A region for wine enthusiasts in the know, the refined, complex and character-filled pinot noir, chardonnay and shiraz of Geelong have received plenty of praise from James Halliday. In addition to its top-notch drops, this is a destination with inviting cellar doors that serve up sumptuous meals to match, and plenty of great places to take in the horizon across the slopes of the vineyards and curves of the bays.
Just south of Melbourne and a straight run down the Westgate Highway, in spite of Geelong's convenient location it often gets overlooked. Stretching from Werribee, halfway to Ballarat and right down Australia's iconic Great Ocean Road, it’s divided into three sub-regions with distinctive styles. Seek and you will find a rich offering that includes first-rate wineries, coveted restaurants and serene outlooks at every turn.
Modern Geelong is split into three key sub-regions, the Surf Coast, the Moorabool Valley and the Bellarine Peninsula, each with differing soils, conditions, wine styles and charms:
The Moorabool Valley
The Bellarine Peninsula
The Surf Coast
A powerhouse of pinot noir, Geelong is also known for exceptionally elegant chardonnay and subtly spicy, medium-bodied shiraz. For intrepid wine lovers, the wealth of varieties and their various interpretations throughout this sprawling region provide plenty of interest.
The diverse wines of Geelong are borne from equally diverse landscapes – from low-lying, cattle-studded farmlands to hilltop vineyards with sweeping bay views. As a passerby it’s certainly pretty, but for those making wine here the elements can be extreme. Many areas are windswept and cold thanks to their proximity to Port Phillip and Corio Bay. There are pockets of the region that see almost no rain and on the whole, Geelong is quite dry. These factors result in a distinctive regional style: the vines are robust, the wines are lush and aromatic, and the makers are tough. In places with low rainfall, limited yields and tricky conditions, you’ll find passionate producers, which is another reason to go – it takes talent and tenacity to turn tough elements into wines of complexity, and Geelong has those in spades.
Geelong is a mix of farmers, viticulturists, scientists, surveyors and various other professionals who have come here in search of a green (meets sea) change. The region has its stalwarts (who you might be surprised to find are making some fascinating, forward-thinking wines), as well as its next-generation producers and a totally new wave of winemakers who are giving it a go. While there are many different voices here, they all harmonise into a song that goes a little like, ‘We make great wine and deserve to be recognised’. Hear hear.
"140 years ago, Geelong was the most important winemaking district in Victoria, if not Australia." – James Halliday
Geelong has a chequered past that includes the introduction of phylloxera in the late 1800s, followed by an eradication of its vineyards and a halt to its wine production that lasted nearly 100 years. Revived in the 1960s, it has since been rebuilt from the ground up, with winemakers embracing its vigorous soils (the elements underfoot ranging from basalt to loam, limestone and clay) and capricious climate (varying between continental, maritime and even Mediterranean).
The wines of Geelong
Pinot noir is a must-try in the region, as is the subtly spicy shiraz, but you can’t overlook the region’s whites. You might be surprised to find age-worthy, barrel-fermented sauvignon blanc wines that look to Bordeaux, or beautifully balanced chardonnay wines that tread the line between austere and oaky perfectly. Pinot gris/grigio suits the environment here, and the resulting wines offer a stunning concentration of citrus/stone fruit flavours.
If you’re after playful styles, you’ll find those too. We’ve discussed pinot gris/grigio, and one local winery has achieved surprisingly good results by blending it 50/50 with riesling (and dubbing it ‘Griesling’). Another hard-to-find wine that Geelong has succeeded with is gamay, producing a meatier style. Pinot noir is easy to come by, but pinot meunier is a different story altogether and there’s at least one Moorabool Valley producer that does it well. Sangiovese, tempranillo, cabernet franc and merlot are also creeping into the mix. On the Bellarine Peninsula, one producer makes the rare, sweet red variety picolit, which hails from Italy.
More than wine
Geelong has a burgeoning food scene that includes cafes to rival Melbourne’s inner north and restaurants that people make the pilgrimage from far and wide to try. As well as that, its drinks makers don’t start and end with wine, and you’ll find cideries and breweries from the small and artisanal to those with a reputation countrywide.
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