Nestled in Victoria’s north-east, Rutherglen is one of Australia’s most loved wine and food destinations: yet it is a region which is largely unexplored by the masses. Perhaps most famous for its big reds and fortifieds, Rutherglen is a destination which warrants a visit for so much more. The wonderfully historic wine region is home to 20 award-winning wineries, bountiful restaurants and cafes as well as being an outdoor paradise for all its fishing, water sports and camping opportunities. Whether you’re looking to cycle along Rutherglen’s famous historical rail trails, discover their world-famous muscat or go camping, it’s got it all.
I was lucky enough to be invited by the Winemakers of Rutherglen to spend a weekend in Rutherglen to learn more about the community of wine makers and producers who make this region so special.
Bleary eyed before sunrise, we set off on the three to four hour journey from Melbourne with a group of food and wine media. The first stop on our itinerary was Scion Vineyard for official Durif Duty, hosted by Rowly Milhinch (Owner and Winemaker of Scion) and Andrew Sutherland (owner of Warrabilla Wines). Located just south of the Rutherglen township, Scion was established in 2002 and focuses on hand-crafting small-batch wines. In Viticulture, a scion is the fusion of new roots on to old and this is exactly what Scion has done by juxtaposing tradition in a contemporary way.
Rutherglen is particularly famous for its durif (a cross between Syrah and the lesser known Peloursin). This grape was first created by Frenchman Dr Durif who was looking to develop a grape variety resistant to downy mildew. Since durif is a late ripening variety it needs longer than many other varieties to achieve full ripeness. The mild, stable and dry climate in Rutherglen makes it perfect for developing the dark red and black fruit characters which this grape variety needs. But since it has a thin skin it is prone to bunch rot, making it very challenging to grow.
We were guided through durifs ranging from restrained, lighter varieties to the richer varieties which have the most incredible dark (almost black) tones. One of the Warabilla Durifs has an alcohol content of 185! I am a big shiraz lover so naturally loved many of the durifs, particularly paired with food.
With a few durifs under our belt, we stopped for lunch at Jones Winery and Vineyard. Owned by brother and system team, Mandy and Arthur Jones, the winery (built in 1860) is one of the oldest and smallest in the Rutherglen area. The charming heritage listed building is composed of handmade bricks and an original bark-lined roof. There’s also an art gallery next door for art lovers.
Specialising in French cuisine, the restaurant has a refined, homely vibe. It’s the sort of place you dream of stumbling upon while road tripping through Provence. The dishes were all prepared with flair and finesse, concentrating on traditional French techniques and flavours. Think pork medallions teamed with apple and ginger puree, boudin noir crumble and green beans and confit duck Maryland with braised lentils, confit potato, red cabbage and orange salad.
And the wines were exceptional too boasting texture, structure and rich fruit flavour, all matured in oak barrels, either old or new French oak depending on the variety: the perfect match to their beautiful cuisine.
In the afternoon we visited Cofield Wines where we were introduced to our accommodation for the evening at Grapevine Glamping, nestled amongst the vines. This wasn’t any average camping tent! The bell tent included heating and cooling, a king size bed (with the most comfortable pillows in the world), a fridge, board games and magazines, stargazing kit and fishing gear.
From there we explored the property and attended a wine blending workshop hosted by second generation owner Damien Cofield. Their icon wine – Cofield Sparkling Shiraz has had excellent reviews since its inception and was definitely one of my personal favourites. We were also given the opportunity to taste back vintages, current releases and barrel samples from the bottle and barrel and worked out our perfect blend and designed our own bottle.
No trip to Rutherglen is complete without a muscat tasting and our next stop was definitely a highlight by any muscat standards. And it is still a wonder that muscats still don’t receive the recognition they deserve. Morris Wines is one of Australia’s most iconic wineries with over 150 years of history and winemaking tradition. Muscat is a wine style unique to Australia, made
from Muscat à Petit Grain Rouge, known locally as Brown Muscat. To make such a rich wine, you need very ripe fruit which makes the Rutherglen climate perfect for this kind of grape.
Muscat has an incredible richness an intense flavour which really lingers on the palate. There is a saying that “the first sip of Rutherglen Muscat is a memory that stays with a wine lover for life”. It pairs beautifully with chocolate, desserts or strong cheese. We were guided through a tasting starting from a young and fresh variety (bottled at around five years of age) to the Grand Rutherglen Muscat.
We were also guided through a muscat cocktail making class by candlelight in the Morris Wines barrel room. Who would know that muscat could be so versatile in making a cocktail?
We wrapped up the evening at with a wine party at Thousand Pound Wine Bar with a decadent selection of charcuterie, antipasto and mouth-watering canapes before a night gazing at the stars from our glamping tents.
To be continued….
I was invited on this media trip by the Winemakers of Rutherglen.