Hilltops Vineyard Association: No website
The most famous local vineyard is Barwang that was started in 1969 by Peter Robertson. The property was later acquired by McWilliams and is the source of their Barwang range. Hilltops wines such as Clonakilla's Hilltops Shiraz are also starting to be included in the some of the nearby Canberra Districts boutique winery ranges.
The flagship wineries that are actually located in the region are Chalkers Crossing (with flying winemaker, Celine Rousseau) and Grove Estate (with some improving Nebbiolo). Some of the region's oldest vines, over 30 years old, are at Moppity Vineyards on the Black Range, south-east of Young, which is now starting to win well deserved recognition on the national wine show circuit. The former head of Charles Sturt University's wine school, Dr. Brian Freeman, now runs an innovative vineyard at Prunevale. Freeman Vineyards produces a blend of two unusual Italian varieties Rodinella and Corvina that are partially raisened in a prune dehydrator.
Despite the altitude it is not a particularly cool climate region although the autumns are mild enough to allow more complex, delicate features to emerge. The vineyard soils tend to be of the well-drained terra rossa or the basaltic clays types. The region gets on average around 650mm with about half during the growing season.
However, like much of inland NSW and the ACT it has been affected by the prolonged drought. Irrigation water is limited so in the more severe drought years such as 2005 the whites from the dry land (non-irrigated) vineyards were severely stressed. The reds, had reduced yields but produced very concentrated wines (this can be more than acceptable if you like your reds sweet and jammy) but can lead to pruney, poorly defined wines of little real substance.
A range of hills to the north of the vines provides some protection from the NSW's severe summer sub-tropical storms. The severe hailstorms are one of NSW's chief viticultural hazards and can wipe out a years work in minutes. top
Hilltops, not surprisingly, is another NSW high country wine region. The granitic region, which won official GI status in 2002, is off most tourist routes and the quality of its best wines have only recently been discovered by Australian wine lovers.
Hilltops is based around the town of Young, also the land of the indigenous Burrowmunditory people. The town is now famous as the cherry capital of Australia. It is also notorious in its early Lambing Flat incarnation during the 1860s gold rush for the 1861 race riot between European and Chinese miners. The Chinese were driven repeatedly from the gold fields and the NSW Government passed the Chinese Immigration Restriction Act, a forerunner of the White Australia policy.
The first vines in this region were planted by Croatian immigrants in the 1860s. These vines were planted for the diggers working in the nearby gold fields. The local grog must have been all right as it won awards at the Sydney Wine Show.
After the gold mining and associated troubles went, the area was settled following World War One by returned soldiers, many from the Light Horse Brigade. However, unlike many others they did not put in vines. Instead the agricultural focus was cherries, orchards and prunes at the aptly named Prunevale - prunes to keep the British Empire regular.
However, Prunevale now produces more wine than prunes. The contemporary vineyards were established since the 1970s. The region is noted for its complex, black cherry and pepper Shirazes and lean, minerally Chardonnays. Red wines production vastly outweighs white wine production by a 4:1 ratio.