Henty is regarded as one of the coldest wine regions in mainland Australia. Its location in south-western Victoria means it’s also one of the most isolated and least explored, even though it’s found near the end of the popular Great Ocean Road. While there are challenges such as a lack of infrastructure, substandard roads and patchy mobile coverage, there is also immense potential as a tourist destination – and for vignerons looking for their own patch of dirt. In January, I explored the region, discovering the abundance of excellent wine, beer and spirits being produced, which should prompt many more travellers to add Henty to their itineraries.
According to Shane Clancey, owner and winemaker at Basalt Wines (basaltwines.com.au) in Killarney, the Clancey family arrived in Port Fairy from Ireland in 1839 and have gone “5km in 200 years”. With a background running hospitality businesses in Port Fairy and after a chance afternoon at Walter’s Wine Bar in Southbank in 1998, a passion for grape-growing and winemaking emerged.
In 2001, Clancey and wife Ali found an old potato farm on Princes Highway with high visibility for passing tourists and set up a vineyard in 2003. Their first commercial vintage came in 2011. The vineyard is dry grown, which is often a challenge with the blistering winds coming off the Southern Ocean, and it’s planted to riesling, pinot gris, chardonnay and pinot noir, with shiraz sourced from the Grampians.
Having completed a science degree and with a passion for wine, Martin Slocombe was visiting Lindeman’s Hunter Valley vineyard in the late 1980s when he asked, “on a bit of a whim”, if there were any jobs. Work as a cellarhand soon followed, in the Hunter as well as in Coonawarra, which was “a pretty steep learning curve”. However, Slocombe obviously prevailed as he’s been in the wine business ever since.
In 1995, he and wife Kylie (a viticulturist) bought land in the town of Bochara, north-west of Hamilton, and established Bochara Wines (bocharawines.com.au) with plantings of gewürztraminer, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, and a first vintage in 2001. The vineyard has great exposure and as a result, the wines are ripe and rich. Built next to the vines is a quaint cottage, where tastings are conducted, and there is a plan to create an on-site winery, as the wines are currently made a few kilometres away.
Casterton Distilling Co
When your first serious hobby as a teenager is making farmhouse-style fruit wines, it’s safe to say that liquor will be in your future. Nick Cleave was born in the UK, but subsequently worked in Australia at various wineries as well as picking up knowledge on distilling. He later studied malting and brewing sciences at what is now Federation University in Ballarat.
Created in 2019 during a Covid lockdown, Casterton Distilling Co (castertondistilling.com.au) is Cleave’s brainchild. He looks after the distilling and creative aspects, while his business partner Jason Pope takes care of the rest, including running the Albion Hotel with his mother Julie, where the distillery is housed.
Cleave says what appeals to him most about distilling is the art of blending gin – as well as the fact that distilling involves much less cleaning than brewing. If you’re keen to learn more about the subject, Casterton Distilling Co offers masterclasses where you can distil your own gin in a mini still. How cool is that?
Casterton makes four main styles of gin: Fragrant; Rhubarb and Ginger; Classic Dry; and Navy Strength. Despite the high alcohol (57%), the Navy Strength is eminently drinkable and full bodied, either on ice, with tonic or in a cocktail, while the Rhubarb and Ginger is soft and sweet but with strong, pleasant aromas.
Even if you didn’t know much about the Henty region before this article, it’s likely you’ve already heard about Crawford River (crawfordriverwines.com). It was established in 1975 by John and Catherine Thomson, who researched wine regions around the world but were convinced of the immense potential of the region after Seppelt’s successful planting of its own vineyard in Drumborg in 1964.
It’s fair to say the Thomsons have well and truly realised that potential.
Since 2012, winemaking and viticultural duties have been in the very capable hands of the couple’s daughter, Belinda, who has made wine all over Europe and New Zealand. Her approach starts with “work hard in the vineyard”. “[The aim is to] let that fruit shine through a gentle-touch approach in the winemaking,” she says. And it’s supremely evident in the wines, which show amazing fruit purity.
If you’re lucky enough to visit Crawford River, you can experience their sleek, modern winery and check out their old vineyard, which is currently being rejuvenated. It’s really difficult to go past the riesling and cabernet in a tasting as they are both superb.
In the shadow of the imposing Grampians lie the winery and cellar door of Herrmann Wines (facebook.com/herrmannwines), on the outskirts of Dunkeld.
The business began in 2005, with John and Dorothy Herrmann planting 5,000 pinot noir vines in Tarrington. Other pinot vines (and shiraz) have been planted near the winery. Winemaking duties are performed by Tamara Irish. A trained nurse with a penchant for growing things, Irish’s early experience with wine amounted to Mateus rosé, before she studied winemaking at Dookie College and broadened her palate.
