Cultivating wine cred
At just 14 100 ha Nagambie Lakes is one of the smallest wine regions in all of Australia.
It’s also (arguably) one of the most unique.
Nagambie Lakes is the only region in Australia — and one of only six we know of worldwide — where the growing climate is dramatically influenced by an inland water mass.
Officially recognised in the late 1990s, the mesoclimate specific to the Nagambie Lakes region is so unique that it’s only effective within 3 km of the water mass.
Any vines outside that radius won’t benefit from the same effect.
As a sub-region of the Goulburn Valley where a continental climate dominates, the influence of the lakes, wetlands and waterholes in the region create something like an inland maritime effect.
This regulates the region’s temperatures with a cooling effect in summer and warming effect in winter, resulting in a lengthened growing season.
‘‘It’s better for the vines to keep functioning over a really long time,’’ Mitchelton winemaker Travis Clydesdale said.
‘‘You get a more gradual and more even accumulation of flavour and sugar.’’
Grapes thrive in temperate climates where they’re guaranteed a long growing season in which they can ripen on the vine.
When temperatures drop too low vines become dormant and excessive heat can cause grapes to ripen too quickly.
Nagambie Lakes has some insulation against all that.
‘‘From a winemaking point of view there’s obviously those unique differences here,’’ Mr Clydesdale said.
The region is especially suited to growing French varieties, especially those from the Rhone Valley.
‘‘The Rhone Valley has a similar climate to Nagambie Lakes in that it’s affected by the Rhone river,’’ Mr Clydesdale said.
Next door to Mitchelton is Tahbilk, and both worked to establish the sub-region.
‘‘The more moderate the climate the better the fruit we’re going to grow,’’ Tahbilk winemaker Alister Purbrick said.
Adapted from the traditional Aboriginal name, tabilk tabilk (meaning a place of many waterholes), the wetlands at Tahbilk have also been a major source of tourism for the winery.
‘‘The wetlands work started in 1995,’’ Mr Purbrick said.
‘‘We revegetated and opened up some of the natural shallow wetlands which had been pugged up by stock abuse.’’
The wetlands at Tahbilk had been dry for about 100 years, but after reopening the entrances to the wetlands the aquatic life came flooding back and the area is even popular with fishermen.
Visitors can complete walks out and around the wetlands; the boardwalks cater for 20-minute to two-hour strolls. Tahbilk also runs a batterypowered boat that takes visitors on tours of the wetlands.
‘‘Winery tours now are about having such a compelling offering that if people are even faintly interested in wine and they’re coming to your region, they’ve got to come to your winery,’’ Mr Purbrick said.
For Mitchelton Wines, that extra offering is a chocolate factory.
‘‘I think it helps create diversity,’’ Mr Clydesdale said.
‘‘There’s an enormous opportunity here, being only an hour from Melbourne.
‘‘A lot of the other regions bordering Melbourne are almost at saturation point, so I think there’s a big opportunity here to attract visitors away from some of those busier areas with what we’re offering.’’
As the Nagambie Lakes region continues to be recognised for its wine, especially in its niche of producing excellent French varietals, its current cult following is bound to increase.
Nagambie Lakes might be small in size but its heritage, proximity to Melbourne, unusual architecture and ecocredentials make it ripe for investment and a major tourism drawcard for the region.
Mesoclimate: Tahbilk winery is located among the lagoons and wetlands of tabilk tabilk.
Unique: The historic tower and yards of Tahbilk winery.