Country roads to the west's best wineries

Published on 19 April 2022

Photo: Fallen Giants Vineyard, Halls Gap.

Melbourne’s hottest snack fair, Snacktown at Queen Victoria Market on 26 and 27 March, was a showcase of Melbourne’s best homegrown and global snacks. It was also a chance to explore over 30 wines from supporting partners the Grampians and Pyrenees winemaking regions. If your interest was piqued by these wines, or you have a weekend up your sleeve, pack your toothbrush and head down the Western Highway to the Grampians and Pyrenees. 

These two historic wine regions nestle into each other, covering some of the most stunningly beautiful country in the state’s west. These are places where small, family-owned wineries can be found down tree-lined lanes: country wineries where life is just that little bit slower – cellar doors where you can meet the men and women who make the wine and travel back through their vintages as you drink it. 

The Grampians region is named for the dramatic sierras of Gariwerd/the Grampians, rising over 1000m and dictating the soil and climate of a region where warm summer days and cool summer nights are ideal for ripening grapes. The heart of the region is Great Western, just over an hour west of Ballarat. This historic town has been synonymous with sparkling wine for over 150 years. The underground cellars, or drives, at Seppelt Wines were dug by gold miners in 1868, extend over three kilometres, can hold over three million wine bottles and are open daily for tours. Book a tasting in the stately cellar door and enjoy a flight of Seppelt’s wines keeping an eye on their benchmark Grampians shiraz. Wine critics argue that the soil and climate in the Pyrenees and Grampians help produce the best shiraz in Australia and Seppelt uses local shiraz grapes to make their St Peters and Arrawatta Hills Shiraz, excellent examples of shiraz expressing aromas of dark cherry, blackberries, hints of star anise and a touch of pepper. 

Shiraz has been made at Best’s Great Western for over 150 years. Owned by the Thomson family for five generations, the cellar door is set in 1860s red gum slab stables and looks out onto some of the oldest vines in Australia. Wine lovers know Best’s for the single variety pinot meunier, a rare cousin of pinot noir better known as one of the grapes used to make Champagne. 

A tree-lined backroad linking the Grampians with the Pyrenees wine region is Rotundone Road. Named after the compound that creates the distinctive peppery characteristics in local shiraz, the route winds its way around the massive granite outcrop that is Langhi-Ghiran into the historic goldfields of the Pyrenees. It takes in Mount Langhi-Ghiran, a winery dating back to 1969 with a bush-cool cellar door, picnic grounds, café and tasting flights where you can experience their award-winning cool-climate shiraz and riesling. A drive around the base of Mount Cole finds Mountainside Wines. Book ahead for a tasting of selected wines with winemakers Shane and Jane Goninon, or a food and wine matching session or half-day tour around other local wineries with Shane. 

Rotundone Roads heads northeast into the Pyrenees where it finds Dogrock Winery, an elevated vineyard looking out over the peaks and hills of the Pyrenees ranges. This is a region of forest-clad hills, winding tree-lined roads, bush, waterfalls and rivers flowing through a landscape dotted with historic towns. The climate and elevation of the Pyrenees, up to 700m, see cool summer nights and warm to hot summer days, perfect conditions to ripen grapes to their full flavour potential. Dogrock specializes in estate wines made from small parcels of classic French and German varieties like shiraz and riesling but also Portuguese grapes such as touriga naciaonal, arinto and azal. Blue Pyrenees at Avoca was established in 1963 by French brandy house Remy Martin but is now locally owned, concentrating on fine table wines. It is surrounded by native forest and produces not only much-loved shiraz but also highly regarded Midnight Cuvee sparkling wine made from traditional Champagne grape varieties hand-picked at night. Try this with a Blue Pyrenees platter piled with delicious cheese, meats, purees and pickles. Mark Summerfield from Summerfield Winery at Moonambel grows his own rare breed sheep and pigs, the meat from which he cooks and serves alongside his big bold reds: cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and merlot. Up north at Redbank, in an old red brick building built with hand-hewn rafters is Sally’s Paddock. Here wine pioneers Neill and Sally Robb have been making exceptional red wines for nearly 50 years, concentrating on soft, delicious pinot noir, the fragrant and complex cabernet franc and their renowned Sally’s Paddock blend of different red varieties all grown on the one vineyard without a single drop of irrigated water. 

The Pyrenees wines were on show on April 9 for the vintage celebrations of Pyrenees Unearthed, a day of tastings, bands, picnics and food trucks held under the shade of ancient river gums on the banks of the Avoca River in Avoca. The Grampians’ annual outdoor blockbuster follows on 29 April- 1 May when thousands converge on Grampians Grape Escape, a long weekend of wine, food, music and entertainment in Halls Gap surrounded by mountains and native bush. 

The Grampians Wine Region is on the lands of the Djab Wurrung and the Jardwadjali Indigenous people and the Pyrenees Wine Region is on the lands of the Dja Dja Wurrung.

By Richard Cornish

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