare Valley , making delicious wines with great depth and intensity, which can be enjoyed in the freshness of their youth or cellared with confidence for many years, taking on greater complexities while retaining their vibrant line of acidity. Elevation is one of the factors that makes Clare such a prime region for grape growing and particularly for Riesling and Shiraz. Although not technically considered a ‘cool-climate’ area, most of the vineyards are planted at between 400 and 500 metres above sea level, meaning cool to cold nights during the growing season. Given its distance from the ocean, the region is also quite continental, so warm to hot during the day and quite dry while the vines are ripening their fruit. This diurnal temperature range makes for grapes with robust flavours and spicy acid freshness. Although Clare Valley is more famously known for its Riesling, it’s the same climatic conditions that help to produce its unique style of red wine with the three top varieties being Shiraz, Cabernet and Grenache. Clare Valley reds present a delicious contradiction. On one hand they're big and bold, yet on the other, underlying acidity creates beautiful elegance. Coonawarra There’s no doubt that Coonawarra is home to Australia’s classic Cabernet Sauvignon. With its warm, dry summer days, cool to cold nights and terra rossa soil, the Coonawarra climate is similar to France's Bordeaux, so naturally, it's perfect for Cabernet! 
 
Measuring just 12km long and 2km wide, Coonawarra’s famed terra rossa strip is some of Australia’s best grape-growing land. While the vines have to struggle to flourish, they produce small berries with naturally high skin to juice ratio, mind-blowing colour and flavour intensity, and wonderful tannin structure. When it comes to Cabernet, it creates unique expressions featuring cassis and blackberry characters with spice and minerally complexity. Along with Cabernet, the region also produces award-winning Riesling from wineries like Patrick of Coonawarra and Leconfield. Their Merlot is a must try along with the Di Giorgio Family Wines Sparkling Pinot Noir and Botrytis Semillon. Eden Valley The Eden Valley is an amazing region, capable of producing perfect cool climate wines from Chardonnay to Zinfandel, but it is more often recognised for Shiraz and Riesling. Bordering the Barossa Valley, the Eden Valley’s altitude, cooler temperatures and cool nights produce wines with elegance and good acid structure. For most wine lovers, Eden Valley is famous for dry, crisp Riesling and elegant Shiraz. But there are plenty of producers who are seeing success with other varietals. Yalumba has almost single-handedly made Viognier a household name, while also having great success with Chardonnay and seeing a future for Roussanne and Tempranillo. Thorn-Clarke are turning plenty of heads with their Pinot Gris while Henschke produce some stunning Cabernet when “the conditions are warm enough” as well as Nebbiolo and Semillon. Irvine Wines, who have long championed Merlot, also have substantial plantings of Shiraz, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling and Zinfandel spread across six vineyard sites. Try some of South Australia’s stellar wines for yourself today!
Wine
Five of the Best Mornington Peninsula Wineries and Cellar Doors
Words by Ben Hallinan on 27 Jun 2017
Exceptional  Pinot Gris ,  Chardonnay ,  Pinot Noir , and boutique cellar doors abound as we present the best Mornington Peninsula wineries to visit. Just an hour drive from the centre of Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula has long been known as the home of beaches, colourful swimming boxes and holiday houses. Since the early 1980s Mornington has emerged as one of the Australia's premier cool-climate wine regions. With its many sheltered valleys and a maritime cool climate, it's now home to over 200 wineries producing award-winning Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. To help plan your trip, we've selected a collection of Mornington Peninsula wineries we feel provide the best cellar door experience, plus we've included a  handy interactive map down below . Crittenden Wine Centre
Crittenden Wines  are an icon of the Mornington Peninsula, helping to establish the region's reputation for superb cool-climate wines since the early 1980s. Today, the new Crittenden Wine Centre is the perfect place to sample a wide range of wines. Sit back and enjoy relaxed table service and be guided through a customized flight of wines by knowledgeable and friendly staff. There is a superb range of over two dozen wines on offer, from excellent Chardonnay and Pinot Noir through to innovative alternative varietals such as Vermentino, Savagnin and Tempranillo under their Los Hermanos and Pinocchio labels. 25 Harrisons Rd, Dromana, VIC -  View on our Mornington map Open daily 10:30 am to 4:30pm Visit the Crittenden Wine Centre website Quealy Winery Cellar Door
If you're a fan of Pinot Gris then a visit to the Quealy Winery Cellar Door should be the first cellar door on your list -  Australian wine lovers can arguably thank Kathleen Quealy for introducing us to this vibrant style.  At this charming cellar door, passionate hosts are on hand to guide you through the eclectic range of wines each with a characteristic and innovative winemaking style. You'll enjoy an amazing collection from sparkling wines and skin-contact whites to single vineyard Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir,  and cool climate Muscat dessert wines. You're in good hands here. 62 Bittern-Dromana Rd, Balnarring, VIC -  View on our Mornington map Open daily 9am to 5pm Visit the Quealy website Red Hill Estate
Established in 1989, this salt of the earth winery and cellar door was one of the first in the region and helped establish the Mornington Peninsula's reputation for outstanding cool-climate wines. There is a superb range of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Shiraz and Sparkling available to sample, with fruit sourced from their three estate vineyards. This is a great way to contrast the subtle differences that each vineyard imparts and to also appreciate the talents of winemaker Donna Stephens. Make sure you take the time to step outside and take in the magnificent view - it's one of the best in the region and looks over the vines out towards Western Port Bay. 53 Shoreham Rd, Red Hill South, VIC -  View on our Mornington map Open daily 11am to 5pm Visit the Red Hill Estate website Rare Hare
Rare Hare is the Peninsula's latest restaurant, wine bar, produce store and the new home of Willow Creek Wines and is not to be missed during your next visit. Enjoy a casual wine tasting at the wine bar or call ahead to book a guided tasting with one of the cellar door team in the barrel room. Afterwards, take in the panoramic views over the Willow Creek vines and enjoy innovative modern Australian fare in the restaurant courtesy of executive chef Guy Stanaway. Why not book a room and stay a night at  Jackalope Hotel , the region's latest luxury offering, that's just a short hop from the cellar door. 166 Balnarring Rd, Merricks North, VIC -  View on our Mornington map Open Mon to Thur 11am to 5pm and Fri to Sun 11am to 9pm  Visit the Rare Hare website Yabby Lake
This charming cellar door is the perfect place to spend the afternoon sampling a host of award-winning single vineyard Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. Enjoy stunning views over the vineyard and a light lunch on the verandah, or perch yourself at the slick tasting bar and be guided by the always friendly cellar door staff through offerings from their Yabby Lake and Red Claw labels. 86-112 Tuerong Rd, Tuerong, VIC -  View on our Mornington map Open Daily 10am to 5pm Visit the Yabby Lake website Mornington Peninsular Cellar Door Map Planning a trip to Mornington Peninsula? Download our interactive Mornington Peninsula winery map. To save on your browser or device,  click here For more information on visiting the Mornington Peninsula, be sure to visit the official  Mornington Peninsula Website  or stop by the visitor information centre in Dromana. If you'd like to sample some of the wineries listed in this guide before you visit, explore our selection of  Mornington Wines   and find out more about the wineries listed here in our  Meet the Makers section  . And, with the  Wine Selectors Regional Release program  me, you'll experience a different wine region each Release with all wines expertly selected by our Tasting Panel, plus you'll receive comprehensive tasting notes and fascinating insights into each region. Visit our  Regular Deliveries   page to find out more!
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