A Trip to Central Victoria's Twin Wine Cities

     With apologies to Dallas and Fort Worth in Texas, and to Reno and Sparks in Nevada, America’s most famous “twin cities” are Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota.

     Other countries also have their “twin cities,” and in Australia, among the better known are Bendigo and Heathcote in Central Victoria.

     There, wine lovers can soak in the sights, smells and sounds of two engaging communities while exploring the world of Down Under wines.

     Red wines reign supreme in Bendigo and Heathcote, as the mostly small, family-owned vineyards produce magnificent renditions of Shiraz (a.k.a. Syrah) and full-flavored Cabernet Sauvignon, among other enticing varieties. White wine enthusiasts also will savor the wonderful bottlings of Chardonnay and Riesling.

     Bendigo rose from the gold fields of the 19th century and is home to grand Victorian buildings that have been magnificently restored. As with other wine regions in Victoria, the early vineyards fell victim to both phylloxera and Australia’s economic crash, and it was not until the late 1960s that a new vineyard was planted. Stuart Anderson was the visionary who took the planting plunge, and many followed his example.

     The rich history of the city invites discovery, and contrasts beautifully with the small wine estates of the area, many of which were built from local stone.

     The wine region of Heathcote, just south of Bendigo, is regarded as one of the finest sources – and some say THE finest source – of Shiraz in all of Australia.

     Such accolades have encouraged established vineyards to expand their plantings, and attracted new growers and vintners to the area. Grown in the deep Cambrian soil of Heathcote, Shiraz rises to an absolutely hedonistic level of quality.

     Bendigo and Heathcote are diverse regions, but they are married by Shiraz, which is the specialty of the house at a vast majority of the wineries. Most of the vintners embrace a style that is deep, dark and fruit-forward.

     A great place to “set up camp” for an exploration of the region is the Emeu Inn, which triples as a bed-and-breakfast, a fine restaurant and a wine center.

     The wine center has been down-sized a bit since the world economy took a hit, but it continues to specialize in Bendigo and Heathcote bottlings. And if a guest desires a specific local wine, the staff will do its best to track it down.

     The inn offers six luxury suites and one deluxe self-contained cottage. Amenities vary from room to room, and include fireplaces, double spas and period furnishings. A continental breakfast is included with each stay, and you’ll find it difficult to get past the homemade breads, jams and preserves.

     There are lots of dining choices around town for dinner, but you may just want to return to the Emeu, which offers one- two- and three-course meals. Among the tantalizing menu selections are Thai-style green curry prawns, emu shepherd’s pie, venison mixed grill, slow-poached rabbit, and the house specialty – risotto with porcini mushrooms and black truffles.

     If you’re more of a do-it-yourself diner, check out The Green Olive in Bendigo. In addition to serving the best coffee in town, this delicatessen offers an array of goodies that you can transform into a big meal or a satisfying picnic lunch.

     But enough about food. What about the wines of Bendigo and Heathcote?

     In the Bendigo area, your first stop should be Mandurang Valley Wines. Why? Well, if for no other reason than the estate was founded and continues to be owned by Wes and Pamela VINE. With a last name like that, the wines have to be good, right? Right! But unlike their neighbors, The Vines don’t specialize in Shiraz; they concentrate on making a spicy and minerally Chardonnay and velvety, earthy Pinot Noir.

     Another must-stop in Bendigo is Chateau Leamon, where the Shiraz is a model for the region, and the Semillon is among the best made anywhere.

     Among the wineries worth a visit in and around Heathcote are Coliban Valley (where all the wines are estate-grown), Eppalock Ridge (which makes a sublime Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon blend), Lake Cooper Estate (try the Sparkling Shiraz) and Peregrine Ridge (which crafts several distinct bottlings of Shiraz).

     Take the time to explore both Bendigo and Heathcote, and they’ll become your favorite “twin cities.”

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION…

Emeu Inn B&B, Heathcote

emeuinn.com.au

The Green Olive, Bendigo

03-5442-2676

Mandurang Valley Wines, Mandurang

mandurangvalleywines.com.au

Chateau Leamon, Bendigo

chateauleamon.com.au

Heathcote Area Wineries

heathcotewinegrowers.com.au

Posted in Our Wine Travel Log
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