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FeatureFood & Drink

Old vines, new wines.

Far out - you enjoy a quick yarn with Wine Gippsland and you walk out thirsty, a whole list of wineries to check out, a calendar full of events and a much greater appreciation of our region's wine industry.

Oct 10, 2023


Words: Gippslandia

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Given that it’s an edition of Gippslandia exploring the region’s refreshments, and this department has ordinarily focused on the wine-ier end of the drink spectrum, it’s the perfect moment to chat with our friends at Wine Gippsland.

Wine Gippsland is the regional association representing the growers, producers and winemakers located from Phillip Island to Lakes Entrance. Its role is to raise the profile of our wine region; advocate for members; provide industry support, technical programs and workshops; and shout from the rooftops about the quality of the area's vino via marketing and event opportunities.

"But Gippsland is no two-trick wonder – there is some outstanding riesling, pinot gris and shiraz made here, and even lesser-known varieties..."

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Gippslandia: Where in Gippsland are wines made, and which varieties are we best known for?

Wine Gippsland: We have around 50 wine producers in a region that spans 480km – stretching across Gunaikurnai and Bunurong country from Phillip Island to Lakes Entrance, nestled between vast mountain rainforests and Bass Strait. With a cool climate and rich soils, we produce aromatic and elegant pinot noir and complex chardonnay – a perfect pair for modern drinking preferences.

But Gippsland is no two-trick wonder – there are some outstanding riesling, pinot gris and shiraz made here, and even lesser-known varieties like sauvignon, viognier, Sangiovese, grenache, Nebbiolo, Gamay and grüner veltliner, to name a few.

Is it just us, or is there a growing buzz surrounding our region’s wines?

Gippsland is seen as a “rising star” of the Australian wine scene. It doesn’t get much more pristine, sustainable or authentic.

Gippsland wines regularly win medals at the top wine shows, including internationally, and there are nine wineries that has been awarded the top 5 stars from James Halliday (two of them the coveted red 5 stars – Bass Phillip and Narkoojee).

There’s a quiet energy and passion about Gippsland wine producers – they’re a humble bunch, preferring to let their wine do the talking. And the world is listening.

As Patrick Sullivan says, three factors attract wine producers here: great lifestyle, resilience to climate change and affordability. Where else can you dive straight in and produce your first commercial vintages by leasing established vineyards while you build the capital to plant your own?

Several labels, such as William Downie, Dirty Three, Fleet, Bandicoot Run, Lightfoot, Allevare, Lithostylis and Blue Gables have at least one “born, bred and returned” Gippslandian.

Their success brought others in their wake and they’ve been generous with their support and mentorship.

What sets Gippsland winemakers apart?

At a time when producers everywhere are waking up to the benefits of farming sustainably, Gippsland’s winemakers have a headstart and are heavily invested. Like Neil and Anna Hawkins at The Wine Farm, most work “on the tools” in vineyards that are farmed using organic and biodynamic practices, shunning non-organic fungicides, insecticides and herbicides, and paying close attention to soil health, revegetation and biodiversity.

Who were Gippsland’s trailblazers?

There are a handful of the pioneering Gippsland families still making wines commercially from vineyards they started in the late 1970s to 1990s, such as Nicholson River, Narkoojee, Bellvale and Glenmaggie. These trailblazers tried many varieties before working out what thrived. Much of the wine produced also reflected tastes then – heavy-hitting cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay.

Leading the way in carving out Gippsland’s place on the world map is Phillip Jones, who retired from running Bass Phillip in 2020. His exceptional pinot noir was a beacon, drawing attention to Gippsland and comparisons with Burgundy, France. Bass Phillip wines still regularly top the list of the most coveted pinot noir, currently listed between $1,000–$1,200 per bottle at auction.

Bass Phillip is now run by a syndicate including renowned Burgundian biodynamic winemaker Jean Marie Fourrier.

Best place to find Gippsland wines?

Only half have their own cellar door open to the public, so get to know the winemakers. Follow the local farmers’ markets and regional food and wine festivals where you can ‘meet the makers’, taste and buy direct. Join their wine clubs and order early – the production runs are small. Encourage your local wine shops and bars to stock them.

What’s the future for Gippsland wine?

Expect to see more planting, more production and new varieties, both from newcomers and existing wine producers, especially as those home blocks reach their full potential.

We have a revised website and more trip-planning tools coming soon, with Wine Gippsland members helping to develop food+drink+stay packages to attract more visitors to the region – think epicurean trails with a modern twist.

For more information, see winegippsland.com and follow @winegippsland on social media.

The association supports several community-run food & wine festivals and events, such as Pinot Palooza (October 20–21, Melbourne). Another highlight is the 2023 Westpac Gippsland Wine Show with the tasting and awards dinner at Mewburn Park, The Melbourne Food Tinamba (October 12).

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival's Village Feast is back and this year the magic is by the beach as part of the Gippsland Seaside Weekender - rolling into the beautiful Inverloch on 18 November.

Gippslandia - Issue No. 28

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