I’m surprised — genuinely surprised — at the Grampians’ low rating when it comes to attracting visitors to Victoria’s tourism regions, coming in at something around 14th or 15th in terms of numbers received.
Yet it’s just a three-hour drive from Melbourne, and it provides one of the state’s most beautiful areas and offers a remarkable diversity of wonderful landscapes that principally focus on some of its most significant mountains.
For good measure, it also produces some of our best shiraz-based red wines, something I’d been aware of for years as a regular reviewer but also something that had been brought into particularly sharp focus a couple of weeks ago as a guest at the Grampians’ annual Seriously Shiraz Festival.
Its relatively poor rating in a state blessed with tourism opportunities is something that its new head of tourism, Marc Sleeman, is only too well aware of — and very ready to confront head on.
In winemaking terms, the region is home to a couple of Australian treasures, Seppelt Great Western and Bests’, which both date back to the mid-1800s.
The former, with its labyrinthine network of tunnels, or drives, is the spiritual home of Australian sparkling wine, and the creator of one of our very few unique contributions to the world of wine — sparkling shiraz, or sparkling burgundy as it was originally known in less PC times.
Former owners, the huge Treasury Estates group, ceased using the winery a couple of vintages ago, but it’s been leased by a syndicate including local businessman Danial Ahchow [NOTE: Danial Ahchow is fine]. They’re operating the cellar door and running delightful tours of the property, even to the point of Danial dressing up as one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s officers and running a masterclass in opening a bottle of bubbly with his sabre.
It’s great to see the history continued. I sincerely hope that plans to recommence winemaking at the facility come to fruition.
Bests’ has been firmly in the very secure hands of the Thomson family for four generations and it was an immense pleasure to be reacquainted in the old cellars with Viv Thomson, once a renowned winemaker and one of Australia’s most respected wine-show judges.
He must be nearing 80 but loves to keep a keen eye on the place — and maintains a smile even on days you know he is weeping underneath because a late frost the morning before has decimated his crop for the coming vintage.
More recent arrivals such as Montara (which is coming up for its 50th anniversary), Grampians Estate (which includes the old Seppelt’s Garden Gully vineyard) and especially Mount Langi Ghiran have built on the area’s reputation.
And there’s the region’s burgeoning food-produce scene, which I was introduced to on arrival by Rita Bikins at Red Rock Olives.
The depth of that commitment was driven home over breakfast at Harvest, a café/providore right in the centre of Halls Gap, the main town of the Grampians district.
It proudly offers a map of a food-and-wine trail of the surrounding district, with details on each producer.
It’s an initiative I salute — almost as much as the superbly presented and tasting mushroom omelette that I devoured.
Accommodation-wise, Halls Gap and surrounds have it in spades, offering a bevy of motel-style and B&B options … plus, and it is quite a plus, the down-and-out luxury of Baroka Downs Retreat.
I’m fortunate enough to stay there for three nights and thoroughly enjoyed its extraordinary facilities, though I didn’t make use of the indoor spa bath or the pre-set wood fire. But boy, did that espresso machine get a thorough working out.
And I did get driven to nearby Baroka Lookout in the very flash brand-new BMW 5e I had so generously been loaned for the trip. Wow! What a view and what a car. But the rest of the Grampians’ scenic wonder will have to wait for another time — one where there’s less shiraz involved.
For general information, see www.visitgrampians.com.au
John Rozentals was a guest of the Seriously Shiraz Festival and Visit Grampians.