Wine growing in New England began early in the 19th century and by the 1880s the district was winning international prizes for its wines. In 1882 it was described as "one of the foremost wine producing regions in the colonies" in the Sydney Daily Mail. Abandoned vines from this era still twine around old homestead ruins.
The region boasts Australia’s highest vineyard, lying at 1320 metres above sea level at Black Mountain. It is a region with a diversity of soils and aspects, and a network of small towns and villages. The region has more than 20 wineries with the focus on cool climate varieties. Major towns in the region feature sophisticated dining options, and there are a range of food and wine events in other towns all year around.
Viticulture initially flourished in the 1880s.
The region is currently home to around 15 wineries.
Warm days and cool nights allow slow ripening and well developed fruit flavours.
Topographical diversity and varying altitude offer a wide range of climate options suitable for viticulture.
The region is the only place in Australia where terra rossa soils exist at high altitude.
The local wine industry is complemented by the specialist niche food markets flourishing in the district.
Principal varieties are Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz.
Hail and frost are the main viticultural hazards.
Most of New England’s rain falls between late summer and early autumn. Summer days are warm but rarely exceeding 30º C, followed almost certainly by cool nights. Thunderstorms often produce heavy falls of rain and occasionally destructive hail. Severe frosts set in from June. Late frosts and even snow are possible until November, presenting major problems for vine growers.
Rich alluvial soils are deposited by the Peel River in valley flats around Tamworth. From here the elevation rises sharply up through the Moonbi Hills on the way north to Armidale. This is granite country and the soils are rough and highly suited to vineyards. Around Inverell the soils are black earth. Along the spine of the Great Divide the hilltops are basalt and in the far north around Tenterfield the country is granite again, with extensive sandy loams. The region is also the only place in Australia where terra rossa soils exist at high altitude.
Chardonnay: The New England region offers some very elegant and well balanced Chardonnays with excellent varietal definition. These wines display generous aromas of stone fruit, citrus and tropical fruit. The careful use of oak allows integration with the fruit.
Riesling: Fragrant floral characters, exotic and citrus fruit round out the aromatics of these lively wines. The rich fruit flavours and balanced acidity are hallmarks of the Rieslings from the region.
Sauvignon Blanc: The region’s Sauvignon Blancs are enhanced with aromas of gooseberry, lemon and passionfruit characteristics. The wines are elegantly structured.
Shiraz: The delicate aromas of plum, red berries and white pepper are frequently found in the Shiraz from the region. Soft, velvety tannin structures enhance the mouth-feel and roundness on the palate.
Map coordinates: 30º 3'S
Altitude: 365 - 1320 metres (1197 - 4329 feet)
Heat degree days, October-April: 1413 - 2126 (cut off at 19ºC (66.2ºF) but otherwise not adjusted)
Growing season rainfall, October-April: 545 millimetres (21.4 inches)
Relative humidity, September-March, 3 pm: 46%
Mean January temperature: 21°C (70°F)
Harvest: March - June
Mark Kirkby, Owner, Topper’s Mountain Wines, New England Australia, NSW
“Topper’s Mountain” is at an altitude of 900m above sea level just north of the little village of Tingha on the spine of the Great Dividing Range in the new GI “New England Australia” in northern NSW.
The area first made its name in mining in the late 1800s. The feverish pursuit of tin, silver, sapphires and diamonds were the riches that lured many from every corner of the earth, but made only a select few wealthy. Nowadays the roots of the grapes of Mark & Stephanie Kirkby’s “Topper’s Mountain” vineyard are probing the same beautiful, deep, rich terra rossa soils producing gems of a different type; wonderful, cool-climate, food-friendly wines from a range of alternative varieties.
Established in 2000, “Topper’s Mountain” is building a solid reputation for excellent, boutique wines from a number of alternative (& a few conventional) varieties. The flag bearers of Gewurztraminer, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo & Sauv Blanc have been winnowed out of a Mark’s ongoing programme to coax out the varieties that comfortably nestle into the unique terroir of the “Topper’s Mountain” vineyard. In addition to the flag bearers, new releases from the 2010 vintage will include;
2009 Pinotage Viognier
2010 Barrel Fermented Sauv Blanc
2010 Wild Ferment Viognier
2009 Vintage Touriga
“Our winemaker, Mike Hayes from Ballandean in Qld is an integral part of our programme to develop unique wine styes; he is in heaven making the small batches of some of our newer varietals.In general, the alternative varieties, particularly those of Mediterranean heritage seem to fit best with our unique terroir & wild climate” Mark commented.