Gourmet Wine Traveller - 2014

Despite the chill in the air Victoria's Macedon Ranges is red hot thanks to its sublime pinot noir, chardonnay and sparklings. A visit here is a chance to experience some of Australia's best cool-climate wines.

Fabulous pinot noir, intense and elegant chardonnay, scintillating sparklings and so much more, the Macedon Ranges, an hour north of Melbourne, is one of Australia’s most exciting wine regions. It’s the ideal destination for a daytrip or, even better, a lengthy stay.

Six years ago I visited the region and wondered why it didn’t rate as more than a blip on the radar for most wine lovers (and complained about the cold). It remains as cold as ever (climate change notwithstanding) but gradually – more gradually than many in the region would like – Macedon is turning heads.

Macedon is a diverse region on the way up: several of the wineries are firmly established in Australia’s wine consciousness as part of the upper echelon; there are exciting, young winemakers emerging from their family shadows; makers seem far more comfortable with the styles that excel in the region; and, best of all, there is a food and wine culture that spreads across this surprisingly large area. And one thing will never change, Macedon is perfectly situated to take advantage of the Melbourne metropolis, and to attract visitors from all over Australia.

Macedon is, for most, pinot noir, chardonnay and sparkling country and rightly so, but the dominating geographical feature is the Great Dividing Range. It splits the district, creating microclimates, and allowing for successful propagation of a number of other varieties. Spicy shiraz, fragrant gewürztraminer and even a cracking lagrein are among the varietal variation Macedon offers.

It is a must for every wine-lover’s bucket list.

Basics and Background

The emergence of the Macedon Ranges as a fine wine region is a recent development but, as with so many other areas, it is more of a second coming than a virgin birth. Grapes were first planted in the 1840s, at Riddells Creek, even before the famous ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition made its way through the region. At that stage wine was largely made for local consumption, very little found its way to Melbourne or further afield and the industry died in the 1890s due to an economic recession, the perception of better wines being made at Sunbury and the loss of the UK export market.

It would be more than a century before the Macedon region’s revival began at the unlikey hands of a Hungarian sculptor called Tom Lazar, who purchased 160 hectares intending to plant cherry trees. They proved unsuitable and the focus turned to wine. In 1968, Virgin Hills was born. Lazar’s vision was to create a single wine to rival the great Bordeaux blends. In 1970 he was joined by Gordon Knight who founded Granite Hills. Cope Williams and Gisborne Peak followed in the late 1970s; Hanging Rock, Rochford, Cobaw Ridge and others in the early 1980s.

In the beginning it may well have been cabernet (and friends) but it didn’t take long before the penny dropped. This very cool region was always more ideally suited to the Burgundian varieties of pinot noir and chardonnay. Naturally, where you have those two grapes, there will also be sparklers.

Top Six Wineries

Curly Flat

If any one winery in this region has emerged from the Macedon pack in the last decade, it is Curly Flat. Their pinot noir and chardonnay are rightly considered among the best, and both can be extraordinary value. Founders Jenifer Kolkka and Phillip Moraghan came from finance backgrounds  but  had  a  firm  interest  in  wine,  in particular pinot noir. Phillip’s time spent in Burgundy meant it was inevitable that they would dabble. The search for a vineyard was on, then a suitable site was found and planting began in 1991. Such was Phillip’s determination to ensure that the wines would be the best possible; he decided he could do better. They were ripped up and replanted the following year. They now have 33 hectares of which 69 per cent is pinot noir, 26 per cent is chardonnay and 5 per cent is pinot gris, a mix influenced by Laurie Williams of Flynn & Williams who was as an early mentor. Multiple clones planted in the vineyards, varying trellis systems, biodynamic processes, endless experimentation with the use of oak and much more all contribute to the quality of the wines. And it would be hard to imagine that any other winery in Australia maintains such extraordinarily detailed records of absolutely every aspect of the production.

