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Beechworth is one of the smallest wine regions in Victoria, but also one of the most important. Nestled between the Alpine Valleys to the south and Rutherglen to the north, the Beechworth wine region is located in the cooler northeast of Victoria, about 3 hours drive from Melbourne, and just 30 minutes from the New South Wales border town of Albury-Wodonga.
Like so many other wine regions in Victoria, Beechworth was settled during the gold rush, and the first vines were planted there in the 1850s. But also like so many Victorian wine regions, phylloxera decimated the local wine industry there, and it wasn't until the 1950s that vignerons and viticultrualists began to move back to the area. Since that time however, Beechworth has grown to become one of the best wine regions in Australia, with their flagship varieties of Chardonnay and Shiraz leading the charge.
In a similar way to many of the alpine regions of northeast Victoria, the varying altitudes of Beechworth make it difficult to generalise. Most vineyards in Beechworth sit in a range of altitudes from around 300m to over 700m above sea level, providing an array of different topographies and aspects.
Overall, Beechworth can be classified as cool continental, but winemakers need to be mindful of site selection for specific varieties. Chardonnay tends to fare better at higher altitudes where the cooler air lends some respite from the hot sun. Red varieties however, do better in the lower, warmer sites, where they can ripen more fully.
Being in the foothills of the Victorian Alps, the soils in Beechworth are largely granitic in composition, with some old sandstone and gravel over clay. They are well-draining, and the clay beneath provides enough water retention that irrigation is largely unecessary throughout the growing period. This granitic, gravelly soil is one of the factors that has elevated Beechworth as a premium wine-producing region. It is naturally low in fertility which inhibits vine growth and concentrates the fruit clusters, resulting in wines of incredible depth and complexity.
Beechworth is one of the best wine regions in Australia for Chardonnay and Shiraz, though many producers are experimenting with alternate varieties as well, with great success.
For Chardonnay, the cooler sites produce the most finessed and elegant wines, that have the ability to cellar for the medium to long term. In comparison, Shiraz does better in the slightly warmer sites, where ripening is not an issue. The wines produced from Shiraz are elegant, cool-climate styles that are oftened labelled as Syrah, rather than Shiraz to draw a distinction from their South Australian counterparts. Nevertheless, they are layered and complex, with wonderful concentration and peppery spice.
Apart from Chardonnay and Shiraz (which collectively make up nearly 50% of the total production), there are a number of winemakers producing red varieties such as Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Aglianico and Gamay. And in alternate white varieties, Marsanne and Roussanne have proved very successful. This shift towards alternate varieties paints an exciting picture for the future of Beechworth as a premium wine region.