Grampians Winemakers www.grampianswine.com.au
The Grampians is predominantly a red wine region but is also the home to the producer of what was Australia's biggest selling sparkling brand, Seppelt Great Western. Most of the viticulture lies between Beaufort and Serra Ranges in the Grampians National Park. It is a fairly cool and dry region consisting of grazing land plains and eucalypt covered hills.
The origin of wine-making in the region was a romance between Frenchwoman Anne Marie Blampied and Frenchman Jean Pierre Trouette, both of whom had come to the area to seek fortunes on the goldfields in the 1850s. They met and married in Beechworth and moved to the gold settlement at Great Western.
When the gold was worked out they bought some land in the area that reminded them of France and called the property St. Peters. In 1863 they began planting vines from cuttings from Geelong. By 1867 they were producing over 2,000 litres of highly acclaimed wine. Although St. Peters did not survive long after a series of bad seasons and the death of its founders it inspired brothers Joseph and Henry Best to plant their vineyards.
The wineries survive through to today as Best's and Seppelt Great Western (although the scarcity of water has meant the original vines did not survive). The French connection continued when Charles Pierlot at Great Western introduced the methode champenoise for sparkling wine production to the region in the 1860s. More than a century later Seppelts brought over a young French sparkling winemaker, Dominique Landragin, to develop the style and viticulture behind the sparkling brands that commercially dominated the Australian sparkling market for decades. He left in 1982 to develop Ballarat's Yellowglen brand that achieved similar commercial success.
The region was also home to Victoria's most legendary winemaker, Colin Preece. Preece, at Seppelt Great Western, was part of the trio of winemakers that led the post-war revival of premium red wine-making in Australia (the other two were the Hunter Valley's Maurice O'Shea and South Australia's Max Schubert).
James Halliday comments in his Wine Atlas that: "Preece had an uncanny ability to blend small parcels of various varieties from up to three or four vintages to make as little as 500 dozen cases." Halliday adds his verdict on Preece's use of the now illegal practice of adding water and ice to adjust the alcohol and acid levels: "Many would argue it is a great shame this type of adjustment is now illegal, particularly those who have had the opportunity of recently tasting his superlative red wines from the 1940s and 1950s."
The rainfall is low, with severe frosts but the area is high enough (280-320m) to have desirably slow ripening conditions that retain the balancing acid missing in many of Australia's warmer wine regions. Harvesting occurs as late as mid-May. The soils are volcanic but are low yielding gravelly loams and granitic sand. The Grampians sparklings drew heavily from outside the region and is becoming even less important as a source of the grapes for sparkling wines. The Australian wine corporations are now investing heavily in new colder regions such as Tasmania's Piper's River area and NSW's alpine Tumbarumba region.
Fortunately the area also makes some rather good cool climate Shiraz. They are not as full bodied as their South Australian counterparts but can be quite long-lived, rich, multi-textured and savoury. Sparkling Shiraz is also a popular alternative and some of Australia's best examples of this style come from here. Riesling is the best of the whites but never hit the heights of the Henty region to the south. There are about fifteen wineries with the best wineries including the historic Best's and Seppelt Great Western, along with Kimbarra, Grampians Estate and Montara. Wine tourists must visit Seppelts and do the tour of its huge labyrinth of cellars dating back to the 1870s.
The region was hit by severe bushfires in January 2006 which caused major damage to the vineyards at Grampians Estate but highlighted the generosity of the region's growers who have donated grapes to keep them going while the vines regrow.