It was said to have been Scottish immigrant James Bushy, often called the “Father of Australian viticulture” who, in 1832 returned with vine clippings from Europe and introduced today’s most celebrated Australian grape to the continent. Shiraz, or by its name in France, its country of origin, Syrah is a dark-skinned grape variety that produces excellent Shiraz wines in Australia, appreciated for their rich blend of flavour combinations and balanced tannins. In moderate climates they tend to create wines with blackberry and peppery notes, while in hot climates, fruitier and spicier notes of liquorice, anis and earthy tastes are more predominant.
While Australian Shiraz wines on the whole already receive worldwide attention, in recent years, the small region of Heathcote in central Victoria seems to have inconspicuously developed into much of a talking point. Maybe it has to do with the fact that is has been blessed with a few advantages such as its famous Cambrian soil, or maybe it’s a result of the determination and passion of its winemakers that blend the best of the traditional wine making techniques with new ideas and drive to continually improve.
Mt. Camel Range, which stretches all the way from Corop in the north to Tooborac in the south certainly has a strong influence on the climate and the soil of the region. With an average of 8.5 sunshine hours per day, annual rainfall of only 578 mm and prevailing south-to-south-east winds, the growing season is warm and dry with relatively even temperature ranges. The much talked about red soil is yet another aspect of the virtues that the hillside vineyards have to offer and enables them to produce wines of depth and complexity, while maintaining elegance. Numerous different and oftentimes confusing studies from experts are available about the geology and origin of landscapes and soils of the Heathcote soil, but one factor seems to be constant. The Cambrian earth, developed over millions of years, is a superb support for the making of Heathcote wines and turns them into great examples of what Shiraz Wines in Australia stand for.
In last year’s much-noticed Gourmet Traveller article “Red Hot Heathcote”, Nick Bulleid
wonders aloud why Heathcote has been overlooked for so long as a distinctive wine region, considering that the region produces such impressive red wines with great depths of flavour. He however also observed with great pleasure that the “Buzz” about Heathcote was still on, and ponders at length about the influence the dark red soil has on it all. Mildly acidic, but with a strong alkaline sub soil and good water holding capacity, he asks just how much of an influential role does it play on the characteristics of many of the Heathcote wines.
All in all, to the delight of the Heathcote wine makers, the article is full of praise for the Heathcote Shiraz and its combination of richness and elegance. Nick’s write up, based on a wine tasting comprising himself and five other panel members, remarks a consistency among Heathcote wines with tastes that have considerably improved since their last visit in 2007. He commented about the professionalism among the producers, and highlighted the panel’s favourites, including wines with rich, intense aromas with dark berries, dried spices and cedar.
Heathcote is indeed turning heads among the Shiraz Wine Australia and all signs are pointing to us only being at the beginning of Heathcote’s rise in popularity.