Straddling the Murray River in north-west Victoria and western New South Wales, the Murray Darling is a vast region.
The Murray Darling is the second largest wine region in Australia and has a long history of wine production and grape growing. The first grape vines were planted in the region in 1888, before this the region was a virtual desert before irrigation transformed it in the late 1800s. The region is now known for producing award-winning wines as well as well-priced, easy-to-drink styles. The past two years have seen a large number of smaller wineries emerge and the region now has more than 30 boutique wine producers. Apart from the wines, visitors to the Murray Darling can enjoy its renowned slow food movement, golf courses and temperate climate.
The Murray Darling region is located along the Murray River in North West Victoria and Western New South Wales.
The region is currently home to around 15 wineries.
Grapes were first planted in the region in 1888.
It is the second largest wine region in Australia and the biggest in Victoria, producing more than 400,000 tonnes annually.
The region faces long, hot sunshine hours with negligible growing season rainfall, making irrigation essential.
The region's soil is unique to the Murray River and is known as calcareous earth.
A variety of warm climate wines are produced, including Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Chardonnay is the region's most important wine and has fruity softness and generosity.
Although the Murray Darling is a major source of economically priced wines, several wineries are creating distinct wine styles through the combination of advanced vineyard management and considered oenological approaches to this typically hot climate fruit.
Although the distance between the eastern and western extremity of the region is in excess of 350 kilometres (217 miles), the climate throughout is virtually identical. It is hot, with long sunshine hours, low humidity and negligible growing season rainfall, making irrigation essential. The Continental influence is strong, with high shifts in diurnal temperature ranges, but these shifts are insufficient to make spring frosts a problem. Disease pressures are also low.
The soil is unique to the Murray River system and is known technically as calcareous earth, ranging from brown to red-brown loamy sand, sandy loam or loam. The surface is neutral to moderately alkaline with increasing alkalinity at depth as textures become more clayey and calcareous. Overall, the soil supports the vigorous growth and high grape yields.
Chardonnay: By far the most important premium product of the region. The wines have a fruity softness and generosity and are represent great value for money.
Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon: The red wine boom saw the plantings of these varieties increase dramatically. They offer excellent quality in the lower to mid-price range. The wines have plenty of soft, sweet fruit, making them ideal for drinking at one to two years of age.
Other Table Wines : Although the Murray areas are a major source of economically priced wines, several wineries are striking success by planting varieties from across the Mediterranean that are perfectly suited to the warm climate of the Murray Darling.
Map Coordinates: 34° 10'S
Altitude: 55 - 70 metres (180 - 229 feet)
Heat degree days, October - April: 2150 - 2240 (cut off at 19ºC (66.2ºF) but otherwise not adjusted)
Growing season rainfall October - April: 130 - 150 millimetres (5.1 - 5.9 inches)
Mean January temperature: 23.7º C (74.6ºF)
Relative humidity, October - April, 3 pm: Average 30%
Harvest: Late January - mid March
Keith Brown, Chief Winemaker, Zilzie Wines, Murray Darling, Victoria
Time spent working and talking with growers, vineyard managers and viticulturists is the best route to finding and creating the desired fruit quality needed in the winery, according to Keith Brown, Chief Winemaker at Zilzie Wines.
"With the vast and divergent range of varieties planted in the Murray Darling one would expect that selecting a regional hero could be quite a challenge. However, the variety that comes easily to mind is Shiraz, followed by its best friend Viognier. The similarity found between these two varieties, despite the obvious colour difference, is remarkable. Both thrive in the warm sunny climate of Sunraysia and maximum flavour and fruit potential can be obtained from extended maturation time on the vine. Some of the great varietal descriptors often develop once the fruit begins to shrivel slightly on the vine. When we talk of shrivel we refer to the fruit taking on the dimpled appearance of a golf ball, rather than the shrivelling that occurs with stressed fruit,” Keith says.
"With the heat of a Sunraysia summer playing an important factor to both varieties, the micro-climate of specific vineyard sites is very important. This, combined with soil types and structure, creates a unique terroir that can produce a wide range of quality in the fruit. Both varieties are traditional Rhone classics and benefit from the rich growing conditions found both here in Sunraysia and also in the Rhone Valley.
"We actively encourage our growers to keep vineyard inputs to a minimum. The climate of the region is ideally suited to keeping vineyard growth strong without artificial add-ons or overtly spraying, as there is very little risk of disease pressure."