Canberra District

New South Wales

About

The Canberra District offers visitors a smorgasbord of experiences, from snow-capped mountains to premium cool-climate wineries.

Drive 35 minutes north of the nation’s capital to discover one of New South Wales’ best-kept secrets, where travellers can expect a sensory experience of lush countryside and contemporary vineyard estates. Step into a choice of cellar doors for the opportunity to taste alternative varieties as well as familiar favourites. It’s a relatively young wine industry by Australian standards, but among the star performers of the region is riesling, which is well suited to the cooler temperatures. However, that’s not to knock the juicy red berry fruits from the district, with winemakers producing incredible award-winning shiraz in particular. Sip a variety of exciting blends, plus traditional wine styles.

Between cellar door tastings and chats with the winemakers, sample local produce at popular nearby restaurants and cafes. Beyond the political infrastructure of the city centre, discover this maturing region.


James Halliday on the Canberra District


Apart from some long-forgotten and small vineyards established near Yass in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Canberra District is a reflection of the Real Politik of the late twentieth century. It is a wry commentary on the unreality of the political hothouse of Canberra that only two of the Canberra District vignerons should actually have had a vineyard in Canberra, and even more appropriate that none is a politician. The reason for the territorial exclusion was essentially a pragmatic one, however much the concept might have pleased Lewis Carroll: freehold does not exist within the Australian Capital Territory, and land used for anything other than housing, commerce or industry is liable to be rezoned (and the lease terminated) at short notice.

In 1997 Hardys showed there was a solution to the problem: simply enter into an agreement with the Territory Government for the erection of a 2000 tonne winery and the establishment of a 250 hectare vineyard, an enterprise to dwarf all the others. But one has to have the clout of Australia’s second-largest wine company to achieve an outcome such as this; the winery was duly opened in 2000.

So the remaining, much smaller, vignerons cluster just outside the Territory’s borders in two groups: in the Yass Valley around Murrumbateman, and along the shores of Lake George. It was indeed within a few hundred metres of the edge of Lake George that Dr Edgar Riek planted the first vines in 1971, and others – mainly from the public service or scientific communities, many with Doctorates of Philosophy to their credit – quickly followed in his wake.

Overall, growth was steady rather than spectacular until the mid 1990s, and the general quality of the wines was equally modest. This was due to three main reasons: first, the virtual absence of qualified winemakers; second, initial lack of understanding of the particular problems posed by the Canberra climate and terroir; and third, the inherent difficulty of small-scale winemaking of white wines.

The lack of technical expertise was partially overcome by the use of consultants, partially by skills learned on the winery floor (for example at Lark Hill, Clonakilla and Kyeema Estate), although supplemented by external studies at Charles Sturt University, and partially by the acute intelligence and high scientific qualifications of many of the winemakers who – strictly speaking – are unqualified.


Facts

Wineries 58
Tasting Notes 1999

Geographic

Latitude 35°0’S
Altitude 500–850 m
Heat Degree Days 1410
Growing Season Rainfall 360 mm
Mean January Temp 20.2°C
Harvest Mid-March to end April