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Wine country: the Beechworth varieties to know

There’s a new gold rush sweeping the historic Victorian town. Liquid gold.
Beechworth wine varieties

Photo: Kristina Soljo

Kristina Soljo

Nearly 170 years after the original gold rush swept the Victorian town of Beechworth, the area is setting a new gold standard, leading the way when it comes to delightful Victorian chardonnay (alongside Yarra Valley, Geelong and the Mornington Peninsula).

Crafting some of the most exciting wines in the region is Tessa Brown from Vignerons Schmölzer and Brown. Having worked as a viticulturist and winemaker across the country and the world, Brown and partner Jeremy Schmölzer use Beechworth’s altitude to their advantage. “I love Beechworth; its altitude will give us climate change mitigation and hopefully enough rainfall to be dry grown in the future,” she says.

Brown says each winery in Beechworth has its own unique microclimate that highlights not only the individuality of the region as a whole, but also an individuality between producers. “Few Ordovician shale and mudstone sites occur at higher altitude,” says Brown. “Ours occurs because there’s a massive lump of more recent granite beneath the ancient sediments.”

It is this rare deposit that Brown credits for the unique flavour and character of their Beechworth wines. “It grows us fruit that should taste like it comes from nowhere but here,” she says.

Chris Catlow from Sentio Wines is passionate about chardonnay and pinot noir to what could be considered an obsessive degree. But it’s this laser focus on the nuance of each site that helps him craft the most incredible and exciting variations of these varietals, not only from Beechworth, but also in Tumbarumba and the Macedon Ranges. He believes there is a natural drive and power found in wines crafted from Beechworth.

“You tend to build things into the other regions with winemaking,” says Chris. “Beechworth is just a place that shows balance and power at the same time.”

He agrees with Brown that the distinct soil profile in Beechworth gives his wines their edge. “The structure is linked to the soil profile so much in Beechy. The wines on shale and clay are structured but open with the chardonnay,” he says.

Having visited the region consistently over the past 10 years, Melbourne-based wine professional and acclaimed sommelier Sally Humble says she can’t help but notice the region’s solidarity. “[There is] a wonderful yet quiet sense of camaraderie between growers in the region with a cluster of tiny producers, encouraging one another. The region’s growth hasn’t expanded laterally; rather, wine quality has only gone up.”

It’s these remarkable growers and winemakers who persevered through the difficult vintage of 2020 to come out the other side with a sense of community and a wine offering that’s stronger than ever.

The traditional owners have not been formally recognised for the area of Beechworth. There is recognition of the Yorta Yorta people’s surrounding lands, but the courts rejected their original land title claim in 1998. Newly discovered historical evidence suggests the Pallanganmiddang people inhabited the region of Beechworth.

Bottles to try

2019 Sentio ‘Beechworth’ Chardonnay, $58

Chris Catlow knocks it out of the park with his latest chardonnay. A slow build of stone fruit and delicious Granny Smith apples comes before a crescendo of minerality and vanilla oak. The wine is equal parts ethereal and powerful – new world Chardonnay at its best.

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2019 Domenica Roussanne Marsanne, $48

This wine is the ultimate winter white and a labour of love for winemaker Peter Graham. The fruit is farmed organically and carefully managed to balance acidity and minerality. Hints of ginger floral-spice meet pear and green almond with a mineral twist, courtesy of Beechworth’s slate.

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2018 Vignerons Schmölzer and Brown ‘Brunnen’ Pinot Noir, $45

Hailed as rising stars, Tessa Brown and Jeremy Schmölzer continue to prove themselves talented winemakers. Their red-fruited pinot is beloved by winemakers, industry insiders and anyone with taste buds.

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2020 Sorrenberg ‘Inkerman Road’ Gamay, $35

Sorrenberg Estate produced an incredible gamay, despite low yields and an all-around challenging 2020 vintage, using declassified fruit to create the new Inkerman Road label. Bursting with red fruits and bright acidity, this wine begs to be dunked in an ice bucket.

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