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orange bulletExplore The Vineyards Of Victoria

Since the 1960's Victoria's wine industry has transitioned from an industry in decline, with only about 25 commercial vineyards, to a flourishing entity with more than 300 large, commercial vineyards and 100 smaller ones.

Most larger wineries are open daily for tastings and sales while some of the small operators have restricted opening times, so check with the winery before visiting.

Viticulture developed in Victoria after unsuccessful diggers from the 1850s Victorian gold rush began planting vines as a source of income. Edward Henty and William Rye subsequently brought cuttings to the new colony and by 1868 there was more than 1200 hectares of established vines.

The wines produced in these vineyards won acclaim, but the outbreak of phylloxera put the industry into decline until the early 1960s, when it began to re-emerge and develop into the commercial powerhouse that it is today.

One of the state's oldest wine growing regions is the Yarra Valley, with wine production dating back to the 1850's. The region is close to Melbourne and is centered around Cottles Bridge and St Andrews at the northern end, Yarra Glen, Lilydale, Coldstream and Healesville in the central part and Seville and Warburton to the south.

Wine production all but disappeared from the region by the 1920's but the land's ability to produce premium wine led to an industry rebirth since the 1960's. There is a wide range of wines produced in the area, from sparkling wine to quality reds and white table wines.

There are many Yarra Valley wineries worth visiting, just a few of which are Domaine Chandon for its sparkling wines and splendid tasting room, Fergusson, Kellybrook, Eyton on Yarra, Yarra Burn, De Bortoli for an enjoyable restaurant lunch, Bianchet for the merlot and verduzzo wines, and St Huberts, one of the first wineries in the re-birth of the district. The popular Grape Crazing, a food and wine festival, is held every March.

The Mornington Peninsula is another wine-producing region close to Melbourne. This is a cool-climate growing district with vineyards nestled between farms and coastal hamlets. The majority of vineyards are found in the area from Dromana, through Red Hill and across the Peninsula to Merricks and Balnarring.

Several vineyards are found at Mornington, Main Ridge and Mt Martha. The region holds the Queen's Birthday Wine Weekend at the Regional Gallery in Mornington during the long weekend in June, the Mornington Peninsula Carnival of Wine in November, and Peninsula Pinot Week in March/April.

Extending north from Melbourne's Tullamarine Airport, the landscape is dotted with wineries stretching into the Macedon Ranges. Some were established as early as the 1860s, the majority more recently. These boutique wineries include Knight's Granite Hills, Wildwood, Hanging Rock, Virgin Hills, Craiglee, Coonawarra, Cleveland, Cope-Williams, Flynn and Williams - each with its own distinct character.

One of the oldest wine producing regions in Victoria lies in the north-east of the state, some 270 kilometres from Melbourne. Many of the wineries are still managed by the descendants of the founders. Rutherglen and the other nearby towns of Wahgunyah, Glenrowan and Milawa grow grapes that produce rich reds, fortified wines such as muscat and tokay and unique port-style wine.

On the June long weekend, a winery walkabout is organised that provides wine-lovers with an opportunity to visit the vineyards and sample some of the fine wines of the north-east. lt is advisable to book accommodation in advance if planning a visit at this time.

The towns of Echuca, Swan Hill and Mildura extend west along the Murray River and are the major centres of the Murray Valley which is the north-west region of Victoria known for the production of fine table wines.

The little town of Great Western, located between Stawell and Ararat about 200 kilometres west of Melbourne, is where the Seppelt and Best wineries started in the 1860s. Since then they have consistently produced fine wines, notably the champagne-style Great Western Special Reserve from the Seppelt winery plus rich red and full flavoured white table wines.

At Ararat, Mt Langi Chiran Wines and the Montara Winery produce excellent wine with their own unique character. To the north-east of Great Western are the towns of Avoca, Redbank and Moonambel where Taltarni, Mt Avoca, Redbank, Blue Pyrenees, Summerfield, Dalwhinnie and Warrenmang wineries are located.

The picturesque region of the Goulburn Valley that stretches through Shepparton, Nagambie, Seymour and Mansfield presents a contrast in wineries ranging from the historic, classified buildings of Chateau Tahbilk to the modern wineries of Delatite and Mitchelton.

The Heathcote-Bendigo area is, like many of Victoria's wine regions, rich in gold mining history. Today there are many wineries scattered throughout the central Victoria region, mainly around the townships of Heathcote, Kingower, Bendigo and Bridgewater on Loddon. Wineries in this area include Passing Clouds, Jasper Hill, Osicka's, Zuber Estate, Water Wheel, Chateau Leamon and Mildara's Balgownie.

Tourism Victoria publishes an excellent guide, "Wine Regions of Victoria" describing more than 200 wineries. A copy of the guide as well as further information on Victoria's wine regions can be obtained from the Victorian Visitor lnformation Centre.