Geelong regional overview
Gambling land - from footy to wines
By Mark Smith
Football-mad or not, it seems the good folk of Geelong have always been ready to take a punt.
Back in the 1850s, those involved in the rough, tough business of prospecting on the Victorian goldfields spent part of their down time laying foundations for the great Aussie game that would give the city its glorious Cats and legendary players like Farmer and Ablett.
Those with Swiss ancestry used the rich black soils around Corio Bay for a different purpose. These were the vine-tending friends and connections of Victoria’s Governor La Trobe and his Swiss wife, Sophie. In time, their achievements would be just as spectacular as those of their less genteel peers - the establishment of one of Victoria’s most important wine-growing regions.
Before the vine-killing louse phylloxera wrought its industry-crippling effects in the 1870s, Geelong boasted more than 50 vineyards and 400ha of vineyards. Today’s re-vamped industry is host to just 471ha of wine grape varieties – equivalent to a third of all plantings now established on the other side of Bass Strait in small scale Tasmania.
And while it was the pioneering husband and wife team of Daryl and Nini Sefton that got the ball rolling again in 1966, it was the arrival of high fliers like Bannockburn (1974), Hickinbotham Winemakers (1981) and Scotchmans Hill (1982) that took Geelong’s wine-growing game into another league.
Today, the region’s best players are Bannockburn, By Farr, Clyde Park, Curlewis, Farr Rising, Grassy Point, Scotchmans Hill and Shadowfax. There are more than 30 vineyards to be found in Geelong’s three main sub-regions of the Surf Coast, Moorabool Valley and Bellarine Peninsula. Many are small and hands on family operations.
Geelong’s cool maritime climate puts vineyards here at the mercy of the elements. That makes for high risk, high return viticulture. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from these parts is among the best produced anywhere in Australia. With a little on ground work, you can also sample wonderful barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc, stylish Shiraz Viognier and delicate late-harvest Riesling. Lovers of traditional Aussie reds will find a Six Foot Six Geelong Shiraz to kick goals inside the hip pocket.
Heading to Cats country?
Geelong is well-connected to all key parts of central and southern Victoria. Via the busy M1, it’s just 45 minutes from Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge. Avalon Airport - Jetstar’s home base - is barely 15km to the north-east of Geelong. But for the journey of a lifetime, you should take the bay or the Great Ocean Road. Mornington Peninsula’s Sorrento to Queenscliff ferry offers 12 sailings on the hour daily from 7.00am.
Geelong and the nearby Bellarine Peninsula have a long tradition of producing some of the garden State’s finest food and wine. The rich fertile soils here grow excellent root vegetables, crunchy crisp apples, and bucket loads of berries, as well as fine wine grapes. And when fresh fish is the order of the day, you can either reel in your own or rely on the local fishing fleet for your catch from the bay and Bass Strait.
The name Geelong comes from the Wathawurung word for bay – ‘jillong’ - meaning ‘the place of the sea bird over the white cliffs’. Indeed, the city’s bay side location and maritime history have been its drawcards for generations of Australians.
Visitors to the region should be sure to:
- Take in the city’s annual waterfront festival each January. Its Festival of Sail is among Australia’s oldest and largest keelboat regattas.
- Enjoy a drive along the world famous Great Ocean Road. Around 22,000 visitors to the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria’s web site voted it Victoria’s number one tourism experience in 2008.
- Hitch a ride aboard a Surf Coast helicopter. Passengers can luxuriate in some breathtaking views of rugged coastline before touching down for a cellar door tasting or a round of golf on one of the many courses located hereabouts.
- Rise to the occasion at the Fort Queenscliff Museum. Public tours and dress ups on holidays and weekends take visitors back to the days of military settlement and the wretched fate of seafarers who came to grief on the Shipwreck Coast.
- Spoil the family with a day-trip to an amazing maze or a cool adventure park. Geelong’s northern beaches are just perfect for paddling, fishing and boating.
- Check out the Baywalk Bollards on the seaside promenade. There are more than 100 of these quirky painted icons. Geelong’s painstakingly restored historic carousel is barely a stone’s throw away, no longer steam-powered but still giving patrons the ride of their lives.
Geelong for a little indulgence? You bet.
- Geelong and Bellarine Peninsula (VIC)
- Melbourne Surrounds (VIC)
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