Australia is a large country with a wealth of wine growing areas. Many attempt to grow pinot noir – some have success and others are wasting effort attempting to grow pinot in unsuitable terroirs. As a new world wine country, Australia doesn’t have the Appellation rules that operate in the old world. This often means that wine regions are difficult to understand for the wine consumer. A typical example in Australia is the Gippsland region of Australia.
Gippsland can be confusing, disjointed and green just like most of their wines. It is a confusing mixture of beautiful green hills, brown coal and power generators and golden beaches. The tourist information is glossy but the reality is that they are not well set-up for visitors. The wines also are all over the place; no variety stands out, quality is variable and the vines often had a ‘green’ immature character.
I have asked many winemakers which varieties did best in the Region and had many different responses. Take this quote from the Wines of Gippsland Web Site is a group of grapegrowers and winemakers from the diverse Gippsland region. “Come & try our classic varietals: pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, chardonnay, riesling, sauvignon blanc and more!” A wine district is rarely suitable for growing more than 2 or 3 varieties at the most. Here is a region that tries to grow 6 and more!
Pinot noir from Gippsland tends to err on the greener side of cool climate viticulture. This is partly climatic and partly due to poor viticulture. My most frequent comments on the wines were “stalky”, “too firm and hollow”, “too green and herbaceous”. This suggests vineyard problems and over extractive winemaking. There are a few pinot noir new producers, however, that are producing well made and show a glimpse of what Gippsland is capable of producing. One such producer is Purple Hen who are located on Phillip Island. There is also one classic pinot noir producer located in south Gippsland who has been an icon of Australian pinot noir for many years – Bass Phillip.
This is in fact not one single region but a large wine ‘zone’ with no officially designated wine regions. Gippsland covers a large area extending from the NSW/Victorian border to just below Melbourne. There are, however, three geographic regions within it and these may evolve to being considered wine regions in their own right as the Industry and the wine matures over time. The three geographic regions within Gippsland are:-
South Gippsland – An area south of the Strzelecki Ranges down to the Bass Strait, it includes Phillip Island and Wilson’s Promontory. A cool climate maritime area, it is wetter and windier than other parts of Gippsland and has a strong coast influence. At the western edge of the region the vineyards on Phillip Island have more in common with the Mornington Peninsula wine region than with the rest of Gippsland.
West Gippsland – An area includes the Gourmet Trail area around Warragul and the Latrobe Valley together with the surrounding hills. Somewhat cooler than East Gippsland, it usually has a warm, dry autumn which allows for the ripening of most grape varieties.
East Gippsland – Beyond Rosedale, including the cities of Sale, Bairnsdale and Lakes Entrance. A more Mediterranean style climate is experienced with lower rainfalls than the rest of Gippsland.
While modern winemaking is relatively new, Gippsland does have a history. In the ninteenth century there were a number of vineyards, the Costellos and Louis Wuillemin in the Maffra-Bairnsdale area. Like other parts of Australia, wine growing had ceased by the start of the First World War and it wasn’t until the 1970’s that winegrowing was reborn in Gippsland. Development has been slow and is dominated by small, family owned vineyards and wineries. The pioneer and iconic winemaker of Gippsland is Phillip Jones. Philip left the Telecommunications industry to pursue his passion for Burgundian wines. He went out on a limb to establish Bass Phillip in Gippsland based on his research into the soils and climate conditions and, I suspect, a gut feeling that the region could produce great Pinot Noir. Unfortunately, to date, his vision and quality of his own wines have not been achieved by other winemakers in Gippsland. I hope to review some of Phillip’s wines in future posts.