North from Melbourne, past Hanging Rock - remember the film? Up into the Macedon Hills. Where Llew Knight runs 'Knights Granite Hills': probably the original cool-climate winery in Victoria. Its not so very high here, but fierce winds keep temperatures down. Started in the early 1970's. They've made their name with a whistle clean Riesling (which is a delight after a long drive). Slightly scary region. The granite outcrops stick out of the hills like rows of sharp teeth. And the bleached tree stumps do the same.
The place looks deserted. Wind blows, doors bang. Galahs screech, magpies make their rusty hinge song. A collection of low old wooden buildings. On a steep vine-covered slope. Dam at the bottom empty. Vines looking parched Mum opens up. Llew’ll be along. Harvesting. Extremely shy man. Hard getting him to talk. So I jabber. Then he has to talk. To silence the silly Pom.
We get the history. A struggle from start. Vines take twice as long as normal to establish in this hard place. We love his Riesling, acknowledged as one of the very best in Oz. Riesling loves granite rock. So does Gamay which Llew's trying. Llew loosens up. Few more wines. Shiraz. This once got 'Better than Grange' quote from James Halliday. Pinned proudly on the wal, next to a review from Aussie critic Stuart Gregor ... "One of the most unassuming blokes in the industry, a great undiscovered winemaker." Very nice man. We don't sell his wine ... yet!
As we move on there's a dust storm, a Willy Willy (yes, the name behind one of your favourites), there goes the topsoil ... strewth its dangerously dry. Seven years of drought. Sad, skinny sheep.
On along the Burke and Wells Highway. Half tarmac, half dirt. To Munari at Heathcote. Real homestead with a couple of sheds. Adrian with the wild hair. Also beset by drought, and the depredations of hundreds of starving kangaroos. I find Adrian inside contemplating a couple of half-filled tubs. That's it. That's his crop. Southerly winds all year. Rain dropping all around. Just not here. We sit outside, Adrian, Deborah, son Beau, 'Gigi' the flying winemaker from Friuli, me, my son Tom, Richard nibbling nice stuff and trying the bottles from the good old days when there was water. Couple of his vineyards have a crop so tiny, not worth picking. But he's cheery. No regret giving up teaching. "You don’t get abuse from the vines". Serves a frozen rosé. So cold turns to slush!!! Mmm. Olives houmous peppers and very soft tannin rich reds. All very polite. Cricket not mentioned! Nice moment.
On east to Ngambie Lakes. Wetlands. At least some water here. Tahbilk winery, founded 1860 ... don't see many old wineries like this in Europe! 'Elfansafety' would have a blue fit. Open fermenters bubbling CO2. Vast underground. Bottle stacks, visitor children running loose!
Australia can seem like one vast park. Its the great gum trees dotted all over ... gives a parkland effect, except the colours are different; biege, fawn, warm grey ground and the trees blue, grey and silver. A few sheep, a few cattle the odd emu or kangaroo. Stunning. Glenrowan. Distinctly NOT cool climate. Where they make the ports and huge reds. Milawa. Brown Brothers. King Valley. Well, the top end is cool. And Sam Miranda’s new winery. The Miranda brothers were very early suppliers of ours. But have now gone their separate ways. 'The Snow Road' the Ovens Valley. We are coming into the Alpine wine region. Doesn't look very Swiss. More like the Appenines. Damage evident. Nearly a million hectares burnt out. Lightning strikes in the drought.
Our old mates John and Diz Adams live up here. Every September they close the house and re-locate to Bordeaux. John's one of our flying winemakers. His own winery is tiny. But we have a great evening drinking what he does. They are so jolly, but this year he has no grapes at all! Frost, drought, fire, and birds. Hell of a way to earn a living!