Gippsland Wine Region in Victoria

By Jeni Port
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Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park

Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park

Dominant White Grapes: chardonnay, sauvignon blanc
Dominant Red Grapes: cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, shiraz
Principal Wine Styles: complex, layered chardonnay; concentrated, mulit-dimensional pinot noir

As it might have occurred to anyone who has foolishly tried to visit Gippsland's wineries in one day, this is one mighty, mighty big wine area. It represents around 20 per cent of our state, and that includes the large chunks of the Baw Baw and Alpine National Parks that wine visitors are forced to skirt as they motor on down the Princes Highway from Pakenham Upper to Lakes Entrance. But size isn't everything.  Compared to its sister Victorian wine regions, Gippsland is one of our smallest producing areas with around 30 wineries collectively harvesting 300-odd tonne of grapes each vintage.

Wine making came to Gippsland - as it did elsewhere throughout the state - during the 19th Century but it didn't stay long.  No doubt other industries, notably dairying and coal mining, were found to be far more profitable in the long term and perhaps a little easier in which to achieve success. The very conditions that bless Gippsland with such excellent dairying and farming land - a cool, wet climate - can make grape growing a real challenge. Throw in the southerly blusters off Westernport Bay, Bass Strait and the Tasman Sea in addition to the humidity that can cling to coastal areas and its close to nightmare material. This is very much high maintenance wine growing.  Get one small part of your grape growing regime wrong up this way and you're just as likely to lose half your crop.

To wine drinkers, Gippsland is one amorphous mass.  To wine producers, it deserves to be divided up into three distinct and separate regions: west, south and east.

The west, around Warragul, is possibly the driest and warmest of the three with enough sunshine to ripen shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. As is the case across all of Gippsland, chardonnay and pinot noir also do well here. West Gippsland's boundary butts on to the Yarra Valley and enjoys some of that region's similarities in wine style, notably spicy peppery shiraz and elegant cabernets. Chardonnay here shows excellent fruit-acid balance while pinot noir is generally soft with flavors in the lighter cherry-berry spectrum. This region also takes in the new and highly maritime wine growing area of Phillip Island (which shares some similarities with the Mornington Peninsula across the water, but that's another story).

South Gippsland, based around Leongatha, is the coolest, the wettest and the windiest with strong breezes whipped up from Bass Strait. Viticulture is demanding but get it right and the results are some of Australia's most exciting pinot noir. Back in the late 1970s when the first modern-day vineyards were being planted, this was considered a Brave New World for pinot noir and pioneers of the variety like Phillip Jones at Bass Phillip are to be congratulated for their persistence, not to mention physical stamina. The region is now rightly acknowledged as one of Australia's leading pinot noir producers. The style is elegant and well-structured, often featuring sweet, intense, black fruits. Chardonnay here tends to lie in the shadow of pinot noir and much stronger competition from its neighbouring region to the east.

East Gippsland, centred around Bairnsdale, sports a more Mediterranean and moderate climate. Here, chardonnay is best-suited although pockets of riesling, pinot noir and even cabernet sauvignon and merlot can be found. The East Gippsland chardie style is rich, textured, complex. Oak generally plays a fairly prominent role here because wine makers are blessed with high ripeness levels (at least by Gippsland standards) at vintage.  Same goes for the pinot noir that is produced in East Gippsland. The style is forward, warm and generous with more pronounced forest floor aromas. Those producers who persist with cabernet sauvignon and merlot find that not every year produces the amount of ripeness they need. In these vintages, sometimes you'll find a leafy herbal character that dominates. However, more often than not, cabernet and merlot can produce charming, fragrant and finely-textured wines. Which is why they're definitely worth persisting with wine making-wise (and seeking out consumer-wise!).

© Jeni Port 2006

Regions

  • Gippsland (VIC)
  • Phillip Island (VIC)

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