Wineries in Gippsland? I asked with incredulity. Yes indeed, came the response, although no one appeared to have more than a vague notion about their precise number and identity. As ever, Victoria has a capacity for surprise. As with the Mornington Peninsula (which will no doubt justify a chapter of its own in the next edition of this book), Gippsland has its own 100-year viticultural history.
While many today would be familiar with James Halliday’s wine rating guides, perhaps less well known is that he has authored a series of outstanding books on Australian wine over several decades. While recently, and briefly, in east Gippsland, the above passage from his 1982 book, “Wine & Wineries of Victoria” (University of Queensland Press) was in mind.
Decades later while the Mornington Peninsula is covered in vines in a manner previously unseen, little seems to have changed in Gippsland in passing through. The impression is of a winery here and there, despite having all the ingredients necessary to produce fine wine. Indeed, while Gippsland is an enormous area, it probably produces Australia’s premier pinot noir (Bass Phillip in Leongatha), a largely unknown but brilliant cabernet blend from the McAlister Vineyard in Longford (vintages 2005, 2006 and 2010 previously reviewed) and is home to one of Australia’s highly regarded winemakers, William Downie.
With limited time in the far east of the region, I dropped into the Nicholson River Winery. This winery commands a stunning view of the river which would have made a beautiful photo, had I in fact have taken it. The above photo instead must suffice. All the wines are estate grown and vinified and bottled on site. I tasted their merlot/cabernet blend, the pinot noir and rosé and was impressed. The 2013 Nicholson River Winery Merlot Cabernets was the pick of the group – a current drinking right bank Bordeaux style blend with a mid weight impression of plums and savoury tannins. The 2016 Nicholson River Winery Rosé made from pinot noir is also well made with floral notes and a dry, savoury finish. The 2013 Nicholson River Winery Montview Pinot Noir is also a pleasant pinot noir with cherry driven fruit notes.
Tastings were rounded out with a thirstily consumed Sarsfield Estate Rosé from further up the road. No vintage was obvious on the label, but this is a fresh, clean and crisp wine with lovely white peach notes. And finally, a 2016 Cannibal Creek Merlot was spotted on a restaurant list, and although from hundreds of kilometres away north of Tynong, it is nonethless also a “Gippsland wine”. It is medium bodied with pretty acid, florals and a plum impression.