Heathcote is Victoria’s premium Shiraz producing region. It is positioned in the heartland of central Victoria – mid way between Shepparton and Bendigo. The countryside is truly Australian – harsh, dry, dusty and has a low rainfall. The conditions here are difficult, with some years suffering from drought and others from too much rainfall or frost. The vines are low yielding, small and gnarled. The lack of moisture and harsh circumstances sends the root structure deep into a narrow belt of Cambrian high mineral soil that runs north from Heathcote township. This unique terroir produces intense, deeply coloured and flavoured fruit – and wine with unique savoury flavours.
First call is to the areas’ benchmark pioneer and producer, Ron Laughton from Jasper Hill Estate. Ron started the whole Heathcote journey some 40 years ago and is hailed as the pinnacle producer of the region. His wine is simply stunning – and so is his generosity. He takes me for a full tour, including tasting barrel samples of new vintages that will be blended to make up the next Georgia’s Paddock Shiraz. Next up is a visit to Bob Downing from Downing Estate, just over the road from Jasper Hill with vines planted in the same band of Cambrian soil. Some of Bob’s Shiraz’s are included in this month’s subscription. Sanguine Estate is next – this winery, along with Jasper Hill, Downing’s and Paul Osika are Halliday 5 Red Star rated – the highest awarded. Sanguine’s Shiraz’s are regularly rated amongst the 10 best in the world, along with the likes of Penfolds’ Grange. Heathcote is one of our finest Shiraz producing regions – producing wine of an acquired savoury taste profile. However, it’s not a tourist area with destination wineries. To see a broad selection from the region, visit The Wine Hub Cellar and Store in Heathcote Main Street – they stock products from almost all the area’s producers.
Driving up into Beechworth I realize that this is going to be a very different wine experience. At 530m it is approx. 360m higher than Albury and Wangaratta – both less than 40 minutes away.
Entering the township is a trip into yesteryear. Obviously an extremely rich centre in the mid 1800’s gold years, the heritage architecture is nothing short of magnificent, and is maintained in pristine condition. The town is beautiful – clean and well preserved with English tree lined streets. Its heritage, Ned Kelly history, arts and crafts shops and wine industry draw large crowds of tourists.
Beechworth’s most recognised and revered wine label is Giaconda, who produce some of Australia’s premier chardonnay that is sought after by wine lovers and collectors the world over. They have been named as one of the world’s top 10 white wine makers. Many of their wines sell in excess of $100 a bottle. This is clearly my first call! To my surprise- and disappointment- there is no cellar door.
Next up is Golden Ball, just over the road from Giaconda. This place is seriously tiny and boutique. Founded, grown and made by James McLaurin, it is only about 3.5 hectares. A recent Chardonnay of his received 98 Halliday points and top Chardonnay in Australia! Amazing stuff. His wine graces the wine lists of 28 of Australia’s top hatted restaurants.
I spend time with James, explaining the Vendimia project. It was clear that he didn’t have wine that fitted anywhere near the prices we needed to include in our subscriptions. But, after much persuasion he agreed to sell us a pallet of his 2011 Egalitaire, a wine that would normally retail for around $60… what a coup!
Beechworth…a wonderful area, great countryside, amazing wines, a beautiful part of the world – but I could soon see that we wouldn’t be able to achieve many wine purchases here. This is an area of small producers, high retail prices, high cellar door and restaurant demand and not enough quantities produced to sell us the full pallets we need for our subscriptions.