Our Kind of Town – Beechworth

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?

Answers?

Beechworth This Magnificent Life
Still life at Castagna – by Fran Allan http://frano.com.au/

As a lover of fine wines you would have recognised one or two.

But is there a link between them all?

Beechworth This Magnificent Life
Lovely old buildings all restored for their new life

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.

Beechworth This Magnificent Life
Now that’s a proper winery. Not a sheet of corrugated iron in sight

Obviously distance dictates we can’t get to all of them every day of the week, so we are greatly thrilled when they come to us.

So TML had our tastebuds ready and polished when the above mentioned wineries set themselves up in lovely golden sandstone Customs House building in Sydney’s Circular Quay.

 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.

Beechworth This Magnificent Life
The sign says you are here. Just 150 years after the Gold comes the Wine

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.

Beechworth This Magnificent Life
The magnificent Post Office in the centre of Beechworth

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.

Beechworth This Magnificent Life
Vista of the Alpine foothills from Fighting Gully Road

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.

Beechworth This Magnificent Life
A pastoral symphony at Domenica

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.

Beechworth This Magnificent Life
The entrance to Giaconda’s cave of treasure

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.

Beechworth This Magnificent Life
Barry Morey’s Sorrenberg vines come right up to his verandah

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.

Beechworth This Magnificent Life
Another Fighting Gully view under an Alpine sky

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 faces in this close community. It was so good to see them all together.

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)

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Ian MacTavish

Mr MacTavish is a celebrated writer and one of Australia's more respected Wine reviewers, appearing regularly in national magazines, in print and on line. So far, he has never been heard to say 'no' to a wee dram.

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