The Grampians is one of Australia’s oldest wine regions with continuous production dating from the 1860’s.
The story begins with the planting of Belle Vue Vineyard in 1861 by Louis Metzger on the banks of the Concongella Creek near the township of Stawell. Louis Metzger emigrated from Alsace, France and arrived in Australia in 1855, no doubt in search of fortune on the Victorian goldfields.
Metzger’s industry soon caught on and over the course of the next three decades Grampians wineries flourished around the hills and valleys of the region. The original St Peter’s Vineyard (Great Western) was planted in 1863, the Emerald Vineyard (Ararat) in 1864, and others such as the Ingor Vineyard at Mount Ararat and the Swiss Vineyard at Mount Langi Ghiran all point to a thriving viticultural community. According to a newspaper article published in the Ararat Advertiser, by 1893 the area of vines under cultivation had grown to 2000 acres across the various sub-regions of the Grampians.
Our greatest success story from this period came in the person of Hans Irvine, dubbed by London’s Punch magazine, the “wine king of Australia”. Irvine was a dominant force in the region, purchasing two thirds of the total production and picking up international awards with his Claret, Hock, Chablis, Burgundy, and Hermitage as well as pioneering sparkling production in Australia (NB: these wine names are no longer permitted for Australian produced wines). His own property, ‘Great Western Vineyard’, he purchased in 1888 from the estate of Joseph Best and is now the well-known Seppelt Great Western Vineyard. It features the unique underground drives, the most extensive wine cellars in the southern hemisphere, constructed by ex-goldminers.
Quietly working in the background and laying the foundations for one of Australia’s most enduring wine brands, was Joseph Best’s brother, Henry Best, the founder in 1866 of Best’s Great Western Wines. The original wine cellar and one of the rarest collections of vines in the world can be visited today and reflect the pioneering spirit that forged the Grampians Wine Region.
After such a promising start the region suffered a series of setbacks in common with other wine producing regions in Victoria, beginning with the economic depression of the 1890’s. This along with droughts and crop failures saw fortunes dwindle and producers move away from winegrapes to other agricultural enterprises. It would take the prodigious talents of an Australian wine legend to forever secure this region’s reputation for quality wine production. In 1932 Colin Preece became the manager of the Seppelt Great Western Vineyard and went on to become one Australia’s leading lights in the production of Grampians wine varieties like sparkling and table wines. In 1953-55 he released Moyston Claret, Chalambar Burgundy, Arawatta Riesling and Rhymney Chablis, each of these wines went on to become classics of their day and herald the modern era of the Australian wine industry.
Preece was followed by modern day legends, Viv Thomson at Bests, Trevor Mast at Mount Langi Ghiran and Ian McKenzie at Seppelt. Together they set down the blueprint for a modern style of Shiraz and in doing so, announced the signature variety for the Grampians region. It is likely that Joseph Best introduced Shiraz to the Grampians region in the 1860’s and while always a consistent performer it has had to suffer the whims and fates of our boom and bust industry. Today it has assumed its rightful place as our hero varietal producing a long-lived medium bodied wine of incredible length and balance, its fine and supple frame overflowing with berry and spice flavours.
As the world continues to shrink and our knowledge of wine grows, new varieties will be planted and new techniques developed to produce wines that excite and challenge the wine loving public. But whatever changes may come you can rely on the pioneering spirit of our founders to live on in our winemakers and grape growers.