Wine Country – northern Victoria

The falling leaves drift by my window
The falling leaves of red and gold
I see your lips the summer kisses
The sunburned hands I used to hold

Autumn Leaves written by Johnny Mercer and Jacques Prevert

Autumn Leaves is a beautiful folk song born in France in 1945. If you haven’t heard it sung listen to this version by the fabulous Eva Cassidy. Eva sadly died of cancer at age 33 in 1996 just as her career was taking off.

On our past trips we had always whistled through northern Victoria. Along the Murray River and short stops in Echuca and Yarrawonga. Then I read about the King Valley in some magazine puff piece. We wanted to go there. So while Sydney and Melbourne were delightful stops this had been our original reason for coming south in winter. The Alpine National Park, at the start of the Great Dividing Range of Australia and partly in both Victoria and NSW, overlooks the King Valley – think skiing, hiking, rafting and biking. After winding our way over the hills from the Yarra Valley we stopped for a night at Whitfield in the Gentle Annie CP on the King River – quite possibly known here as the King Stream. But so peacefully quiet at night and a delightful two km walk into town. Whitfield is at the southern end of the valley and at the start of the Prosecco Road. It is also home to Pizzini Wines. Alfredo and Katrina Pizzini established their family winery in 1978 and now produce Italian varietel wines including prosecco. We had an enjoyable wine tasting while I enviously watched the participants in Katerina’s A’ Tavola cooking school through the kitchen doors. Next time for sure.

Pizzini Winery on the Prosecco Road – note the old tobacco kilns

The Prosecco Road runs for 40 kms along most of the length of the King Valley north to Wangarrata and is home to six prosecco wine makers including Pizzini, Dal Zotto and Brown Brothers with claims to be the bubbly capital of Australia. Originally a well established tobacco growing region the influence of Italian immigrants turned the region into a well respected wine area. The influence of tobacco can be seen in the kilns which dominate some of the wineries. Original plantings of pinot grigio, verduzzi, sangiovese and tempranillo grapes were followed by prosecco in 2000. This grape variety was introduced by Otto Dal Zotto drawing from his youth in northern Italy.

Our wine trek continued just north of the King Valley in the delightful little town of Rutherglen. We are now nearly 300 kms north of Melbourne and 50 kms from the NSW border. Rutherglen is a very attractive town of around 2,500 people and over 20 wineries. The campground is 100 metres from the town centre and sits beside a very pretty little manmade wetlands supporting a variety of birdlife from wood ducks, Australian moorhens, white herons and darters. We chose Pfeiffers and De Bortolis for winetastings. While De Bortolis is on the edge of town Pfeiffers is near the end of the Rail Trail bike path some 9 kms out of town and on a warm sunny day we needed a drink on arrival. There were 17 wines on offer for the tasting but thinking bikes, riding, falling off and about ten kms back to the CP we went with seven. The thinking being this may only lead to wobbling. Rutherglen is famous for its fortified wines and Pfeiffers produce ports, topaque and muscats along with the usual chardonnay, shiraz and merlot wines along with the less well known marsanne, durif and tempranillo varietels. Chris Pfeiffer started Pfeiffer wines in 1984 following many years as chief fortified winemaker at Lindemans. His daughter Jen is now head winemaker and 2009 winner of the Wine Societies Young Winemaker of the year.We had a very educational 20 minutes talking to Chris who gave us his views on wines, wineries and France (not very complimentary). We now know that French winemakers really only come to Australia because the French Government credits them with overseas experience which opens the door to subsidised loans. Probably not wholly true but that seems to be his experience. In a sign of the times for modern wine promotion for smaller wineries almost all Pfeiffer’s wine is sold at cellar door, to local restaurants, through their wine club or increasingly through Naked Wines. Lets not forget that almost all the wineries here also provide great dining so if the food and wine trail is your thing …. get here.

After three days in Rutherglen (could easily be a week) we headed for NSW and the Sunny Coast. It is autumn now and the autumn reds and yellows on the oaks, maples and liquid ambars are stunning. Hard to move on with such striking colour around us but needs must. Next year it is back to Bright for biking and walking.

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