The Australian - Wish Magazine - - DRINKING -

Sit­ting off the back of the Vic­to­rian Alps and a short drive south of Al­bury sits the pic­turesque town of Beech­worth. It’s a small town with a big his­tory, ev­i­dent from a grand Vic­to­rian-era main street and range of his­toric struc­tures carved from the lo­cal stone. Rich de­posits of gold saw Beech­worth’s pop­u­la­tion thrive and mul­ti­ply in the 1850s; Ned Kelly spent time in the lo­cal court and gaol. To­day its mix of nat­u­ral beauty and grow­ing rep­u­ta­tion as a des­ti­na­tion for fine food and nat­u­ral pro­duce brings tourists from far and wide.

Scat­tered in the rolling hills around Beech­worth you’ll find a small col­lec­tion of winer­ies. Most are tiny fam­ily affairs and their wines have to be searched out as they are hand­made and pro­duced in mi­nus­cule vol­umes, partly be­cause of the many chal­lenges that face lo­cal vi­gnerons.

Beech­worth can be in­cred­i­bly dry with oc­ca­sional bursts of bak­ing heat and bush­fires in sum­mer. The soil is also rocky and un­for­giv­ing, marked by gran­ite out­crops, which make plant­ing dif­fi­cult and crop yields mea­gre. With all the ef­fort re­quired to make wine here it is no won­der that Beech­worth is one of the coun­try’s small­est wine-pro­duc­ing re­gions. It is also, though, one of the best.

Beech­worth is blessed with one of the most unique cli­mates of any wine re­gion in Aus­tralia, if not the world. In the mid­dle of win­ter it can re­ceive the odd dust­ing of snow while sum­mer peaks are well over 30C. Its prox­im­ity to the alps is a saviour, cool breezes help­ing to pro­tect the area from the worst heat­waves while also help­ing to bring sum­mer night­time tem­per­a­tures down to sin­gle dig­its. That wide vari­a­tion is a char­ac­ter­is­tic of a num­ber of ex­treme qual­ity Euro­pean wine re­gions; it brings both ripeness and power to the wines while help­ing them re­tain their acid­ity and bal­ance.

The land is also very dis­tinc­tive from an Aus­tralian per­spec­tive in that nearby vol­canic ac­tiv­ity has laid veins of gran­ite and quartz. In some vine­yards the soil is dom­i­nated by gran­ite buck­shot in which only the hardi­est vines can sur­vive by driv­ing their roots deep be­low the sur­face in search of water and nu­tri­ents. These stony soils give the wines of Beech­worth an at­trac­tive earthy min­er­al­ity that adds a dis­tinc­tive re­gional char­ac­ter.

The mag­i­cal cli­mate and soils com­bined with the re­gion’s chal­lenges has at­tracted a unique breed of wine­maker – driven purely by the de­sire to make ex­cep­tional wines. The first was the qui­etly spo­ken me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer Rick Kinzbrun­ner of Gi­a­conda, who planted the re­gion’s first wines in 1982. Savoury and re­served in style, the early Gi­a­conda wines were ahead of their time when most Aus­tralian wines were marked by lay­ers of sweet fruit and vi­brant per­son­al­i­ties. They are also tex­tu­ral wines – a Beech­worth hallmark – that im­press as much for their mouth­feel as fruit com­plex­ity. It took a lit­tle time but these wines are now re­garded among the coun­try’s finest.

In the years since Kinzbrun­ner has been joined by a hand­ful of dream­ers search­ing for their own stake of Beech­worth’s vi­nous gold. Some, such as Mark Walpole of Fight­ing Gully Road, who planted his first vine­yard in 1997, have seen the full tran­si­tion of Beech­worth from an ex­per­i­men­tal folly through to a cov­eted source of high-qual­ity fruit. “I guess I saw the po­ten­tial, per­haps helped by get­ting to know Rick Kinzbrun­ner and Barry Morey [of Sor­ren­berg] pretty early in the late 80s and tast­ing their wines,” Walpole says. “So as their wines be­came sought af­ter, it has clearly at­tracted many oth­ers.”

Peter Gra­ham of Domenica and ex-Mel­bourne som­me­lier Rocco Es­pos­ito at Project 49 are newer pres­ences, craft­ing ex­cep­tional wines that are true to the area’s unique style. But none are rest­ing on the re­gion’s rep­u­ta­tion with plenty of fire in the col­lec­tive belly to un­cover more of what Beech­worth has to of­fer, ex­em­pli­fied by Adrian Rodda and the wines re­leased un­der his A. Rodda la­bel: “As a wine pro­ducer, you are al­ways on the look out for that magic piece of dirt to pro­duce the next great wine. If the op­por­tu­nity arises, we may put some more sticks in the ground!”

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