Macedon/Sunbury Wine Region in Victoria

By Jeni Port
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Goona Warra Vineyard produces elegant cool climate wines

Goona Warra Vineyard produces elegant cool climate wines

Dominant White Grapes: chardonnay, riesling, sauvignon blanc
Dominant Red Grapes: pinot noir, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon
Principal Wine Styles: idiosyncratic, stylish sparklings; finely-textured, mineral chardonnay; velvety pinot noir

Not so long ago, Sunbury was just a sub-region of the (then) Macedon wine district. It simply didn't have the vineyard numbers to branch out on its own, although the difference in wine style and climate between Sunbury and its northern neighbour was obvious to even a half-interested wine drinker. They shared precious little in common. Sunbury was relatively warm and an acknowledged shiraz-producing area. Macedon was definitely cool - one of the coldest wine growing regions in Australia - and noted for its sparklings and Burgundy-style pinot noir and chardonnay. Sunbury had been making wine since 1859. It held pioneering status in our history books. Macedon was a late starter in Victorian wine terms, turning to wine making in the 1970s. So, when the two finally separated in the late 1990s it was with a sigh of relief. Finally, their differences were to be celebrated!

The Sunbury wine region fans out from the Melbourne Airport taking in the major towns of Bulla, Rockbank, Melton, Sunbury, Toolern Vale and Bacchus Marsh. Take a look at the red volcanic soils that feature through much of the area. They offer an insight to the wine styles made here: medium in weight, subtle and elegant in fruit. While shiraz is the key variety, it is clear that other robust wine styles like cabernet sauvignon, merlot and new red grapes sangiovese and tempranillo are also well-suited. While some producers pursue pinot noir there are few notable wines made, with the possible exception of those from Ray-Monde.

White wines often play second fiddle here. Sometimes it's deserved, sometimes not. Chardonnay can and often does rise to the heights of a top flight shiraz, especially from makers like Goona Warra and Craiglee. These two producers actually share a glorious history with both vineyards originally planted in 1863 by prominent businessmen J.S. Johnston (Craiglee) and J.G. Francis (GoonaWarra) opposite each other at the entrance to Sunbury. Both would eventually fall into decline to be re-born again in the 1970s and 80s, but Craiglee in particular would show just how hardy and age-worthy Sunbury shiraz could be. A secret cache of 1872 hermitage was found in Craiglee in 1951. In 1972 the wine was served at a special industry dinner and pronounced to be "still sound, still superb."

There is a very good reason why much of the Macedon Ranges only succumbed to the vine in the 1970s and 80s and not earlier: the cold. Vignerons had to wait until viticultural practices had caught up with the push into cooler climates before grape growing could be a consistent and financially rewarding occupation here. Macedon Ranges can be divided into two separate climatic zones thanks to the Great Dividing Range.  South of the Divide lies Lancefield, Gisborne and Romsey, areas that are distinctly cool and wet and suited to Burgundy varieties chardonnay (often tasting more of a fine and flinty Chablis) and pinot noir. When not made into table wines, these grapes are also the basis of sparkling wines.

North of the Divide takes in Kyneton, Metcalfe, Taradale, Malmsbury, Glenlyon Daylesford and Yandoit. You sense the growing warmth as you travel north. These are areas that can ripen shiraz and even cabernet sauvignon but still chilly enough to produce striking riesling and chardonnay. Some producers like Granite Hills manage both seemingly effortlessly. One of the highest vineyards in the area belongs to Graeme Leith (of Passing Clouds fame) who planted pinot and chardonnay eight years ago at an altitude of 740 metres at Musk where it snows in winter. What was I saying about the warmth? Warmth is always relative, especially in the "warmer" northern parts of the Ranges.

A separate area is one we might call southern Bendigo, a small wine growing community that takes in Harcourt, Castlemaine, Newstead and Talbot. The defining wines made here are riesling (again) and shiraz (again) but the style is far richer and more opulent. When we all come to our senses and start enjoying cabernet sauvignon again, this area will also be a handy one to know, what with producers like Blackjack and Sutton Grange making stunning examples.

© Jeni Port 2006

Regions

  • Macedon Ranges (Wine) (VIC)
  • Sunbury (VIC)

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March 13th, 2007
 
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