Food & Wine
17 Oct

Planting the seed

Words by
Melinda Rosser
Pictures by
David Field

The gentle rolling hills that fold away from central Victoria’s granite outcrops to Bendigo hold a revelation – stunning wines with a rich heritage.

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The first grapes were planted in the Bendigo region in 1855, just after the start of the massive gold rushes which brought tens of thousands of hopeful diggers from all over the world to Bendigo to seek their fortunes.

They brought with them a lust for gold, but also the wine and food knowledge of Europe and it was only a few years before the judges at the 1873 Vienna Exhibition were heard to exclaim of Bendigo’s early Hermitage (Shiraz) wines that “no Colonial wine can be that good”.

The regional story

The tradition of wine grape-growing in the Bendigo region is nearly as old as Bendigo itself.

Credited with being Bendigo’s first vignerons are Jacques Bladier and a German named Delscher, both of whom planted vineyards at Epsom about 1855, and Jean-Baptiste Loridan, whose vineyard of 10,000 vines on the Sheepwash Creek was noted in the May 1856 Bendigo Advertiser as being two years old.

It is believed that when the easily accessible gold ran out in Bendigo, viticulture was something the general labour force who knew hard work and the area could easily turn to. But the threat of phylloxera in late 1893, at the Emu Creek vineyard of Frederick Grosse, marked the beginning of the demise of the original wine industry in the Bendigo district.

The resurgence of the wine industry in Bendigo is traced to the planting of Balgownie Estate vineyard in 1969. Bendigo’s new wave of winemakers are winning attention with their elegant reds and stylish whites. The majority of the 26 local Bendigo wineries are small to medium-sized, and are still run by the families who founded them. Regular visitors to the region fondly refer to it as “The Winemakers’ Region”, knowing it is not uncommon to meet the winemakers, sleeves rolled up, tending vines or working in the winery.

Climate and wine styles

Situated completely inland within the zone of central Victoria, the Bendigo wine region has a Mediterranean climate with warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters. The climate is perfectly suited for the Shiraz and Cabernet the region is renowned for, and is now carving an exciting reputation for Mediterranean-style such as Sangiovese produced by Balgownie Estate and Sutton Grange and Nebbiolo by Sandhurst Ridge and Glenwillow. An impressive list of whites and rosé are winning national awards for the region.

Make the most of the Bendigo wine region by visiting the many cellar doors or joining the Bendigo winemakers at one of their annual events.

The dawning of the new Bendigo wine region

Established by the legendary winemaker Stuart Anderson, Balgownie Estate was the first vineyard planted in the Bendigo district in more than 80 years. The emergence of Balgownie Estate as a serious red wine producer in the 1970s led to the rapid expansion of the central goldfields wine growing region and was a significant player in the rebirth of the Victorian wine industry.

Balgownie Estate’s red wines were inspired by the classic wines of France and the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Estate Shiraz were highly sought after from the first vintage release in 1972.

Winemakers at Balgownie have been notably loyal and long standing. In more than 40 years, there have been just five: impressive in an industry with a pursuit for excellence in wine and where winemakers are prepared to travel the globe in search of it. Current chief winemaker at the helm is Tony Winspear, carrying on the unmistakable flavours of Balgownie Estate.

Young gun of wine Melanie Chester

The new wave of Bendigo region winemakers include Melanie Chester, chief winemaker at Sutton Grange Winery.

This year Melanie was announced in the Top 50 Young Guns of Wine in Australia. She has been the winemaker at Sutton Grange Winery since August 2015 and picked up the Gourmet Traveller Young Winemaker of the Year award in the same year.

She found her love of wine growing up in a family of barrel makers in South Australia.

“I love winemaking,” she said.

“I worked at Seppelt in Great Western, which is where my first introduction to Shiraz came from. I knew growers in Bendigo, so have been making wine from the region for a while.

“It’s good that as a region Bendigo has such a strong offering and so many wine styles.

“I love making Shiraz and am really excited to make Shiraz in this pocket of Victoria,” says Melanie.

Bendigo Uncorked Week

Wine and food lovers rejoice! The Bendigo winegrowers are hosting Bendigo Uncorked Week this spring. It’s a whole week filled with Bendigo region wines, local food and the chance to step inside some of the city’s most famous historical buildings.

Tickets are on sale for the two feature events, Bendigo Heritage After Dark on October 6 and Heritage Uncorked on October 14, 2017. Both events are unique to Victoria and are always a highlight on Bendigo’s spring calendar. The week in between will be filled with intimate wine and food events including wine at the movies, a dinner underground and a laneway fiesta.

Tickets are sold separately, so visit for the booking and event details, and plan to be part of Bendigo Uncorked Week.