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: Macedon Ranges region

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Macedon Ranges Vignerons Association: www.macedonvignerons.com.au

Macedon Ranges region

The Macedon Ranges is the coldest wine region on the Australian mainland. Winter and early Spring storms regularly dump a fair covering of snow.The region that has about thirty small-medium wineries and over 100 vineyards.

Burke And Wills stall at the Budburst Macedon Ranges Wine Show held each November.

There is a history of viticulture in the southern part of region dating back to the 1860s although it seems to have vanished by the 1920s. Virgin Hills (1968) and Granite Hills (1970) were the first of the contemporary wineries.

Surprisingly the Macedon Ranges only became an officially recognised wine region in 2002. For more than a decade prior to this the region had a cult reputation (at least in Melbourne) for iconic Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from tiny producers such as Bindi and Curly Flat. The region is generally hilly and windy with the Mount Macedon Winery located at 680m. It starts in the Lancefield-Macedon district (only 45 minutes drive north-west from the Melbourne CBD) and extends northwards to Taradale.

The cool climate and lean, granitic weathered mountain loams keep the yields down. Frosts and inadequate ripening are the key viticultural hazards. Many vineyards sit on the knife-edge of unripeness or ultra-premium elegance depending on the vagaries of Melbourne's summer and early autumn. Site selection needs to take into account some protection from the howling chilled winds that blow for most of the year.

The region, while uniformly cool-cold for much of the year, does have some marked micro-climate variation that shapes the variety selection for wineries. The climate at the southern fringes of the region around Gisborne and Riddells Creek is tempered by relative proximity to the sea and is suited to the production of elegant table wine of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Semillon and Cabernet. Leading wineries in this area include Mt. Charlie, Gisborne Peak and Bindi. Mt. Charlie is also breaking the regional mould by producing some rather good Tempranillo and Malbec.

Macedon Ranges at sunset in early autumn

The central part of the region, which contains the highlands stretching from Mt. Macedon to Mt. Williams, is the coldest, and is best suited to sparkling wines (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). Some sunnier sites are suitable (except in the coldest vintages) for ultra-premium table wines (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc). Curly Flat, Mt. Macedon Winery, Hanging Rock, Straws Lane and Paramoor are some of the many quality producers from the central area. Cobaw Ridge has one of the few Australian examples of Langrein.

The northern region is a bit flatter and warmer although still fairly cool. It is the oldest region with some vineyards now over 30 years old. No big surprise given that it adjoins the Heathcote region that Shiraz is widely grown here. It is very much in the northern-Rhone black cherry, liquorice and pepper style that has been championed by the James Halliday and the late Len Evans as an alternative to the full bodied southern Rhone styles of Barossa-McLaren Vale (or Victoria's Rutherglen). Riesling also excels in a few special granitic outcrop spots with Granite Hills and Rowanston On The Track consistently producing some of Australia's best Rieslings.

In the west of the region heading out to Daylesford there is also a string of 'Spa Country' wineries such as Ellender Estate and Zig Zag. The Big Shed Winery makes an unusual wild yeast fermented Pinot Noir that has vegemite aromas (tastes pretty darn good anyway).

The proximity of the region to Melbourne means that it is well set up for the day trip and weekender wine tourist. The state V-rail runs through here and allows for bikes for those brave enough to deal with this rather hilly region. There are heaps of little, rustic cellar doors, often with a winter fire and lunch platter. There are also lots of little B&Bs, restaurants and arts and craft shops. The main festival is the Budburst Festival held in November.

Big Shed Wines

Big Shed Wines is a small producer from the 'Spa Country' near Daylesford

Hanging Rock

Hanging Rock, the location of 1970s Picnic At Hanging Rock movie and the Hanging Rock Winery, the largest winery in the regionis only a couple of km away

Chanters Ridge

Chanters Ridge specialises in the region's strengths - Pinot Noir and sparklings