Wine to try: 2011 Curly Flat Chardonnay, A$45
A stunning wine from this superstar performer. A beautifully fragrant, elegant chardonnay. Immaculately balanced, wonderfully persistent  and  thoroughly  seamless.  It has  delightful lemony notes and a fine, if slightly lean yet creamy texture. This wine gives no indication that 2011 was a tough vintage. Great value and worth a spot in every cellar.

Cobaw Ridge

Cobaw Ridge is tough to find but it is worth the search. Alan and Nelly Cooper began planting in 1985 and their biodynamic estate is located on the northern slopes, on the cusp of the Great Divide. It’s warmer than much of the region, even though they are at 600 metres above sea level, which means a slightly different mix of varieties from the usual suspects are grown. One, in particular,  has  caught  the  imagination.  Lagrein, from Italy’s Alto Adige, is rarely seen outside its homeland but has been very successful here. Their wine is generally recognised as the best to be found outside Italy. There is, of course, pinot noir and chardonnay, as well as a shiraz from a vineyard now 25 years of age.

Wine to try: 2010 Cobaw Ridge Syrah, A$48
It would be ever so easy to include the wonderful lagrein, but there are plenty of wines from here that are equally deserving, especially this lovely syrah viognier blend (three per cent viognier). It gives an immediate hit of spice and pepper, followed by red fruits and an underlying minerality. It’s a fine cool-climate shiraz, which maintains intensity throughout and is nicely balanced with good length. This is a wine that screams forth its sense of place.

Hanging Rock Winery

Surely this estate is now as famous as the 700-metre mountain from which it draws its name and that inspired the fictional film about missing schoolgirls who visited there decades ago. Not many wineries on the planet have had the Boss, Bruce Springsteen himself, play among the vines. Founder, John Ellis, made a huge impression in the early days of Rosemount Estate and then at Tisdall at Echuca. Ellis, and his wife Ann, had a dream to make great Australian sparkling wine in the style of Krug or Bollinger, and so, in 1982, established Hanging Rock Winery. In addition to their sensational sparklers, they have added a portfolio wines, and were also instrumental in the rise of the Heathcote region through their f lagship shiraz.

Wine to try: NV Hanging Rock Macedon Cuvée XIV, A$50
Fabulous stuff (and this isn’t even their f lagship – try the amazing, but hard to find, NV LD Extended Lees Cuvée VIII for a trip to bubbly nirvana). Nine years on lees, it is rich and complex. There’s power and balance with notes of Golden Delicious apple. This is ideal for those who love full f lavoured fizz.

Granite Hills

The Knight family has been an integral part of the wine scene in the Macedon Ranges since Gordon Knight first planted vineyards back in 1970. They are now the oldest in the district. The current winemaker is Gordon’s son, Llew.

Situated at the northern extremity of the region and at a lofty 550 metres above sea level, this winery has excelled with cabernet, shiraz and, especially, riesling as well as the ubiquitous chardonnay and pinot noir. They currently boast 12 hectares - three each of shiraz and riesling, two of chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, one of pinot noir with a little merlot and cabernet franc making up the balance. Exposure to wind reduces both humidity and the possibility of disease.

Wine to try: 2007 Granite Hills The Gordon, A$30
A blend of 50 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 30 per cent cabernet franc and 20 per cent merlot, it is named in honour of winemaker Llew Knight’s father, Gordon, a pioneer of the region. An attractive, cool-climate cabernet with some underlying power. It’s an alluring mix of chocolate and a hint of cigar box. Nicely balanced, it has pleasing richness, chewy tannins and a f lick of acidity.


This is one of Australia’s cult wineries – the pinot noir and chardonnay crafted here are world class. Michael Dhillon makes some truly brilliant wines. The winery isn’t actually open to the public but if you’re on the Bindi mailing list (and what wine lover isn’t?), it is worth a call as Dhillon is happy to open the doors, circumstances permitting. The wines are extremely limited but new plantings should increase volumes in a few years and he may put some wine aside for the revival of the Bindi sparklings. The best wines from Bindi, some of which have seen extended periods on lees, rival anything made in this country.

