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Victoria may be the second-smallest state in Australia, but what the region lacks in overall size, it makes up for with the depth and quality of its wines. Home to one of the most biologically diverse landscapes in the country, Victoria has gained a notable reputation for producing some of the most intriguing and interesting wines in the Southern Hemisphere thanks to a legion of progressive vignerons.
More than 800 wineries dot Victoria’s rugged coastlines, highlands, slopes, and valleys; many belong to family-owned, artisan wine producers. In fact, Victoria has the largest concentration of family-owned, multigenerational wineries in Australia. This varied landscape helps produce the wide array of grape varieties and wine styles found in the region, totaling to more than 250 million liters of wine each year.
There are five key pillars of Victorian wine, which relate to both distinctive regional characteristics and the signature wine styles they produce: Pinot Coast, where vineyards along the cool southern coastline craft elegant Pinot Noir; Shiraz Central, the heart of Victoria’s highlands, which produces complex, fresh Shiraz; Yarra Valley, famed for finessed Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; King Valley, where Italian grape varieties have a historic foothold; and Rutherglen, known for its world-class, fortified Muscats.
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Adding to Victoria’s thriving wine industry is its proximity to Australia’s culinary capital, Melbourne. This global food scene provides a perspective of the diversity within the state that is only enhanced by the breadth and variety of wines produced in Victoria. While Victoria’s multifaceted food and wine industries serve as the cultural backbone of the region and its economy, the extent of variation Victoria has to offer goes beyond the plate and the glass and starts with the many microclimates, resilient terroirs, and geological wonders across its 21 wine regions.
Victoria is tucked in the southeast corner of Australia, just below New South Wales. Its western edge borders South Australia. The region’s southernmost sandy bays and rugged cliffs extend along the coastline hugging the Southern Ocean, with its sky-high waves and cool breezes coming directly from the Antarctic. Meanwhile, the state’s interior is dense with jaw-dropping scenery, from the pristine valleys of the Australian Alps to Victoria’s famous Great Dividing Range.
Overall, the region covers about 90,000 square miles, with total vineyard area accounting for roughly more than 54,000 acres across more than 20 wine regions. The state is home to both warm- and cool-climate regions with a bounty of microclimates, varying soil types, and light springtime rain. The warmer-climate areas, with their long sunny days and even longer ripening seasons, span Victoria’s northern and western edge. Here, winemakers produce unique fortified wines with delectably sweet, concentrated fruit flavors, as well as powerful red wines. The much cooler southern and eastern areas of Victoria are where most of the state’s wine regions reside and where enchanting styles of rich, voluptuous Shiraz, elegant Chardonnay, and intensely flavorful Pinot Noir reign supreme.
Winemaking in Victoria goes back to the 1800s, with the first grape plantings occurring in the Yarra Valley in 1838. However, winemaking in Victoria wasn’t fully realized until 1854 when Hubert de Castella arrived in Victoria from Switzerland. A pioneering figure of Victorian wine, de Castella was responsible for sparking European interest in Australian wine with his books detailing the vastness and variety of wines that could be made specifically in Victoria. Grape cultivation progressed, and wine production flourished throughout the 1860s and 1870s, leading the region to become Australia’s largest wine-producing state by the 1880s.
Then came the phylloxera epidemic that ravaged much of Europe’s vineyards throughout the late 1800s. Its arrival, along with gold mining in certain zones of the region and the outbreak of both World Wars, temporarily suspended wine production across Victoria. The state’s wine industry didn’t recover from the strains until the 1970s when a new generation of winemakers took an interest in renewing the vineyards and wines of Australia.
A total of 21 individual wine regions span Victoria: Alpine Valleys, Beechworth, Bendigo, Geelong, Gippsland, Glenrowan, Goulburn Valley, Grampians, Heathcote, Henty, King Valley, Macedon Ranges, Mornington Peninsula, Murray Darling, Pyrenees, Rutherglen, Strathbogie Ranges, Sunbury, Swan Hill, Upper Goulburn, and Yarra Valley.
However, five key winemaking destinations have helped elevate the region onto the international wine stage, starting with the oldest wine region in Victoria, Yarra Valley.
Southeast of Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula juts out into the water, and is therefore characterized by the rugged coast and cool influence of the Southern Ocean. It specializes in fresh, layered, complex styles of Pinot Noir, as well as Chardonnay, which seem delicate at first but are, in fact, packed with flavor. Pinot Grigio and Shiraz are also produced in the Mornington Peninsula, though in smaller quantities.
It’s part of the larger Pinot Coast, which stretches along 470 miles of coastline from Geelong, through Mornington Peninsula, and on to Gippsland. The Pinot Coast is home to 261 wineries and 146 cellar doors.
A little over an hour northeast of Melbourne is the Yarra Valley, which is home to 160 wineries and 300 vineyards. The region is so emphatically diverse that it’s almost impossible to generalize the area. The Yarra Valley gullies, hillsides, and valley floors can be found covered with vineyards facing virtually any direction. Its terroir is just as varied, though northern parts of the Yarra Valley consist largely of well-drained loam with sand and clay, while the south features more fertile, red volcanic soils.
