Geelong Wine Region in Victoria

By Jeni Port
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Scotchman's Hill Estate on the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria

Scotchman's Hill Estate on the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria [©Visions of Victoria]

The beautiful Geelong waterfront in Victoria
Crawford River Wines, Condah, Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Shadowfax has an enviable reputation for its premium wines
Spray Farm Estate on the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria

Dominant White Grapes: chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling
Dominant Red Grapes: cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, pinot noir
Principal Wine Styles: generous chardonnay; spicy shiraz; highly perfumed pinot noir

Geelong vignerons bear the pleasure - and the pain - of a glorious history cut short by a terrible pestilence.

In 1865, the region was the most important in Victoria boasting 364 hectares out of the Victorian total of some 1600 hectares and had an enviable reputation for its red grape varieties hermitage (shiraz), burgundy (pinot noir), esparte and the white grape chasselas. Swiss vineyard workers, encouraged to settle in the new colony through the Swiss-born wife of Governor La Trobe, contributed to making Geelong our premier viticultural region but just as it was at its height, calamity struck.

Phylloxera is the world's most deadly vine louse and in 1877 it arrived in Australia via Geelong. The destructive pest together with government-backed attempts to destroy it (including burning vineyards) brought Geelong wine growing to an end by 1882. It would be more than 80 years before vines returned to Geelong, and always there was the question of whether the area would ever regain its early prominence. The emphasis since Geelong's rebirth in the 1960s has been on red wine making but which grape? Shiraz and pinot noir vie for importance led the resurgence in interest in wine growing in the area in the last decade along with chardonnay and (to a lesser extent) cabernet sauvignon.

The warm inland Anakie area is suited to generous, spicy shiraz as producers, most notably the pioneering Tom Maltby and the Hickinbotham family, have shown over the years. To the east is Lethbridge which is quickly gaining a reputation for a charming Rhone-style shiraz/viognier through Lethbridge Wines. To the south lies Bannockburn, a sub-region which largely through one producer (Bannockburn) helped put Geelong on the national wine making map for pinot noir. The style has been likened to Burgundy but in truth, Bannockburn is warmer and enjoys more sunshine hours than Burgundy, which helps explain the extraordinary richness in flavor that is achieved here not only in pinot noir but also chardonnay.

The cooler, maritime-influenced Bellarine Peninsula offers its own individual expression of pinot noir and chardonnay. Water (and wind) is everywhere with Bass Strait, Port Phillip Bay and inland Lake Connewarre contributing to a linear expression of both grapes with delicate flavors and firm acids. Here, Scotchmans Hill and the entrepreneurial Browne family dominate with a number of well-priced, well-made wine brands. To the east of the Peninsula are historic early vineyard sites brought back to life at Waurn Ponds (Prince Albert and Pettavel) where pinot noir flourishes.

The start of the Great Ocean Road takes you not only to the surf but new vineyards at Bellbrae (which makes a notable shiraz) and further to Colac and Timboon where former dairy land is turning over to grapes. Many vineyards like Heytesbury Estate (1998) and Otway Estate (1983) are still refining their wine style but certainly shiraz, pinot noir and chardonnay are the strong suits. At the end of the Great Ocean Road lies the Henty region, once called Drumborg or Far South West. This is one of the coolest wine growing sites on the mainland, a viticulturally-challenging area pioneered by Karl Seppelt back in 1964. The cold clime is highly suited to riesling and other aromatic white grapes along with chardonnay and pinot noir for sparkling wine. More than half of the vines grown by Seppelt (the region's biggest producer) are ear-marked for sparklings. Henty is concentrated around the towns of Condah, Hamilton and Tarrington, the latter responsible for one of Victoria's newest cult sensations, Tarrington Wines, with its beautifully complex chardonnay and pinot noir.

As this young wine growing region grows, expect to see more vineyards open regularly for cellar door sales. Unfortunately, Seppelt has no cellar door presence and even prominent producers like Crawford River Wines are only open by appointment making a visit to the region something of a challenge for wine lovers. But there's always the mailing list . . .

© Jeni Port 2006

Regions

  • Bellarine Peninsula (VIC)
  • Geelong and Bellarine Peninsula (VIC)
  • Great Ocean Road (VIC)
  • Melbourne Surrounds (VIC)
  • Melbourne and Melbourne West (VIC)

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