Canberra District Wine Growing Region

The Canberra District is a steadily developing wine region with many boutique wineries. The region takes in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and a portion of the surrounding country in New South Wales centred around the towns of Murrumbateman, Bungendore, and the north end of Lake George. Chardonnay and Riesling consistently perform well in the cool climate, and some red varieties also have good regional potential.

John Hardy planted the first vines at Hardwick, near Yass in 1853. But over the next 50 years he battled competition from the southern states. prolonged periods of drought and the 1893 Depression. In 1971 Dr Edgar Riek planted the first vines in the Bungendore/Lake George area. There are now more than 30 wineries and 140 vineyards in the area. With one exception, all of the wineries in the district are small and rely on local and tourist cellar-door trade. Hardy's Kamberra winery and tourist complex on the main Sydney-Canberra road north of the city is by far the largest winery in the region.

The region has hot dry summers, wet springs with the constant threat and frequent occurrence of spring frosts, and cool winters. Most rain falls in spring and autumn is generally very dry. Lake George does not generally influence the climate, for although it is large it is usually dry. Diversity in the region is firstly marked by temperature variations through altitude ranges of between 500m to 900m above sea level. The soils also vary from shale, clay loam to free draining sandy, granite based soils. The grape varieties grown include Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Riesling.

Chardonnay is an integral product range component for the majority of wineries, more so than Riesling. Despite the somewhat continental climate, some notably elegant wines are produced, with a good structure and complexity that reflects its cooler aspects.

For some of the wineries, Riesling vies with Chardonnay as the most important white wine, showing similar personality and characteristics. The majority are made in a crisp, gently toasty, dry style, with sweeter styles less favoured than previously. Botrytis is not a significant factor. However, in the warmer years, more tropical characteristics appear. Modest yields ensure that the wines age well in bottle for up to a decade.

Cabernet Sauvignon
As with all the wines of the region, the varied climatic conditions which prevail from one vintage to the next and differing approaches in the winery make generalisations about style extremely difficult. Sometimes made as a single varietal wine but increasingly blended with Merlot, Cabernet's overall weight and extract varies from light, leafy and minty to rich, concentrated and chocolatey.

This is a variety which is starting to come into its own as part of the general resurgence of interest, with several wineries producing spectacularly good examples that are redolent of spice, black cherry and liquorice. It is expected that plantings of Shiraz could increase significantly in future years.

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About The Author, Ian Love
Ian Love is the boss of Australian online wine store, specialising in premium red wines and runs Perth's largest wine clubs.