Winsor Dobbin introduces us to six unmissable areas for wine lovers.
FOR FANS OF SAUVIGNON BLANC
Although sauvignon blanc originated in France, the international capital for the grape variety is now undoubtedly Marlborough in New Zealand.
Brisk, herbaceous and refreshing sauvignon blanc is now synonymous with Marlborough – and a remarkable two-thirds of all Kiwi wine comes from Marlborough, just a 15-minute flight across Cook Strait from Wellington. The sprawling Marlborough area, with Blenheim the tourism capital, is protected by mountain ranges at the top of the South Island, it is a year-round destination for lovers of wine, food and craft beers. Brancott Estate, Hans Herzog, Spy Valley, Allan Scott and Wither Hills are among the key addresses, names that are familiar to wine lovers around the world.
Visitors should make sure to sample wines from Dog Point (the barrel-matured Section 94 sauvignon blanc is a star), sauvignon from Wooing Tree, chardonnays, and pinots from Greywacke, world-class rieslings from Framingham and organic wines from Seresin. For those who like their wineries more idiosyncratic; small producers like Te Whare Ra and Clos Henri (where you taste in a former chapel) should be on the agenda, along with dining at Herzog, and lunching at tiny, delightful Arbour.
FOR LOVERS OF COOL-CLIMATE WINES
Few regions of Australia are as well set up for wine tourism as the Mornington Peninsula; just over a one-hour drive south of Melbourne on a newish freeway. This area was once the weekend getaway for Melbourne’s movers and shakers with lush farmland and winding country lanes leading from country estate to country estate. Modern viticulture is relatively new here. Although vines were planted at Dromana as early as 1886, the industry had failed by the 1920s.
The first commercial winery of the modern era opened at Main Ridge in 1978, and its first fruit was picked in 1980 – just one generation ago. Today, the Mornington is best known for its high-quality Burgundy varieties, pinot noir and chardonnay, with textured pinot gris also making a statement. The offerings here are largely up-market; with many of the cellar doors, like Ten Minutes by Tractor, Port Phillip Estate/Kooyong and Polperro/Even Keel offering top-notch dining experiences.
Many of the Mornington producers are still boutique operations; often family owned and run and they have been joined by cider producers, boutique distillers, and craft brewers, along with the hot springs retreat and world-class golf courses. Some of Australia’s most successful small-batch producers can be found on the Peninsula, including Yabby Lake, Ocean Eight, Polperro/Even Keel, Willow Creek, Paringa Estate, Tuck’s Ridge, Eldridge Estate, Foxeys Hangout, Paradigm Hill, Crittenden Estate, Moorooduc Estate, Hurley Vineyard, Red Hill Estate and Quealy.
FOR DEVOTEES OF FINE PINOT NOIR
Perfumed and intense pinot noirs from Central Otago have built a quite formidable worldwide reputation over the past two decades – with the added bonus that the lively resort town of Queenstown and several ski resorts are right on the doorstep. There are over 200 vineyards within a 1½ hour drive from Queenstown, many of them with cellar doors, and almost all specialising in pinot. Famous names to look out for include Felton Road, Mount Difficulty, Peregrine and Quartz Reef.
The Amisfield cellar door restaurant is located at one of the closest winery tasting rooms to Queenstown and offers produce like Canterbury smoked eel, cured Akaroa salmon or perhaps Cloudy Bay clams. It’s an ideal stop en route to or from the vineyards, where most visitors make time to stop at Mount
Edward, Chard Farm (the views are dramatic), Rippon, Valli and Mischa’s Vineyard (with a brand new cellar door). While they do not have tasting facilities, vinophiles should try to taste wines from rustic Folding Hill and Two Paddocks (owned by film star Sam Neill).
FOR TAKING A SHORT DRIVE
The Adelaide Hills, which start just a 20-minute drive from the centre of Adelaide, have boomed over the past decade. Drive out of the South Australian capital via the South-Eastern Freeway, and within just a few minutes you are surrounded by vines and gorgeous revamped country pubs. No other major Australian city has so many vineyards within half an hour’s drive, and the Adelaide Hills are dotted with boutique wineries that are known around the globe: with Shaw + Smith, Nepenthe and Hahndorf Hill at the forefront. This is boutique wine country, coolish, and where most of the wineries are run either by families or smaller producers with the German-accented township of Hahndorf the tourism hot spot. This region used to be covered with apple, pear and cherry orchards and many of them still survive, although wine is now very much the focus, with over 40 cellar doors having popped up in the area. Although grapes were planted as early as 1839, it was not until 40 years ago that viticulture was revived here. Today, names like Petaluma, Tapanappa, Bird in Hand, The Lane, Tilbrook Estate, K1 by Geoff Hardy, Sidewood and Deviation Road head the charge. More adventurous producers, pushing wine-making boundaries, include organic winery Ngeringa and minimal intervention Ochota Barrels.
FOR FANS OF COUNTRY TOWNS
Orange may be a considerable drive from Sydney (up to four hours depending on the driving conditions), but it is an increasingly popular weekend destination for gourmets. Over the past decade, Orange has emerged as one of the funkiest small towns in Australia with top-notch restaurants, a thriving coffee culture, vibrant arts and crafts, but matched to an intoxicatingly slow-paced way of life.
If you enjoy a slice of sophistication with lashings of country charm, then Orange (and its many boutique wineries) may prove enticing. Orange has over 80 vineyards, with around 40 cellar doors, and is regarded as one of the finest high-altitude areas for grape growing.
One of the world’s leading winemakers calls Orange home. Former head winemaker for Rosemount Wines, Philip Shaw, established his vineyard and label here in 1989 after searching Australia for years to find the best possible site in an emerging region. And he’s just started a new boutique wine project in a rough shed on the La Colline property outside town (also home to the delightful Racine restaurant).Star wineries include pioneers Bloodwood and Canobolas Smith along with Cumulus, which is known for its Climbing and Rolling labels, Ross Hill, Printhie, Philip Shaw and Angullong. Among the most rustic and idiosyncratic cellar doors for visitors are De Salis, with dramatic views, Heifer Station in an atmospheric old wool shed and Patina, where tastings are conducted in the lounge room of owner Gerald Naef’s home and wines are made in a small shed around the back. Pop into Small Acres Cyder to sample the range of premium ciders made from traditional cider apples and down the track look out for wine under the Rikard label from talented young winemaker William Rikard-Bell.
FOR LOVERS OF BOTH OLD AND NEW
Roughly midway between Sydney and Melbourne, yesterday and tomorrow sit comfortably alongside each other in Rutherglen, one of Australia’s most historic wine towns.This north-east Victorian town, on the border with New South Wales, is home to both well-established wine-growing families focusing on traditional fortified wines, and to innovative newcomers with new grape varieties. You’ll find atmospheric, dusty old cellars at Campbells and Morris, revived icons like Bullers and Mount Ophir and lively newcomers like Thousand Pound wine bar. Visiting some of the great fortified names, where grapes were first grown in the 1850s, is a bit Back to the Future. At the musty cellars of Morris, All Saints, Bullers and Campbells you can smell the history oozing from the big old barrels storing ancient wines. But while Rutherglen’s reputation was built on its famous port-style wines, muscats, and tokays, it also has several producers thinking outside the square and producing innovative new wine styles. Among them: young swashbucklers like Rowly Milhinch at Scion, Simon Killeen at Simao and Co and Jen Pfeiffer at Pfeiffer Wines.