Rutherglen – the history book of Australian wine

By Mark Smith
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Historic Rutherglen is renowned for its many boutique wineries

Historic Rutherglen is renowned for its many boutique wineries [©Winepros/]


Roaming the dusty streets of Rutherglen 150 years ago, good fortune might have you fall upon the odd speck of gold. Today, north-east Victoria’s historic township keeps its gold under lock and key, deep in the bowels of companies like All Saints Estate, Campbells, and Stanton and Killeen. Here, generations of family winemakers have helped forge the region’s reputation for superlative muscat – mellow drops of liquid gold that have lain here for more than a century.

Was it mine or wine that first brought Rutherglen its pioneering citizenry? It hardly matters. It’s the town’s old, gnarled vineyards that continue its strong family traditions of working with the land.

Bushrangers are few and far between along today’s bitumened highways. The journey to Victoria’s north-east is three hours’ drive from Melbourne on the Hume Freeway to Sydney. If stark rocky outcrops and picturesque valley vistas get your pulse rate humming, there are regular domestic flights into Albury and some light aircraft passage through Wangaratta.

It’s an amazing place. Bounded by high country snowfields and the flood plains of the mighty Murray River, the north-east offers its visitors the rare prospects of scenic beauty, seasonal harvests, and the kind of sensory overload that only comes with the full enjoyment of rich sparkling shiraz, rippling reds, and decades-old fortified wines.

And if you thought this part of the world was only home to tough old country towns like Rutherglen and Glenrowan, it’s time to think again. You’ll find more than a few welcoming watering holes like Gapsted and Rosewhite – close-knit communities where handmade wines and home-grown olives, nuts, fruits and berries all contribute to the region’s patchwork quilt of gourmet restaurants and creative cuisines.

Big bold reds and syrupy fortifieds provided the north-east’s first claim to fame. More recently, its immigrant farmers have helped make this part of Victoria a vinous melting pot, with grape varieties like arneis, nebbiolo, tempranillo and zinfandel offering more than enough to keep the epicurious.

Forget about one size fits all here. The north-east’s best wines have location, location, location – bright and vibrant sparkling wines including prosecco from the King Valley; tightly coiled and regal chardonnay from Beechworth; muscular old vine shiraz and durif from Glenrowan, and treacly tokay and muscat from Rutherglen.

All Saints Estate, Baileys of Glenrowan, Buller, Campbells, Chambers, Morris, and Stanton and Killeen at least lead the way among fortified wine producers, while Baileys of Glenrowan, Battely, Brown Brothers, Giaconda, Smiths Vineyard and Warrabilla produce table wines of exceptional quality.

Heading north-east? Make sure your compass finds these points of interest:

  • Immerse yourself in the stories told of Glenrowan’s Kelly country. Drop by the grand old Victoria Hotel. Legend has it that the pub was one Ned Kelly’s favourite drinking holes. Ask its bar staff to ‘stand and deliver.’
  • Visit the cellar door and Epicurean Centre at Brown Brothers’ Milawa vineyard. Then head to the old butter factory down the road for a tasting of homemade goats and sheep cheeses.
  • Cycle the gourmet Rail Trail from Beechworth to Bright via Milawa and stop off to sample wine and food along the way. The rail trail uses old railway lines converted to smooth, off road cycling paths.
  • Discover the Great Alpine Road, one of Australia’s most loved touring routes. It’s Australia’s highest, year-round-accessible sealed road. Wind your way through the region as it showcases its stunning alpine landscapes and heritage towns. Victoria’s High Country lies at the heart of the biggest recreational horse riding area in Australia.

Victoria’s north-east… see it, feel it, dream it



  • Alpine Valleys (VIC)
  • Beechworth (VIC)
  • Glenrowan (VIC)
  • Goldfields (VIC)
  • King Valley including Milawa (VIC)
  • Legends, Wine and High Country (NE Victoria) (VIC)
  • Milawa (VIC)
  • North East Victoria (VIC)
  • Rutherglen (VIC)

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