The discovery of gold in March 1852 lead to the development of the town of Beechworth.
The first vines were planted in the region in 1856 by a Mr Rochlitz, who had obtained various varieties from Adelaide. The picturesque township is etched precariously on a steep hillside, with streets plunging at precipitous and unexpected angles. The stone buildings and glorious vistas of imported English trees provide a wonderful vista in autumn.
Vignerons in Beechworth devote hands-on attention to the winemaking, bringing out all the qualities and flavours that originate in their vineyards. The mineral rich hills around Beechworth are home to more than a dozen vineyards. These vineyards are tended by wine growing families with a fierce independence and a passion for making the best possible artisanal wines. Local wineries produce grape varieties ranging from classic French (particularly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz) to savoury Italian, with Beechworth's grape growing industry continuing to expand.
- The town of Beechworth as founded in 1853 during the gold rush.
- The first vines were planted in the region in 1856.
- Beechworth is home to around nine wineries.
- The climate is linked to altitude, with a wide range in heat degree summations between the lower and higher elevations.
- Two major soil types in the region - Ordovician sandstone, mudstone and shale and the Devonian granites with their more intrusive, igneous nature.
- Local varieties include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz.
- Wines are handcrafted by artisans in a challenging viticulture environment.
- Beechworth is a town with a burgeoning food and wine scene.
The climate is linked to altitude, with a wide range in heat degree summations between the lower and higher elevations. Typically the rainfall increases with altitude, while humidity decreases. Frost risk is site specific, as most of the vineyards are planted on slopes with free air drainage taking the frost downhill to pond in the valleys below. In addition to unsuitable soils for dam construction, the lack of underground water places severe limitations on irrigation and is considered a major barrier to large-scale viticultural development. Individual developments are likely to be no more than 10 hectares (25 acres), with a maximum of 20 hectares (49 acres).
There are the very old Ordovician sandstone, mudstone and shale derived from marine sediments and the Devonian granites with their more intrusive, igneous nature.
Chardonnay: Chardonnay is grown at most elevations by the majority of grape growers and winemakers throughout the region. Winemakers can create a supremely elegant, restrained and complex style of wine, which also has the potential to cellar well. At the highest elevations, the grapes will most likely be used for sparkling wine, while richer table wines will come from the lowest elevations.
Pinot Noir: The variety has the greatest chance of success at elevations such as Beechworth and above, i.e. 550 metres (1,804 feet) and higher. The climate at lower levels is too warm for the variety to express itself typically.
Shiraz : This grape has already made its mark with the rich but elegant styles. It seems certain to provide stylish wines at intermediate altitudes, with more traditional varieties at lower levels.
Map Coordinates: 36° 21'S
Altitude: 300 - 720 metres (984 - 2361 feet)
Heat degree days, October - April: 1240 - 1687 (cut off at 19ºC (66.2ºF) but otherwise not adjusted)
Growing season rainfall October - April: 370 - 550 millimetres (14.5 - 21.6 inches)
Mean January temperature: 19.9 - 20.4º C (68 - 68.7º F)
Relative humidity, October - April, 3 pm: Average 42%
Harvest: Mid March - end April
Ben Clifton, Amulet Vineyard, Beechworth, Victoria
Joining the army at 17 is rarely the first step in a successful wine-making career, but for Ben Clifton it appears to have worked a charm. Seven years spent touring the world’s trouble spots transformed the once-quiet farm boy into a rather straight-talking individual. Share a drink with him and you quickly get the feeling there’s invariably a lot of enthusiasm and a lack of subtlety associated with what he does. As he puts it: “There is nothing like having people shoot at you to focus your mind on what’s important and where your priorities lie. It can make you a no-nonsense type of person.”
So in 2003, as a student of Charles Sturt University, Ben helped produce his first vintage for his family’s Amulet Vineyard near Beechworth. And these days he makes no secret of the fact he likes to instil his wines with many of his own characteristics.
“It’s very easy to produce wines designed not to offend anyone. You simply remove all of their distinct flavours. But I don’t want to make wine like that. People who want to sit on the fence have always annoyed me. I’m happy to run the risk of offending someone.
"I’m in the business of creating something people like to consume, and I am always prepared to put some distinct flavours out there. I’m prepared to produce something with character, something which people can discuss. Something which some people will love and which others may not. "