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Stretching from the Queensland border in the north, all the way to the town of Tamworth in the south, the New England wine region is one of the largest in New South Wales. It surrounds the city of Armidale and a string of historic towns such as Glen Innes and Tenterfield, as it reaches north to Queensland. Just across the border is Queensland’s Granite Belt region, which enjoys a similar climate and geography.
The region sits on the western, inland side of the northern end of the Great Dividing Range, which gives it a varied and distinct topography. The modern wine industry here dates back to the 1970s, but the momentum has picked up in recent years, with the stable of classic production being joined by boundary-pushing winemakers exploring new varieties and innovative production techniques.
One of the most distinctive factors of New England’s terroir is its topographical diversity. The highest altitude vineyards sit around 1000m above sea level along the spine of the Great Dividing Range, with the lower, warmer vineyards stretching out into the New England tablelands. The region also boasts Australia’s highest vineyard - Black Mountain Vineyard - which sits at a whopping 1320m above sea level. This raised and varied topography protects the New England region from the intense heat which characterises the lower-lying lands to the west.
The region enjoys a cool continental climate, with significant diurnal variation, as well as large seasonal change, but the dry conditions that usually accompany continental climates are not really seen in New England This is due to the mountain range acting as a natural reservoir, and trapping cloud cover and rain as it heads out to the coast. This higher rainfall means that irrigation is rarely necessary, even in drier vintages.
Being such a large region, the soils vary considerably. Around Tamworth, rich alluvial flats from the Peel River are found. As the elevation rises to the north, rough granitic soils appear around Armidale, with black earth near Inverell. Degraded basalt is found along the spine of the Great Dividing Range and sandy, decomposed granite loams around Tenterfield. This range of soils, coupled with extensive variation in altitude, slope and aspect, creates a truly diverse region, capable of producing quality fruit and wines.
Given the region’s cool climate and high altitudes, aromatic white varieties such as Riesling, perform exceptionally well. Perfumed and floral, with a backbone of crisp, citrus acidity, Rieslings from New England are elegant and crisp, with subtle minerality. Chardonnay too, grows well here, producing well-balanced, cool-climate wines, showing citrus and stone fruit characters.
The major red variety grown and produced here is Shiraz. These wines tend to be more medium-bodied, and showing more delicate red berry characters, compared to warmer climate examples.
One of the reasons that New England is such an exciting wine region is the alternative varieties that are being planted and produced here. White grapes such as Gewurztraminer and Petit Manseng are being grown alongside red varieties like Nebbiolo, Barbera, Tannat, Touriga and Durif. The success of these alternative varieties, together with the innovative winemaking techniques used to produce them, make the New England wine region one of the more interesting regions within New South Wales.