Liquid geography – the Canberra region

By Mark Smith
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Helm Wines, Murrumbateman

Helm Wines, Murrumbateman

Australia's national capital has many great places to wine and dine
Clonakilla Cellar Door, Canberra District, NSW
McWilliam’s Barwang Vineyard is located in the cool-climate Hilltops region near Young in NSW


The Canberra district’s winegrowing fraternity refer to their distinctive regional wines as liquid geography. And it’s a clever bit of work, really. You find wide variations in vineyard topography right across the southern New South Wales wine zone. That gives rise to a diverse assortment of wine styles here – from super premium, cool climate sparkling wine to full bodied warm climate shiraz and cabernet sauvignon.

Liquid geography isn’t just a by-line from an advertising agency. It’s something you can learn first-hand.

The Australian Capital Territory is an ideal starting point for visiting vineyards in this part of the world. More than half its land area is devoted to national parks, so there’s a lot to see and do. The well-developed network of roads and walking trails found here criss-cross picturesque mountain ranges and sub-alpine forest.

The city of Canberra – with its numerous institutions and national monuments on show – is seldom more than an hour away by car. More than 30 vineyards can be found within 35 minutes of the CBD.

Getting in and out of Canberra is like getting around the city itself – it’s easy. The nation’s capital is served by all major domestic airlines. The four-hour road trip from Sydney to Canberra via Wollongong and the Southern Highlands forms part of the famous Grand Pacific Drive. Just toss the camera onto the back seat and go.

Vineyards in the Canberra District – as well as those around Gundagai, the Hilltops and Tumbarumba in nearby New South Wales – can be accessed by a vast number of tourist routes. Allow plenty of time for rubber-necking at scenic lookouts and vineyard cellar doors.

Winemaking first became a part of life around here 160 years ago. Today, most commercial vineyards in the Canberra District and in nearby New South Wales are small and are relatively recent arrivals here. Visitors can find vines dotting the landscape anywhere between 250 and 800 metres above sea level.

Around the latter end of the scale, you find real wines with altitude – racy, spine-tingling rieslings and cool climate cabernets with subtle characters of crushed leaf and mint. Sites with lower elevation and more favourable aspect favour the production of zesty young sauvignon blanc blends, stylish barrel-fermented chardonnay, and Rhone-inspired shiraz viognier blends as well as single varietal shiraz/syrah.

Clonakilla is widely regarded as Australia’s best producer of shiraz viognier. The Canberra District vineyard is a must-see along the wine trail. In Gundagai, flip a coin to decide whether you’ll first see ‘the dog on the tuckerbox’ or Bidgeebong Wines. Locals here use the words ‘Bidgeebong Triangle’ to describe all the land around about from Young and Wagga Wagga to Tumbarumba and Gundagai.

Heading for the Hilltops? The McWilliams-owned Barwang Vineyard produces top notch shiraz, shiraz viognier and cabernet sauvignon at very affordable prices. Chalkers Crossing can toss Tumbarumba chardonnay and sauvignon blanc as well as Hilltops semillon and riesling into that mix. The vineyard’s reds here figure among the best in the country.

The Canberra District can be chilly in the winter time but offers visitors to the region a warm welcome all year around. Be sure to:

  • Meet friends at The National Gallery of Australia. It boasts a truly comprehensive collection of Australian art, including a superb collection of Aboriginal Art. Canberra’s name – derived from the Ngunnawal word ‘Kamberra’ – is thought to mean ‘meeting place.’ Where better then to join friends and experience Australian art?
  • Take a hot air balloon ride high over Canberra’s iconic Lake Burley Griffin. With four seasons to enjoy here, nature’s vast canvas is best viewed from the air.
  • Celebrate Australia’s proudest sporting achievements at the Australian Institute of Sport.
  • Join local winemakers and tourism businesses at Murrumbateman’s Moving Feast. The October long weekend food and wine event takes place annually just 30 minutes away from Canberra’s CBD. Feast on an apple streusel slice with a glass of Helm’s Half-Dry Riesling.
  • Drop by Canberra’s Old Bus Depot Markets, held every Sunday inside the old bus depot on the Kingston Foreshore. The markets are renowned for their quirky mix of handcrafted jewellery, clothing, and furniture, as well as choice selections of regional food and wine.




  • Canberra (ACT)
  • Capital Country ACT (ACT)

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