The Heathcote wine region, nestled between the Goulburn Valley and Bendigo regions, is famous as a premium Shiraz-producing area. However, other red wines of quality also have emerged, as well as whites such as Chardonnay and Viognier.
Like many parts of central Victoria, it was largely used for sheep grazing, followed by gold mining, before wine production began. The first vines appeared in the 1860s, but it was not until the 1960s that the real wave of development occurred. The region's climate and soil are influenced by the Mt Carmel Range, which provides a natural tunnel for prevailing south to south-east winds that blow throughout the growing season. Visitors can taste the wines and meet the winemakers at cellar doors all year round, or visit in October when the local winemakers showcase their iconic wines at the Heathcote Wine and Food Festival.
Heathcote is located in central Victoria, nestled between the Goulburn Valley and Bendigo regions.
The region is currently home to more than 40 wineries/vineyards.
The region was largely used for sheep grazing and it has only been since the 1960s that it has developed into a wine production area.
The region's climate and soil are influenced by the Mt Carmel Range, which provides a natural tunnel for prevailing south to south-east winds that blow throughout the growing season.
The soil of the Mt Carmel Range is textured red calcareous sodic clay, known as Cambrian Greenstone.
The Shiraz grape is the main planting, with the Heathcote Shiraz being renowned for its unique character.
Other reds produced include Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Heathcote's climate and soils are strongly influenced by the Mt Camel Range, providing natural tunnelling for the prevailing cool, south to south-east winds that blow throughout the growing period from October to March. The result is a cooler mean January temperature with summer temperatures two to three degrees lower than the peaks for nearby Bendigo. Rainfall is surprisingly even during the year and, thanks to the hillside location of most vineyards, spring frost is seldom a problem.
While there is significant soil variation in the region, the slopes of the Mt Camel Range comprise a superb red soil with fine structure overlying uniformly textured red calcareous sodic clay soils. Confusingly, these soils are known as Cambrian Greenstones.
Shiraz: Few would argue that Heathcote's climate and soil produces world-class Shiraz with a unique character. It is deep, rich and velvety, with cascades of dark cherry plum and sweetly spicy fruit. The ripe but fine tannins give texture, sustaining length and a superb ability to age.
Cabernet Sauvignon: Further proving that this is red wine country, the Cabernet Sauvignon style is rich and generous, with blackberry aromatics and flavours. Some of the classic central Victorian eucalypt-mint character is present in some vintages.
Map Coordinates: 36° 54'S
Altitude: 160-320 metres (525 - 1050 feet)
Heat degree days, October - April: 1490 (cut off at 19°C (66.2°F), otherwise not adjusted)
Growing season rainfall, October - April: 279 millimetres (11 inches)
Mean January temperature: 21°C (70°F)
Relative humidity, October - March, 3 pm: Average 43.5%
Harvest: Mid March – early May
Stephen Shelmerdine, Chief Executive, Shelmerdine, Heathcote, Victoria
While Heathcote is a recently defined wine region, its history commences at the start of European settlement in central Victoria, with vineyards in Tooborac in 1858, in the Heathcote township during the Gold Rush, and on the Mt Camel Range in the 1860s. However, Stephen Shelmerdine from Shelmerdine says vineyards disappeared from the landscape by the 1920s and it was not until the late 1960s and early 1970s that viticultural activity began, signalling the resurgence of the Heathcote wine industry.
"Today, the Heathcote region spans more than 80 kilometres from north to south and 40 kilometres from east to west, and is home to more than 100 individual vineyards with a total of 1,880 hectares under vine,” Stephen says.
"With a climate reminiscent of the Rhone Valley and its diversity of soil types, geology and topography, Heathcote produces a range of wines, but is most renowned for the complex, rich and intense Shirazes grown on the 500-million-year-old, Cambrian-era red soils north of Heathcote along the Mt Camel Range.
"The Shelmerdine family commenced farming at Merindoc, on the granite soils at Tooborac, in southern Heathcote, in 1956. In 1994, the family, as passionate viticulturists, pioneered the replanting of vines at Tooborac, and in 1997 they planted a new vineyard on the red soils at Colbinabbin.
"However, as Ross and Marigold Shelmerdine were, along with legendary winemaker Colin Preece, founders of the Mitchelton Winery at Nagambie, and the family was fully involved with Mitchelton until 2001, it was not until 2002 that the new Shelmerdine Wine Company released its first Heathcote Shiraz.
"Today, three generations of the Shelmerdine family produce wines of finesse, balance and structure. Fine, aromatic, minerally Viognier and Riesling and intense, opulent Shiraz/Viognier from the cool, granite soils and southern hillsides from the iconic Merindoc vineyard at Tooborac. Deeply coloured and textured Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are produced from the unique, northern, red soils at Colbinabbin.
"The Shelmerdine artisanal philosophy is very much about respecting terroir and preserving site, season and vineyard authenticity as well as varietal purity, moderate alcohol, and restrained use of 100% French oak."