Wine to try: 2011 Bindi Block 5 Pinot Noir, A$95
Dhillon was keen to show this wine to demonstrate, as he said with tongue planted firmly in cheek, “ just how bad the 2011s are.” His are superb and, indeed, it does seem that the region has fared far better than many places. A delightfully fresh wine with raspberry notes and spices. It has a very supple texture. The finish is the highpoint as that wonderful pinot noir peacock ’s tail kicks in with a kaleidoscope of flavours. Fabulous now but it will get even better.

Mount Gisborne

Most wine fans will be familiar with the last five wineries but this one may have snuck under the radar. Given the quality of recent releases, it is difficult to understand. Planting began on David and Mary Ell’s property in the mid 80s, focusing on chardonnay and pinot noir and the first wines emerged in 1991. The estate has one huge advantage over many small wineries, they have had winemaker Stuart Anderson, founder of Balgownie Estate, as a consultant for many years. The wines are not only excellent, they are exceptional value.

Wine to try: 2009 Mount Gisborne Pinot Noir, A$40
This is an exquisitely balanced and intriguingly complex pinot of the highest order. It has a lovely mix of red fruits, coffee bean notes, spice and hints of tobacco leaf. It finishes with ultra-fine tannins and lingers for a very long time. A first-class pinot noir.

Details for Your Visit

Whether you’re heading north from Melbourne or have picked up a car at Tullamarine Airport, detour via Sunbury (it is only 15 minutes from the airport) and drop by Craiglee. One of Victoria’s finest wineries, winemaker Pat Carmody produces a chardonnay and a special shiraz.

While there are endless options for accommodation, from five star luxury to cute and quaint B & Bs, one establishment stands out: the Lake House at Daylesford. Locals should erect a statue to Alla Wolf-Tasker, not just for establishing one of this country’s finest spa resorts and restaurants, but for her drive and determination to see local food and wine succeed across the district and beyond. A fine alternative is Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat at Hepburn Springs, which also offers excellent dining at The Argus.

Visitors to the region will have a wonderful time exploring the huge array of food options. Pick up some of the fabulous pork products at Istra Smallgoods (36 Wheelers Hill Rd, Musk). If you need a quick bite on your travels, there’s none better than the pies at Red Beard  Historic  Bakery with  its huge 19th-century oven in the small town of Trentham.

Make time to stop in at Holgate Brewhouse as I’m convinced they are one of the top craft brewers in the land.  Anyone who enjoys a richly f lavoured dark beer will love their Temptress, a chocolate porter. They even offer a triple-fermented barley wine, Beelzebub’s Jewels, which is aged in old French oak barrels from Curly Flat, previously used for their pinot. Beware, it is a whopping 12 per cent alcohol and $70/750ml bottle.

Ten More to Consider

  • 2011 Zig Zag Road Riesling, A$23: Fresh with slate and mineral undertones.
  • 2009 Hesket Estate Straw’s Lane Gewürztraminer, A$30: Delightfully aromatic gewürz with oodles of Turkish delight and musk.
  • 2012 Midhill Romsey Creek Chardonnay, A$25: Fragrant, elegant, attractively perfumed and with well-integrated oak.
  • 2012 Lane’s End Chardonnay, A$29: Soft, gentle style with stone fruit and citrus notes.
  • 2010 Chanter’s Ridge Clonal Selection Pinot Noir, A$40:  Subtle mix of smoky herbal notes and tobacco leaf.
  • 2010 Gisborne Peak Foundation Block Pinot Noir, A$29:  Elegant pinot with an array of pleasing f lavours.
  • 2010 Passing Clouds Pinot Noir, A$31:  Red fruits and truff le notes in a wine of some complexity.
  • 2011 Ellender Estate Pinot Noir, A$45:  Lighter, fresher style with pleasing mushroom notes.
  • 2012 Ky Neton Ridge Estate Premium Pinot Noir, A$30:  Delicate mix of spice, cherries and coffee bean notes.
  • 2010 Epis Pinot Noir, $A60: Exceptional pinot. It’s supple, complex and very long.


Source:  pdfGourmet Wine Traveller1.59 MB (March, 2014)
Author: Ken Gargett