What makes Victorian wine a cut above the rest

The Summerfield Vineyard with the Pyrenees Ranges in the background.
The Summerfield Vineyard with the Pyrenees Ranges in the background. Photo: Supplied.

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Geographically speaking, Victoria is Australia's second smallest state. But in wine terms, it's nothing less than vast.

Across a landmass dwarfed by its neighbours, more than 800 wineries form a rich tapestry of styles, climates and landscapes.

"Victoria has more regions than anywhere else in Australia," says Mark Summerfield, a winemaker in Victoria's Pyrenees region. "And such diversity. You can move very quickly from coast to inland, cool climate to warm. All our little microclimates within our regions produce very different fruit."

Victorian winemakers revel in this diversity, creating wines that express the essence of their origins; each a bottled snapshot of time and place.

From Pinot Coast to Shiraz Central. The stunning King Valley wine region, Rutherglen wine region and Yarra Valley wine region – Victoria is home to wine country made to make world-class wines.

Its focus? Quality over quantity – drawing on deep knowledge of the soil, vines and personalities of each unique site.

Follow the Pinot Coast

Winemakers Tom McCarthy and Lucas Blanck walk through the Kerri Greens 'Duke' vineyard in Red Hill.

Winemakers Tom McCarthy and Lucas Blanck walk through the Kerri Greens 'Duke' vineyard in Red Hill. Photo: Supplied.

Mornington Peninsula winemaker Tom McCarthy knows his vines intimately. Some, like the old chardonnay vines in the Hickson Vineyard at Balnarring, are among his oldest friends.

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"My parents have a picture of me on my mum's back in that vineyard in 1989," he says. "It's a gnarly old vineyard that doesn't yield heaps of fruit, but what it does produce is exceptional and exciting."

This vineyard was planted by McCarthy's parents, celebrated winemakers Kathleen Quealy and Kevin McCarthy in 1982, and it was where McCarthy started his own Kerri Greens wine label eight years ago, as a small spin-off from the family's Quealy Wines.

With his winemaking partner Lucas Blanck, who's the youngest generation of an Alsace winemaking dynasty, McCarthy is crafting lo-fi wines born from the maritime climate at the heart of Victoria's Pinot Coast.

Pinot noir, a famously fastidious grape, thrives along this 750 kilometres of Victoria's rugged southernmost coastline, where ocean breezes, ancient soils and cool temperatures bring forth some of the world's best pinots.

The Mornington Peninsula, surrounded by water on three sides, yields a particularly vibrant, light, red fruit driven pinot noir, from grapes so good that a winemaker needs only the lightest of touches.

"The grape quality on the Peninsula is extraordinary," says McCarthy.

Tasting Pinot Noir at Kerri Greens cellar door.

Tasting Pinot Noir at Kerri Greens cellar door. Photo: Supplied.

He prefers to let nature dictate the wines drawn from Kerri Greens' three heritage vineyards, managed with sustainable practices and organic principles.

"The way we manage them, particularly the irrigation and the way we prune, we don't get super big yields, but high quality and tasty fruit so you don't have to do a whole lot of work in the winery," he says.

Warm, wild Shiraz Central

Winemaker Mark Summerfield with the newly released 2018 Summerfield Jo Shiraz.

Winemaker Mark Summerfield with the newly released 2018 Summerfield Jo Shiraz. Photo: Supplied.

Victoria's mountainous Central Highlands produce a distinctive, silky, cool-spiced shiraz, shaped by blissfully warm days and cool nights.

Mark Summerfield and his father Ian have been growing grapes and making rich, bold reds for over 40 years in the Pyrenees region on the North side of the Great Dividing Range.

Their famed shirazes, including the sought-after Jo Shiraz, simply couldn't happen anywhere else, says Mark.

"I just don't know any other area with this remarkable diversity and balance. Bordering that cool and moderate climate is a real magic thing. We can ripen the grapes as much as we like to make those bold reds, while the coolness retains the varietal characters."

Like Tom McCarthy, Summerfield is the guardian of precious old vines: four and a half acres of 1970 shiraz plantings, and two and a half acres of 1970-planted cabernet.

"Those old vines have so much history. You just can't get real depth of flavour without age. Old fruit is silky and mature and balanced, and the more that root system grabs more of that earth, drawing so much from the soil, the more complex and complete that fruit becomes."

Yarra Valley: elegant and elevated

The Yarra Yering vineyards are ideal cabernet country.

The Yarra Yering vineyards are ideal cabernet country. Photo: Supplied.

Victoria's incredible viticultural diversity shines bright in the Yarra Valley, one of Australia's foremost cool climate regions.

With vineyard elevations between 50 and 430 metres above sea level, and with the Yarra River flowing down to Melbourne, this region's array of microclimates find their expression in more than 80 wineries showcasing a wide range of terroir-driven characteristics.

Here, in the birthplace of Victoria's wine industry, award-winning winemaker Sarah Crowe is building on the half-century legacy of Yarra Yering, a winery respected worldwide for its flagship blends Dry Red No.1 and Dry Red No.2, which date back to 1973.

Crowe loves honing her craft here. "It's the cool climate nature of the environment and the medium bodied elegance of the wines," she says. "They have a lovely vibrant acidity and great energy."

While the Yarra Valley produces excellent chardonnay and pinot noir, the Yarra Yering vineyards are ideal cabernet country, and Crowe's cabernet-dominated Dry Red No.1 is a stunning symphony of rich, opulent fruit and regal restraint.

Sarah Crowe is building on the half-century legacy of Yarra Yering.

Sarah Crowe is building on the half-century legacy of Yarra Yering. Photo: Supplied.

Like McCarthy and Summerfield, Crowe believes the magic is all in the landscape.

"As one of the warmer sites in a cool climate region we have the warmth to get our cabernet ripe, with those lovely ripe tannins," she says. "I'm trying to let the vineyard speak first. I'm aiming for this beautiful fruit purity and expression which represents the vineyard site."

Behind the Vines is your insider guide to Victorian wine.

Build personalised recommendations, follow the regional itineraries, let our winemakers select the perfect wine for any occasion and more.

Visit vicwines.com.au to discover the best of Victorian wine.