The Yarra Valley has a cool climate, with wet winters and relatively dry summers that are influenced by diurnal temperatures. While wineries across the region have had much success in producing voluptuous Shiraz and age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon, the region’s claim to fame may be within its production of sophisticated Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Northeast of Yarra Valley lies King Valley, entrenched within the foothills of Snow Country, between Wangaratta and the Alpine National Park. Surprisingly to some, it’s a region for Italian varieties like Sangiovese and Prosecco, but there’s a good reason for that: after Otto Dal Zotto, an Italian farmer, started planting familiar grapes from his homeland in the region in the 1980s, more families of Italian descent have arrived in the area, reinforcing King Valley’s connection to Italian grapes.
While it’s a considerably cool-climate region, King Valley benefits from the katabatic breeze and influences from cool upper slopes to warmer valley floors and the King River. This leads to a bounty of microclimates positioned across King Valley. While there are only about 25 wineries in King Valley, the region is growing. The total vineyard area covers approximately 11,000 acres.
Head west to the heart of Victoria’s highlands, and you’ll find yet another prestigious winemaking area: Shiraz Central. The Grampians, Pyrenees, Bendigo, Macedon Ranges, and Heathcote regions all sit within Shiraz Central. It’s an area dominated by the Great Dividing Range and where long sunny days and cool nights present perfect slow-ripening conditions for red grapes.
The region of Heathcote sits north of the Great Dividing Range, with vineyards located between 160 and 380 meters in elevation. Its deep, red Cambrian soils retain water readily to nourish vines, creating small grapes that yield complex and concentrated characteristics to wines, which carry a real sense of place.
Though this is the land of Shiraz, there’s a wave of producers experimenting with Spanish and Italian varieties. Winemakers south of the ranges are excelling with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and sparkling wine production.
About three hours north of Melbourne, Rutherglen is the home of some of the world’s most famous Muscats—though there are plenty of other grape varieties found in the region’s 1,015 acres of vineyards. Located in one of Victoria’s warmer climates, Rutherglen has a long ripening season that allows for the production of intensely flavorful wines.
It is one of the smaller wine regions of Victoria, home to only 18 wineries, but Rutherglen’s history of winemaking goes back to the 1850s. Vineyards were planted in some areas of the region before the discovery of gold, and for decades, winemakers have used Muscat of Rutherglen to craft highly aromatic and lusciously rich fortified wines.
Key Grape Varieties
Victoria has the suitable conditions for growing a plethora of wine grapes. Overall, the region crushes an average of 334,000 tons of grapes per year.
Shiraz accounts for more than 25 percent of Victoria’s average annual crush. A favorite of winemakers in Victoria and drinkers across Australia and beyond, Victorian Shiraz errs on the cooler side of the spectrum. It ranges from fruit-forward and approachable to spicy and nuanced; many examples can age readily.
Chardonnay is Victoria’s most-planted white variety, having first been planted in Australia in the 1930s. Produced across the region—though the Yarra Valley may be most famed for its Chardonnay—the grape tends to be crafted in a well-balanced, age-worthy style, buoyed by freshness from cool-climate influences. Increasingly, Victorian Chardonnays are recognized as some of the best in the world.
One of the most-planted grapes of Australia, Cabernet Sauvignon is crafted in pockets of Victoria as both a varietal wine and a blend. As winemakers often do in Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon may be blended with Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot, or as many other Australians do, it may be blended with Shiraz. In the Yarra Valley, varietal expressions can be found in styles that lean more medium-bodied and offer fruity and floral nuances elevated with dusty tannins and chalky acidity.
Some of Victoria’s best-known wines are made from Pinot Noir, particularly within the Pinot Coast and Yarra Valley. A variety of styles of Pinot Noir can be found in Victoria, from fragrant, lower-alcohol expressions that are easy-drinking, fresh, and fruit-forward to complex iterations that exude structure with firm tannins and well-integrated acidity.
Victoria’s best-known fortified wines are crafted from Muscat—specifically Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains, or Brown Muscat—in the region of Rutherglen, though nearby Glenrowan is known for crafting these “stickies” as well. These wines are always rich, layered, and very sweet, carrying oxidative characteristics like toffee and caramel. Muscat of Rutherglen winemakers may label their wines according to four categories, which are defined by aging time and residual sugar content: Rutherglen, Classic, Grand, and Rare.
What’s Happening Today in Victoria Wine
With Victoria already established as a key player in Australia’s wine industry, winemakers and grape growers in the region are looking ahead and developing programs to bring more awareness to the region and its greater goals of creating a more green wine industry. In partnership with the Department of Agriculture, Wine Victoria is launching its latest initiative, Growing Victorian Wine Into the Future, a four-part program that seeks to address and tackle climate change and advance sustainability efforts throughout the region while also advocating for improved productivity and profitability for wineries and vineyards in Victoria. Over the next few months, Wine Victoria will host workshops aimed at helping wineries reach their green targets.