A spirit of adventure dominates both the landscape and the winemaking in this north eastern pocket of Victoria’s high country. The valleys are cradled by towering mountains (I know you ski bunnies already know this!) and winemakers love it there. The pristine alpine air and old riverbed soils are perfect for producing intensely flavoured yet delicate wines.
While traditional varietals like merlot, shiraz and chardonnay dominate, it’s the food friendly, lighter reds like sangiovese, barbera and nebbiolo, and the bright, vibrant whites like vermentino and savagnin that are starting to really make an impact. It was only recognised as a wine region in 2000, but this little mountain oasis is already punching above its weight.
Five little known facts about the Alpine Valleys wine region:
1) The ‘alpine’ in Alpine Valleys comes from the region’s proximity to Victoria’s highest peaks, rather than the altitude of the vineyards.
The interesting thing about the Alpine Valleys’ name is that the vineyards themselves are not planted at especially high altitudes, they range from 150m to 600m, with most around the 300m mark. It is their location, at the mouths of the valleys that emanate from Victoria’s highest peaks, that makes the region entirely worthy of its name and the associated cool climate characteristics of many Alpine Valleys wines.
Mt Bogong (1986m) and Mt Feathertop (1922m) are Victoria’s two highest peaks with the next nine highest, including Mt Hotham (1862m), all part of the Bogong High Plains that overlook the Alpine Valleys wine region. Mt Buffalo brings the dramatic, craggy cliffs and some solid altitude, at 1723m.
The effect of this jaw-droppingly beautiful backdrop is that during the growing and ripening seasons, cool alpine air drains off the mountains at night, down through the valleys, giving the vines a chance to rest, recuperate and lock in the flavours and tannin development/ripening that results from the day’s sunshine. This is optimal for ripening and flavour development.
In Australian grape growing, this topography is unique to the Alpine Valleys. And of course, there’s something about the mountains that attracts pioneering types, who are not afraid of a bit of winter weather, sloped terrain or distance from capital cities.
2) The Alpine Valleys is one of Australia’s most varietally diverse wine regions.
Refosco? Yes. Fiano? Yes. Savagnin? Yes. Saperavi? Yes. Schioppettino? Yes. Tempranillo? Yes. Teroldego? Yes. Aglianico? Yes. Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay? Yes, yes and yes.
It is usually the resident wine region renegades who get the ball rolling with alternative varieties in Australia. But not in the Alpine Valleys, where every grower has at least one alternative variety planted and many have four or five. Then there are Mark and Tim Walpole, whose Bungamero Vineyard is home to over 30 alternative varieties.
Kel Boynton established Feathertop Winery in 1988 and now grows 22 different varietals with 50 different clones. Jo Marsh at Billy Button Wines may not have her own vineyards but she makes individual varietal wines from at least 16 alternative varieties and has been known to have 30 ferments on the go at any one time during vintage to achieve this.
3) Grapes were first planted in the region now known as the Alpine Valleys in the 1800s.
In March 1895 Mr Blumner, the region’s pioneering vigneron, addressed the Bright Fruit and Vine Growers Association, finishing with the following rousing words, “I trust I have made it clear that in the soil and climate of this district we have mines of untold wealth… the possibilities of grape growing and wine production are practically without limit, excepting only as far as bounded by lack of desire or want of means or enterprise…”
Unfortunately, phylloxera could not be kept at bay with desire, means nor enterprise. It decimated the region’s vineyards, then World Wars 1 and 2 took their toll on the local population. With post-WW2 population growth, the means, enterprise and pioneering spirit of many post-war migrants were dedicated to successful tobacco, nut, fruit and vegetable growing, with a few rows of grapes for home winemaking.
Commercial vineyards finally began to appear in the 1980s. Souter’s Rosewhite Vineyard was planted in 1982, followed by the vineyard now known as Bike & Barrel, then Bush Track Wines (1987), Bungamero (1988), Feathertop (1988) and others followed through the 1990s.
4) Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon do very well in the Alpine Valleys.
The Alpine Valleys’ history is one of growing grapes to be sold mostly to big-name wine producers around Australia. Most of the vineyards in the region are now 20 to 30 years old and tended by owners who have always been hands-on farmers. Many planted Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon to appeal to grape buyers at the time. Their businesses have now evolved and they are making their own wines with the benefit of the insights of those 20 to 30 vintages under their belts.
5) The wine producers of the Alpine Valleys are all family-owned businesses and mostly owner-operated, ensuring a warm welcome.
The Alpine Valleys wine producers are a tight-knit community who genuinely work together. Billy Button Wines has a cellar door in the town of Bright stocking their own wines and some mighty fine cheese, as well as a selection of wines from the growers whose grapes go into the Billy Button range. In Myrtleford, the Alpine Wine Shop is a collaboration between Bike & Barrel, Bush Track Wines and Homestead Estate Wines & Olive Oil. Four other Alpine Valleys produces are featured – Ferraro Wines, Souter’s Wines, Dalbosco Wines and Kilnhouses Row 8. The Alpine Wine Shop is open 7 days, to 8pm on Friday evenings.
The warm welcome extends to the winery restaurants at Gapsted Wines and Feathertop Winery, both with great food and sweeping views of mountains, valleys and vineyards. Both also cater for bike riders given their location along the iconic Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail. Also enjoying a rail trail location is Kilnhouses, with its three contemporary luxury accommodation houses set amongst the Prosecco and Tempranillo vines.
Which cellar doors to visit:
While there are now a dozen thriving cellar doors in the region, there are two very fabulous women of wine that cannot be missed on a visit to the area! Jo Marsh at Billy Button Wines and Eleanor Anderson at Mayford Wines.
Billy Button Wines
Billy Button Wines
11 Camp Street Bright Open Seven days 12pm – 6pm Phone +61 3 5755 1569 billybuttonwines.com.au
Three-time Winemaker of the Year nalist in the Australian Women in Wine Awards, Jo Marsh, is the brains and talent behind Billy Button – which is named after the ball-shaped yellow alpine daisy that covers the mountains in spring. She has a very strong focus on alternative varietals which include grüner veltliner, verduzzo, saperavi, arneis and malvasia. The cellar door is in Bright, so you don’t even have to scale the mountains to try them.
Here the alpine vineyards are used to produce limited volumes of characterful and age-worthy tempranillo, chardonnay and shiraz. In fact, they regularly sell out fast, so making an appointment to visit is a sure re way of getting the inside scoop on how to get your hands on what they currently have available. Supremely talented winemaker and co-owner Eleana Anderson may even host you through the tasting herself.