A quick quiz
Amulet, A.Rodda, Brokenwood, Castagna, Domenica, Fighting Gully Road, Giaconda, Golden Ball, Haldon, Indigo, James & Co, Oxenbury, Piano Piano, Savaterre, Sentio, Sorrenberg, The Ninth Mile, Traviarti, Schmolzer & Brown, Vinelea, Virago, Warner, Willem Kurt.
Who are these people or places? Do they belong together?
As a lover of fine wines you would have recognised one or two.
But is there a link between them all?
Yes, again. They are all in the same small district. One of our finest for mostly young, mostly family vineyards delivering wines of quality far exceeding their modest footprint.
They are the wineries of Beechworth in northern Victoria.
A lucky countryside
Winelovers are indeed fortunate in Australia.
While we have a wide brown land roughly the size of the USA most of us are gathered tightly together in our widely spaced capital cities. From seven of them (sorry about you Darwin, but you do have alternative tropical charms) we can take a couple of hours and motor to some magnificent wine country.
A lucky town
Beechworth would be a fascinating and rewarding place to visit even if they only produced tap water. Way before its citizens seduced us with their wines, they offered plenty in terms of history, crafts and produce.
Back in the 1850s the town glittered brightly but briefly as a Gold Rush hub. At the southern edge of town can be seen one of the remaining sluices, a curving water race hand carved through the granite. Nameless miners from all over the world tried their luck with the precious metal.
Other better-known characters put the town on the map too.
One Goodie. One Baddie.
Robert O’Hara Burke of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition was senior inspector of police here for a few years.
Ned Kelly, everyone’s favourite/most hated bushranger roamed hereabouts including spending time in the cells in 1880.
The town is beautifully preserved. The old buildings now hosting today’s shops, galleries, restaurants and pubs make you glad you came.
Time to fill your glass
The start of modern Wine Rush can probably be set in 1978 when the Smith family planted chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. Others followed swiftly and they are still coming. The appeal is the granitic and shale soils, a 4-800 metre elevation in the foothills of the Alps, and the twisty topography giving every site unique characteristics. Most plantings are only a few hectares. The work is hands-on, output is limited and precious.
Unlike the classic wines of the Old World where the grapes and their treatment are now carefully regulated there is still some experimentation to find the perfect varieties for this district and its microclimates.
But some trends are emerging. Chardonnay, pinot noir, shiraz and some Italians grapes such as sangiovese and nebbiolo are best represented.
Although there are records of successful vine cultivation in the 1850s and 60s there is no line of progression since then, no fifth generation dynasties. This corner of the country had to wait till recent years for its full potential to be released.
Some names behind the wines
The best known name, if not the father then perhaps the ringmaster, is Rick Kinzbrunner an engineer who took ten years off travelling the world to learn the craft of winemaking before setting up his famous Giaconda in 1980. His cellar is dug deep into the granite and uses gravity for gentlest handling of the wines. They now set benchmarks in quality and pricing. His chardonnay is one of Australia’s most sought after.
Close by you’ll find father and son Julian and Adam at Castagna with their perfectly poised Ingenue rosé, stunningly complex Genesis shiraz and their everyday delightful Adam’s Rib red and white.
Barry Morey at Sorrenberg not only produces fine cabernet blends, his full ripe gamay is a sturdy challenger to a top cru beaujolais.
Keppel Smith at Savaterre whose chardonnay is simply superb as is his floral and flavourful pinot noir .
James McLauren at Golden Ball, much loved in the top Melbourne restaurants for his distinguished chardonnay and shiraz.
Karen Coats at Virago with her passion for Beechworth and single minded focus on nebbiolo. She keeps earlier vintages so you can chase down her magnificent interpretation of the noblest Italian grape.
Mark Walpole from Fighting Gully Road now shares the fruit from the original 48 year old Smith family vineyard with his friend Adrian Rodda to complement their own small vineyards. Their separate chardonnays and pinots are masterful.
These are just a few of the friendly faces in this close community.
You can catch up with them at www.beechworthvineyards.com.au
Or better still make a plan for a day or three to visit them in their bountiful backyard. The rewards are many.
(images courtesy of Beechworth Vignerons)