Lakes, billabongs and creeks punctuate the Goulburn Valley, and its vineyards grow a wide range of grape styles full of promise.
Goulburn Valley’s wine history dates back more than 150 years, and it’s home to some incredible old vines. Although more commonly found in the Rhone region of France, marsanne was a grape variety that contributed to the initial success of the region more than a century ago. The area continued to draw varietal inspiration from the Rhone Valley with the later additions of viognier and roussanne. The other key grape that’s consistently produced here is shiraz. Head to the Upper Goulburn and you’ll find zippy, textural wines.
Located in the heart of Victoria, the Goulburn Valley also attracts outdoor adventurers thanks to its beautiful lakes and national parks. This picturesque wine region is a little over an hour and a half’s drive directly north of Melbourne.
James Halliday on the Goulburn Valley
The story of the establishment of viticulture in the Goulburn Valley has all the ingredients for a television epic: high-stakes gambling, initial failure, glory and premature death quickly followed by overnight success. The success was that of a syndicate headed by R. H. Horne and John Pinney Bear, which in 1860 raised £25,000 pounds sterling ($50,000) for the purpose of forming the company to be entitled ‘The Tahbilk Vineyard Proprietary’.
Within two years, 80 hectares had been planted with 70,0000 vines, and by the end of the decade 90 metre-long ‘old’ cellars had been constructed, followed by the ‘new’ cellars in 1875. By that time, Tahbilk was producing the equivalent of 70,000 cases of wine a year, and even though production declined somewhat in the ensuing years to around 35,000 cases, a thriving trade with England was quickly established.
Phylloxera spelt the end for the other smaller vineyards and wineries in the district, and when the Purbrick family purchased Chateau Tahbilk in 1925, it was the only operating winery. Indeed, the only other significant winery (in commercial terms) to be established in the Goulburn Valley has been Mitchelton (in 1969), and even it had a prolonged struggle before becoming successful.
These two wineries more than compensate for the lack of numbers: the National Trust-classified Tahbilk retains more of its 19th century atmosphere than any other winery in Australia. New buildings have been added with the utmost care and sensitivity, and are barely noticed.
The Nagambie Lakes system is a large body of permanent water made up of the lakes, billabongs, lagoons and streams of the Goulburn River (and by the river itself on one side). It is within this cooler area that the best-performing wineries in the greater Goulburn Valley region are to be found. Thus the regional profile following is specific to the Nagambie Lakes.
The essentially flat countryside is never boring: white-trunked eucalypts (frequently massive), a profusion of bird life and the wandering watercourses create a unique atmosphere. In the height of summer, when the temperatures soar and the canopy of the vines starts to wilt under the heat, a cool and shady spot is never far away.
The country around Tahbilk and Mitchelton is nearly perfect for viticulture, allowing generous yields while still retaining plenty of flavour and extract. Moreover, the patches of sandy soil have held phylloxera at bay in some places – most notably the small hillock block at Tahbilk on which the gnarled and twisted old vines planted in 1860 continue to provide a precious quantity of grapes made into a special wine. This is history encapsulated in a bottle.
Equally memorable is the Tahbilk Wetlands (Eco Trails and Eco Cruise), developed by Tahbilk and accessible from its cafe.
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Early March to early May
MARGARET RIVER wines to try
Red | 2016
Ulupna Royal Phoenix Single Vineyard ShirazUlupna Winery
White | 2016
Ulupna Viviana Ferrari Collection Promenade ChardonnayUlupna Winery
Ulupna Sweet Lady Late Harvest ShirazUlupna Winery
Ulupna Cellar Reserve Shiraz CabernetUlupna Winery