Spin the Bot­tle

The Can­berra Dis­trict wine re­gion is the cap­i­tal of cool

Qantas - - Contents - Story by PETER BOURNE

In the Can­berra Dis­trict wine re­gion, only a hand­ful of vine­yards are ac­tu­ally in the ACT (on Mount Ma­jura and at Hall), while the vast ma­jor­ity are north of the cap­i­tal in NSW. The re­gion’s epi­cen­tre is Mur­rum­bat­e­man, just 40 kilo­me­tres from Can­berra on the way to Yass. And there’s another clus­ter of winer­ies on the west­ern flank of mys­te­ri­ous Lake Ge­orge. Ge­o­graph­i­cally con­fused? Pos­si­bly. Ex­cit­ing nonethe­less? Def­i­nitely.

This is a young wine re­gion. In 1971, the first vines were planted by John Kirk at Clon­akilla in Mur­rum­bat­e­man and at Lake Ge­orge by the late Edgar Riek. They were among a co­hort of wine-lov­ing, sci­en­tific vi­sion­ar­ies – many from CSIRO – who shaped the area. The vine­yards are at el­e­va­tions of 300 me­tres to more than 800 me­tres (at Lark Hill Winery, near Bun­gen­dore), which means warm sum­mer days are mod­er­ated by cool nights and cold win­ters. This con­ti­nen­tal cli­mate has proved to be per­fect for ries­ling and shi­raz.

Recog­ni­tion of the Can­berra Dis­trict was ini­tially slow, de­spite the en­thu­si­asm of Ken Helm, who founded his epony­mous winery in 1973. He ze­roed in on ries­ling and it be­came the re­gion’s white flag-bearer. The Can­berra In­ter­na­tional Ries­ling Chal­lenge is now in its 18th year.

Al­though the re­gion is justly renowned for ries­ling, it is most fa­mous for one wine: the Clon­akilla Shi­raz Viog­nier. In 1986, through his CSIRO con­nec­tions, John Kirk ob­tained cut­tings of viog­nier – then an un­heard-of grape in Aus­tralia – from the North­ern Rhône. Five years later, his son, Tim, vis­ited the Rhône Val­ley and, in his words, ex­pe­ri­enced an epiphany upon tast­ing E. Gui­gal’s sin­gle-vine­yard 1988 Côte-Rôtie at the wine­maker’s cel­lars. Tim set out to em­u­late this idio­syn­cratic blend of syrah (shi­raz) and viog­nier and the re­sult took out Wine of the Year NSW in 1999. Some con­sider it the best shi­raz in Aus­tralia.

But there’s more to the Can­berra Dis­trict than shi­raz and ries­ling. New-wave va­ri­eties in­clude a much-lauded grüner velt­liner from Lark Hill and a tem­pranillo from Mount Ma­jura Vine­yard. Plus, the re­gion is well served with qual­ity cel­lar doors, good food and the cap­i­tal city’s many at­trac­tions.

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