Visiting the sleepy north-east Victorian town of Rutherglen offers a very different wine experience.
Head into the cellar doors at Morris, Stanton and Killeen, Campbells (below) or any of the other producers of Australia’s unique fortified wines and you will be greeted by glorious rich aromas of treacle, butterscotch and oak.
Here you’ll find heady, decadent wines made in the style of port, muscat and tokay; many of which have been maturing for decades in casks or giant oak barrels.
Evaporation takes up to five per cent of the contents each year, as witnessed by the many dark stains on the winery walls and roofs. The locals call the escaped matter “the angels’ share”.
Rutherglen, a four-hour drive from Melbourne and seven hours from Sydney, is Australia’s capital of fortified wines and a place of pilgrimage for wine aficionados.
At Morris Wines, David Morris will show you around a winery his family has guided for five generations – dating back to 1859 and the days of the Victorian gold rush.
It’s the same story at nearby Wahgunyah, where Susie Campbell is the latest generation of her family to be involved in the making of the rich and complex Campbells wines.
Pioneering Chambers Rosewood, the oldest winery in the region, was established in 1858; Morris, the biggest producer, in 1859; All Saints in 1864, and Campbells in 1870.
There are over 20 wineries in all, with several branching out stylistically from the traditional fortifieds and big reds. Cofield specialises in sparkling wines, and Rutherglen Estates and Valhalla in European-style table wines.
Campbells and Morris are among the more atmospheric cellar doors, while at Pfeiffers you can enjoy a glass of wine on the Sunday Creek Bridge and gaze down at the turtles below.
The All Saints cellar door is in a 120-year-old castle, and is also home to the Indigo Cheese Company and one of Australia’s best winery restaurants – The Terrace.
The John Gehrig tasting facility, meanwhile, is a step back in time and tiny Scion Wines (above) has just a few tables and chairs in the garden along with a cellar door that overflows if more than a dozen visitors turn up.
Probably the best place to stay is Tuileries, which offers up-market
accommodation in well-equipped suites overlooking a vineyard. Guests have
access to a swimming pool and tennis court and it’s a short walk to
Rutherglen’s cafes and shops. There’s also a top-notch restaurant on-site serving
inventive modern Australian cuisine.
Rutherglen Wine Experience Visitor Information Centre at 57 Main Street (1800 622 871) is staffed by well-informed locals and open daily from 9am-5pm.