Regional Wrap: Central Victoria

A region for all seasons

By Jeni Port
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Mitchelton Winery, Nagambie Lakes, Victoria

Mitchelton Winery, Nagambie Lakes, Victoria [©Great Wine Capitals]

Central Victoria (Nagambie, Bendigo)

Dominant White Grapes: riesling, chardonnay, sauvignon
Dominant Red Grapes: shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir
Principal Wine Styles: warm, medium-bodied whites; big, chunky shiraz; earthy (often minty) cabernet sauvignon and blends

In wine terms, Central Victoria is hard to pin down. So many regions, so many climates, so many grape varieties.

The Goulburn Valley has a strong affinity with the climate and grapes of France's Rhone Valley. The Rhone's major white and red varieties all flourish here: marsanne, roussanne, viognier, shiraz, mourvedre. Shiraz has grown here since the 1860s and marsanne from the 1930s, while other equally robust varieties suited to the warm climate arrived later.

Vineyards follow the course of the Goulburn River through hard grazing country so irrigation is almost always warranted. Early wineries kept close to the river at Nagambie, a town which also boasts a sprawling system of nearby lakes and lagoons.

Two of the biggest wineries in the Goulburn Valley, Tahbilk and Mitchelton, can be found here. Their belief that the nearby water mass moderates temperatures and produces a strong individual style has resulted in the formation of the Nagambie Lakes sub-region. The flavors of shiraz and cabernet are highly distinctive with their chocolate, dusty red berries and the smell of baked earth. White wines tend to be generous in flavor and even cool climate specialists like chardonnay and riesling perform well.

Down the Hume Highway and a few granite-encrusted hills away from Nagambie lies the Strathbogie Ranges. It was once included under the Goulburn Valley appellation but as the number of vineyards have grown and its own cooler-climate style has emerged, the area has gained regional status.

The Strathbogies gained drinkers' attention in 1975 when Tisdall Wines established Mount Helen vineyard and produced award-winning chardonnay. A little later, a local farming family, the Plunketts, also got into wine growing and excited all of us with a range of cool climate wines, notably a peppery shiraz and aromatic riesling. Today, another notable producer is Maygar's Hill with award winning shiraz and cabernet and the emerging Baddaginnie Run vineyard with merlot, verdelho and cabernet.

In 1864, Bendigo boasted more than 40 vineyards. That's what a gold rush can do for a region but by 1893 the end was in sight with the arrival of the deadly phylloxera vine louse. However, the story has a happy ending. In the late 1960s, the Bendigo region was finding its feet again with vignerons rediscovering the area's undoubted ability to produce fine wine.

Cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and chardonnay are the staples with sauvignon blanc playing a supporting role. The reds are strong and firm with forceful tannins. Where there is quartz (the gold-bearing kind) you will even find a mineral quality coming through. A tell-tale Bendigo trademark in many reds is a thread of eucalyptus/menthol aroma and flavor.

Straddling the ground between Seymour and Bendigo is the town of Heathcote which gives its name to an ever-growing wine region. A few short years ago Heathcote would have been included in the widening circle of Bendigo and vineyards were relatively few. Not any more.  An explosion of plantings has taken place since that time, especially to the north around Mount Camel and Colbinabbin. The reason? Shiraz. Not since Coonawarra tied its future to cabernet, has a region become so inextricably entwined with one grape variety. And like Coonawarra, there is special soil involved. Cambrian soil is some of the oldest on the planet. It's red and rich with nodules of iron oxide and minerals which produce wines of extraordinary deep color and natural high acidity.

Shiraz is the keynote grape but there is increasing exploration into other areas, notably the Italians (nebbiolo, sangiovese) and viognier. Today, Heathcote boasts around 30 wineries, 28 with cellar doors.

© Jeni Port 2006

(excerpt from The Age, September 20, 2006.Reproduced with permission)


  • Bendigo (VIC)
  • Central Victoria (VIC)
  • Goulburn Valley (VIC)
  • Heathcote (VIC)
  • Nagambie Lakes (VIC)
  • Strathbogie Ranges (VIC)

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