Regional Overview - Macedon Ranges and Daylesford
By Mark Smith
What’s not to like about a wine region where visitors can luxuriate with every spring, spa and mountain top, and even Bacchus has a Marsh?
Less than an hour northwest of Melbourne, Macedon Ranges takes its name from the rocky volcanic outcrop that sees Australia’s Great Dividing Range split the region into two halves.
Warmer sites in the north – between Daylesford and Metcalfe; Kyneton and Baynton - produce a range of premium quality table wines. Here, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Shiraz are very much to the fore.
Those in the south - around the cooler regions of Lancefield, Gisborne and Romsey – are better known for earlier ripening Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and superb quality, bottle-fermented sparkling wines.
North or south, the Macedon Ranges is a patchwork quilt of small to medium-sized family owned vineyards producing artisan wines – wines that reflect the inherent terroir of their site and their characteristic ownership. To journey here is to navigate a maze of lush elevated plains, jagged rocky outcrops, and mysterious mountain passes that change with the season and even the time of day.
Mystical Hanging Rock – made famous by author Joan Lindsay and director Peter Weir – looms large within the visitor’s head space.
The region’s viticultural history began with farmers and graziers planting vines north of the township of Macedon during the 1840s and 1850s. Their lack of markets and Australia’s recession of the 1890s killed off many of those pioneering enterprises. A handful more visionary vignerons were successful in gaining richer returns from warmer soils around Sunbury, closer to Melbourne.
Vines returned to Macedon’s northern slopes with restaurateur Tom Lazar and his dazzling Virgin Hills during the late 1960s. His classically structured, European-inspired reds set the bar for others, like Gordon Knight and his Granite Hills venture. Newcomers with their eyes on the prize of bottle-fermented sparkling wine - made solely from the region’s Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier - banded together during the 1990s to register the name Macedon for their distinctive, cool climate-driven wines.
Less than 100 kilometres covers the distance between Melbourne’s CBD and the region’s northern outposts of Malmsbury and Glenhope. Day trips here offer a wide variety of tourist experiences, from tasting boutique beers and cool climate wines to exploring eerie mountain caves and hidden labyrinths. And when you do finally tire of nature’s endless works and wonderments, what could be better than some serious relaxation therapy at Daylesford and Hepburn Springs?
Quality accommodation spans hotels and motels for the family, to Victorian-era B&Bs and back-to-basics bush retreats. The region makes an ideal casual overnighter for visitors touring nearby Heathcote. Those with time on their hands follow the sun on its journey way out west, to the Grampians and Pyrenees regions.
Either way, producers in each of these three Central and Western Victoria zones make ripe, spicy Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon – wines reflecting the richness of their red volcanic soils and eucalypt surrounds. Producers here don’t always go with the flow. Look around for sun-loving Tempranillo and newbie Nebbiolo and Lagrein. Chardonnay grown in these parts is as rock-solid as you’d find anywhere else in Australia.
Be sure to push your cultural landscapes as you straddle Victoria’s end of the Great Divide:
- This is the land of fine wool and even finer wine. Heritage buildings with spectacular views can be found in abundance. Keep an eye out for roadside stalls, farm gate sales and inviting vineyard cellar doors as you travel historic highways and byways like the Burke and Wills Track.
- Visit the State’s vast array of mining sites to the north of the Macedon Ranges. Who’d start a gold rush when there’s so much rich history to explore here at leisure?
- In the 19th century, Melbourne’s wealthiest residents escaped the summer heat at Mount Macedon. Five and six generations on, visitors to the region are still captivated by the chill beauty of its mysterious Hanging Rock – the landform that once played host to picnicking schoolgirls in crinoline and white lace.
- Spa or sparkling? Macedon boasts the largest concentration of naturally occurring mineral springs in Australia. There are more than 70 around Daylesford alone. Seventeen producers market 50 different forms of Macedon bubbly. What will you choose when you’re chilling out?
- Ballarat (VIC)
- Bendigo (VIC)
- Heathcote (VIC)
- Macedon Ranges (Wine) (VIC)
- Macedon Ranges & Spa Country (VIC)
- Melbourne and Melbourne West (VIC)
- Sunbury (VIC)
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