Nagambie, Victoria: Wineries

By Michael Harden
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Unlike many of Victoria’s wine regions, the area around Nagambie has had an unbroken winemaking history dating back to the 1850’s. Despite this longevity, the area’s unique geographical and climatic conditions were only officially acknowledged in 1993. Subsequently, the Nagambie Lakes Wine Region is one of the newest in Victoria even though it contains some of the oldest vines in the world. It might seem confusing at first but stick with it because, combined with the increasing number of cool climate, high altitude wineries in the neighbouring Strathbogie Ranges, this part of the world contains some seriously good fun for wine lovers.

The Nagambie Lakes Wine Region is the only winemaking region in Australia – and one of only six in the world – where the climate is dramatically influenced by an inland water mass. So despite the inland setting, the presence of the Goulburn River and various lakes and lagoons make the region milder and more humid than you might expect. Such is the effect of these waterways on the grapes (slower to ripen, delicate but full flavours) that to be included in the region, a winery has to be no further than three kilometres from water.

Tahbilk Estate, established in 1860 and run by the Purbrick family since 1925, is the region’s best-known winery and one of Australia’s oldest. The 1214-hectare property has eleven kilometres of river frontage and a beautiful wetlands area that has been restored and developed to include a series of walks for winery visitors and a stylish café. Visiting the original riverfront Tahbilk ‘village’ with its iconic tower and original, atmospheric cellars is like strolling through a movie set. There are old blacksmith shops, tiny workers cottages and a fantastic cellar door in the same building as the original oak fermenters that are still used for Tahbilk’s red wines.

It is all very pretty and historic, but Tahbilk also mixes substance with the style. The 168-hectare vineyard (including the plot of shiraz planted in 1866) includes many of the Rhone varietals for which the region is becoming increasingly recognised – shiraz, marsanne, rousanne, viognier – and its marsanne planting is the largest of any single vineyard in the world. Tahbilk has won a swag of awards over the years and is highly regarded for the longevity and structure of its red wines, particularly the Reserve shiraz made with grapes from the winery’s 1933 vineyard. Its success with marsanne has been such that it virtually ‘owns’ the variety in Australia.

Not far from Tahbilk (a two-hour boat ride up the river for those with some time to spare) is another of the area’s well-known wineries with another landmark tower. Mitchelton was established in 1973 and the impressive Spanish influenced winery buildings – including the tower with its observation deck offering brilliant views over the estate – show that tourism was very much on the agenda in the early days. Now Mitchelton with its wonderful river snuggled position, is concentrating more on the business of wine and is producing some excellent Riesling under its Blackwood Park label and some good versions of the Rhone varietals – shiraz, marsanne, viognier, mouvedre and rousanne.

Tourists haven’t been forgotten at Mitchelton though and it remains a lovely place to stroll or picnic by the Goulburn River, eat lunch in the consistently good restaurant and visit the well run cellar door with its small range of local produce. One of the advantages of visiting Mitchelton’s cellar door is that you get to taste and buy wines that are not available anywhere else. The winery makes small runs of wines from particularly good parcels of estate grown grapes – perhaps a straight rousanne – that will only be sold at the cellar door. Similarly there will be small releases of aged riesling and marsanne on sale from time to time.

Also in the area is David Traeger Wines. Established in 1984, the winery has several vineyards, one of which has been producing grapes continuously for more than one hundred years. The long established, non-irrigated vines are low yielding and produce intensely flavoured grapes. David Traeger Wines operates a cellar door in the main street of Nagambie – next to the tourist information centre – where you can try his small but finessed range of wines that includes a viognier and an excellent shiraz that is partly made from grapes from the old vines at the vineyard in Graytown.

The Nagambie Lakes Wine Region is a good blend of new and old wineries and because of the specific geographical requirements will always remain a fairly small club. It is interesting to see some newer wineries in the area are expanding the repertoire and experimenting with the dominant styles, ensuring the region – steeped in all that wine making history - does not lapse into being a wine museum.

© Michael Harden 2006

First printed in Food and Wine Lovers’ Guide to Melbourne and Surrounds (2006)

Regions

  • Nagambie Lakes (VIC)

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