Geelong Wine Growers Association: www.winegeelong.com.au
Geelong is associated with its Surf Coast, particularly the world famous Bells Beach. It is now also beginning to get associated with fine wine. It is a windy maritime region with long, cool and dry autumns that optimise the development of complex flavours.
The region has quietly built a reputation for complex Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, potent long-lived Shirazes and crisp, tangy Sauvignon Blancs. The Cabernets can be sometimes be really good but are much more vintage dependent and are commonly blended with Merlot. Pinot Gris is becoming more fashionable with Clyde Park producing notable examples.
Like the Yarra Valley the hills around the Geelong area were pioneered by relatively wealthy and wine-loving citizens from the Swiss canton of Neuchatel, and later by a wave of Germans. Neuchatel is close to the French border and is well known for its light reds such as Pinot Noir and the pale local Swiss variety Chasselas. It is no surprise that the accounts of the mid 19th century wines made here and the Yarra Valley - light, dry table wines - were different from the heavy or fortified wines from north-east Victoria.
The first wines in the Geelong region date back to 1845 and rode the back of the nearby Ballarat gold rush in the 1850s to briefly become Victoria's most important wine region. By 1864 there over fifty wineries and the best wines were winning awards in Paris and Bordeaux.
But then phylloxera struck in 1875 at Fyansford. Geelong's wineries, so close to a major port, were the first in Australia to be hit by the blight that was ravaging the vineyards of Europe. After a lengthy battle to rid the region of the louse the Victorian government ordered the destruction of all vineyards in the area in order to stop the louse from reaching the Rutherglen in North-East Victoria, which was then Australia's largest wine-making region. The soil was also sterilised with carbon disulphide.
Unfortunately what was not known at the time was that the louse can travel great distances in its winged phase, so the prevailing westerly winds, allowed the louse to drive north-eastwards in vast numbers and wreck the Central Victorian and Rutherglen regions. A couple of Geelong vineyards resumed and survived into the 20th century but faded away in the market rush to fortified wines.
Commercial winemaking did not resume in the region until Daryl Sefton, a descendent of original Neuchatel immigrants, and his partner, Nini, planted Idyll Vineyard in the Moorabool Valley in 1966. Until the mid 1990s the revival of winemaking was somewhat slower than the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula. With the exception of Scotchmans Hill (established in 1982) the local wine industry amounted to about a dozen tiny producers.
The last twenty years has seen a rapid expansion to about fifty producers. Most of the producers are quite small but there are another two new medium sized producers with some retail distribution (Pettavel and Austins Barabool). Jindalee is also now based in the Idyll Vineyard but sources most of its fruit from the Murray-Darling.
The region is divided into three subregions: the maritime Bellarine Peninsula, Waurn Ponds which covers the area between Geelong and the Surf Coast to Angelsea, and Mooroobool Valley/Anakie which covers the more inland wineries extending north-westwards from Geelong as far as Meredith.