You can be forgiven for thinking that the Canberra District is where we send our Federal politicians to retire. The Bob Hawke Memorial Pensioner's Village or bingo hosted by Gough Whitlam come to mind, but in fact the region is fast becoming one of Australia's best boutique sources for premium wines. An exciting wine-growing area that ironically spans mostly across areas in New South Wales, rather than the ACT, Canberra District is known for its cool climate winemaking and premium vineyard sites which are dotted in pockets throughout the region.
The Canberra District finds a concentration in Murrumbateman and around Lake George, benchmarking itself with Shiraz and Riesling based wines. While most wineries and vineyards have been established and planted in only the past decade or so, longer serving producers have made their mark.
Halo producer, Clonakilla, has been a yardstick for not only the region, but has made itself internationally recognizable with its exacting wine styles, near perfect Shiraz and Shiraz Viognier wines and a traditional approach to winemaking. Ken Helm, with his passion for Riesling, has done almost as much to bring up the region’s profile, with his taught, mineral spiked white wines that show persistence and great longevity. All-rounders Lark Hill have Shiraz Viognier and Riesling to champion, but have also shown exceptional innovation with alternative varieties, including one of Australia’s first commercially available Gruner Veltliner wines, an Austrian indigenous variety. However the region doesn’t rely on a handful of producers, even though the mark of these very successful wineries has been the catalyst for the Canberra District revolution.
The Canberra District is also showing that unique vineyard sites are helping bring an overall standard up across the region. It pays to remember that CSIRO science geeks made some of the early inroads in the area, selecting suitable sites for fruit. Since then, affordable wines produced in larger quantities have been wowing wine show judges and punters alike. They’ve even been known to have a tipple at Parliament House with the local stuff, once in a while.
Slower ripening conditions, drier sites and a long, cool autumn allows for restraint in the fruit flavour profiles, creating wines of elegance and poise across many varieties. Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc are therefore also performing well across the region, though Shiraz and Riesling continue to lead the fray. There is plenty of wine scope to explore from the Canberra District, and drinking the stuff makes visiting the nation’s capital just a little bit more exciting.