Beechworth has never overextended itself when it comes to wine production, choosing to focus almost solely on chardonnay, shiraz and pinot noir. This makes for regional excellence in these three varieties. Devoted vignerons are drawing all the flavours you’d expect from the cooler climate styles, and they’re propelling Beechworth’s upward reputation.
The vines are scattered across the alpine landscape and though the temperature declines with elevation, it’s worth the ascent for stunning wines and mountainous High Country scenes.
Beechworth is not only distinguished as a refined wine region, but the gold rush of the 1800s left a legacy of National Trust-listed buildings, a boutique shopping district and beautiful gardens. Roam the main street lined with heritage shopfronts, galleries, eateries and bric-a-brac stores.
James Halliday on Beechworth
Beechworth had a dazzling start in the 19th century, and there are those who believe its 21st century future is every bit as bright; if they are right, it will prove that size does not matter, for the region is a mere pocket handkerchief compared to, say, Geelong.
The town of Beechworth was built with gold, discovered in March 1852, the year before the town was proclaimed. Perched precariously on a steep hillside with streets plunging at precipitous, unexpected angles, its stone buildings and array of exotic European trees are a sight to behold in autumn.
The first land sales took place in 1855, and a Mr Rochlitz procured ‘at very great expense and trouble’ 95 vine varieties from Adelaide, which he planted the following year. While a veritable league of nations followed his example, the individual plantings were small, peaking at 70 hectares in 1891. By 1916 only 2 hectares remained, and another 65 years were to pass before a Flying Winemaker called Rick Kinzbrunner – ever a lateral thinker – took the gamble of planting a micro-vineyard of 2.8 hectares of chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon. Di and Pete Smith had, in fact, planted the first vines in 1978 with the encouragement of Brown Brothers, but were content to sell their grapes to others until 2002.
Stephen and Elizabeth Morris began the planting of their 3-hectare Pennyweight Vineyard in 1982, followed by Barry and Jan Morey in 1984 with the same area for their Sorrenberg Vineyard. So the three winegrowers had less than 10 hectares of vineyards of diverse varieties in an unheralded wine region, yet in the ensuing 15 years it was to become a vinous El Dorado.
Kinzbrunner’s Giaconda played the leading role, but Sorrenberg has an intensely loyal following, its wines as conspicuous on leading restaurant wine lists as they are inconspicuous on retail shelves. Castagna has now added its considerable reputation and more labels are coming on to the market all the time.
Others are simply content to grow and sell grapes, with demand far exceeding supply. What is also striking is the diversity of varieties, spanning the full range of early to late-ripening grapes, and the usually concomitant differences in altitude.
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Mid March to end April