The Canberra District wine region incorporates the majority of vineyard developments in the northern part of the Australian Capital Territory and the adjoining area of New South Wales.  The pioneer of the region, Dr Edgar Riek, planted the first vines in 1971. The Canberra District is formed by two areas of vineyards. The climate is one of extreme highs and lows, and irrigation is desirable to maintain a consistent yield.

The majority of wineries are small, but it is becoming an important cool climate region. The main wine styles include Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Canberra is Australia’s national capital city and provides a plethora of enticing food, wine and tourist attractions. Many of the wineries in the district are small; most were founded by academics and civil servants of scientific persuasion. All rely on local and tourist cellar-door trade, and have gained a growing reputation with visitors.  

Regional Checklist:

  • Vineyards in the Canberra District are found in two natural, geographically located groups. 
  • The region is currently home about 40 wineries.
  • The region has one of the strongest Continental climates in Australia, with a high diurnal temperature range.
  • For consistent yields to be maintained, supplementary irrigation is considered essential.
  • Soils are typically brownish, shallow clay loams, often overlying shale or clay, with a pH ranging from neutral to mildly acidic.
  • With one exception, all of the wineries in the district are small.
  • Wine styles range from cooler climate styles, grown higher on the near-alpine slopes, to full-flavoured Chardonnay and Shiraz, produced on the lower slopes.

 

Regional website:
www.canberrawines.com.au 

Climate:
With the constant threat and frequent occurrence of spring frosts, recurring droughts in spring and summer, a high diurnal temperature range (cold nights and hot summer days), and a generally cool harvest season, the region has one of the most strongly Continental climates in Australia.  Nevertheless, it is here that Riesling, Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and quite often Pinot Noir all produce wines of considerable personality. Some of the region’s vineyards are planted on near-alpine slopes and cool autumn temperatures contribute to typical cool-climate wines, tending to the austere and elegant.  Lower down the slopes, spilling into New South Wales, winemakers create fine, full-flavoured Chardonnay and Shiraz.

Soil: The topography of the region is quite varied, with undulating hills and distant views of the Snowy Mountains forming a picturesque backdrop to many of the vineyards. Slope, aspect and air drainage are all important. Soils in the district are typically brownish, shallow clay loams, often overlying shale or clay with a pH ranging from neutral to mildly acidic. The sub-soils are not particularly water-retentive and thus increase the need for irrigation.

Wines:
Chardonnay: Some notably elegant wines are produced, with a good structure and complexity that reflects its cooler aspects.

Riesling: For some of the wineries, Riesling vies with Chardonnay as the most important white wine, showing similar personality and characteristics.  The majority are made in a crisp, gently toasty, dry style, with sweeter styles less favoured. However, in the warmer years, more tropical characteristics appear. Modest yields ensure that the wines age well in bottle for up to a decade.

Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon: Attractive, moderately herbaceous wines are made from these varieties.  They are frequently blended, but sometimes Sauvignon Blanc appears alone.  The wines have good structure and the cooler vintages generate the best flavours.

Cabernet Sauvignon: As with all the wines of the region, varied climatic conditions from one vintage to the next and differing approaches in the winery make generalisations about style more than usually hazardous. Sometimes made as a single varietal wine but increasingly blended with Merlot, Cabernet’s overall weight and extract varies from light, leafy and minty to rich, concentrated and chocolatey.

Shiraz: This is a variety which is starting to come into its own as part of the general resurgence of interest, with several wineries producing spectacularly good examples that are redolent of spice, black cherry and liquorice.  It would not surprise to see plantings of the Shiraz increase significantly in future years.

Vital Statistics:   

Canberra:  Map coordinates: 35° 0’S, 
Altitude:  500 - 850 metres (1640 - 2788 feet) 
Heat degree days, October-April:  1410 (cut off at 19ºC (66.2ºF), otherwise not adjusted) 
Growing season rainfall, October-April:  360 millimetres (14.1 inches) 
Mean January temperature:    20.2º C (68.3ºF) 
Relative humidity, October-April, 3 pm: Average 41.5%
Harvest:    Mid March - End April

Tim Kirk, Winemaker and General Manager, Clonakilla–Murrumbateman, Canberra District

From the family vineyards near Canberra in the cool Southern Tablelands of New South Wales, Tim Kirk has developed an exciting new interpretation of Australia’s great red grape.

“My father John Kirk first planted Shiraz at Clonakilla in 1972. Through the 1970s and 1980s the Shiraz was blended with Cabernet Sauvignon in traditional Australian style. In 1990 it was decided to keep the Shiraz component separate. Gold medals and trophies followed and we knew we were onto something!,” Tim says.

"In 1991, I travelled to the Rhone Valley where I visited Marcel Guigal, tasting his 1988 single vineyard Cote Roties: La Landonne, La Mouline and La Turque. These wines were a revelation. Inspired, I determined to make Australia’s answer to Cote Rotie. Providentially, my father John had planted Viognier in the mid 1980s. In 1992 we produced the first Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier blend.

"The Continental climate and the granitic soils of the Murrumbateman area near Canberra make it natural Shiraz country. Sitting at 600 metres above sea level there is significant variation between daytime and night-time temperatures. This extends the ripening period and allows a gradual build up of flavour in the grapes while retaining good levels of natural acidity.

"Canberra District Shiraz is a celebration of spice. In the best years this is a multifaceted character, a complex layering of spices intertwined with ripe berry notes. The texture too is striking: medium bodied with fine, silky tannins. The Viognier works in the background to expand the wine in all directions. Beauty rather than raw power is the focus here.”

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