The working relationship between Irish and the Herrmanns is one of “mutual respect,” she says. She gets to make the wine how she likes and works with people she admires.
Irish is the sort of winemaker you can chat with for three hours over a bottle of wine about all the world’s problems and not notice time ebbing away. She is an engaging person whose passion for wine is obvious.
Chenin blanc is a recent addition for the winery – an exciting prospect as it’s still a relatively rare grape in Australia, although it’s not quite ready yet.
Just outside the little town of Tarrington lies Hochkirch Wines (hochkirchwines.com.au), bearing the town’s original name. A descendant of Wendish migrants from south-east Germany who settled in the area in the 19th century, John Nagorcka and wife Jenny manage the vineyard and 323ha farm, which also runs cattle, sheep and pigs. Vines were planted in 1990, with the first commercial vintage coming four years after; a second vineyard, established later, sits nearby.
From the beginning, they farmed as naturally as possible and “hated” using herbicides. After reading about biodynamics, a change in practices was deemed necessary, and the vineyard has now been biodynamically certified for 20 years. For this reason, Nagorcka calls himself a vigneron, rather than a winemaker, guiding the grapes towards their final product and rarely intervening in the winery, as proper vineyard management means “everything else just falls into place”. The couple’s son Christian is now involved in the business full-time, with the plan being for him to eventually take over, even though Nagorcka views retirement as “terrible”.
Hochkirch grows six varieties over two vineyards: riesling; sauvignon blanc; semillon; chardonnay; pinot; and syrah.
Neart Tide Distillery
This is the story of Stuart and Amy Silvester, a WA boy and Tassie girl, who met in the Apple Isle. After getting to know each other during a cold Tasmanian winter, they packed up and moved to warmer climes, eventually finding their way to Portland, Victoria.
Having worked in the 1990s as a peacekeeper in Cambodia, Stuart learnt the value of drinking gin and tonic to ward off malaria (among other things), and thus began his love affair with the liquor.
In 2021, the Silvesters set up Neart (pronounced “nee-art”) Tide Distillery (nearttidedistillery.com), with Stuart taking care of the alcohol and Amy running the business side of things. All the gins are made from scratch on-site from an alcohol wash (yeast, water and fermentables). These are then double-distilled using local botanicals – as much as possible – partly due to unavailability from Europe thanks to Covid.
Neart are currently making three gins: Nobleman, a classic dry ideal for martinis or cocktails, which is smooth, peppery and juniper-y; Vida, a fruity, spicy and balanced contemporary style made from local botanicals; and The Reg, a flavoursome and bold blend of cassia, star anise and angelica, which give it a spicy finish.
Noodledoof Brewery and Distillery
Sam Rudolph and Alex Carr had lived in a share house, making beer from Coopers kits before they went different ways – Rudolph to Port Fairy to play football; Carr to Melbourne and a job at Holgate Brewery. With Rudolph later getting into all-grain brewing and Carr’s experience at Holgate, it seemed the time was right to start their own business. Thanks to some seed funding, they established Noodledoof (noodledoof.com) in November 2019 on the main street of Koroit and began brewing, as well as distilling, on a larger scale.
Housed in an old mechanic’s workshop, the space is part-brewery/distillery and part-hospitality venue, with the plan being to separate the two areas so Rudolph and Carr can focus more on production. To do things a little differently and stand out among a sea of breweries, the pair create a huge range of beers that changes often, rather than offering a core range.
There’s literally a Noodledoof beer for all tastes. My favourites are the Pomegranate Berliner Weisse, a fruity, citrussy and very refreshing brew, and the absolutely incredible and smooth Cherry Whisky Barrel Imperial Stout, with its cherry, chocolate, coffee and whisky flavours. Gin-wise, the Koroit Gin, from locally sourced native botanicals, is all citrus and juniper, perfect for G&Ts or cocktails.
Suffoir Winery, Brewery and Distillery
Originally from South Africa, Pieter and Michelle Badenhorst made their home in Australia when Pieter gained a job as a research scientist in Hamilton. After living in town for a while, they bought a property in 2012 near Budj Bim National Park, which had a small vineyard of pinot noir on it. The Badenhorsts learnt from the previous owner how to attend to the vines, even receiving his old winemaking equipment. Following much online study and hard work in the vineyard, Suffoir Wines (suffoirwines.com.au) was born with the release of the first wine in 2013.
The move into brewing was prompted by campers always requesting beer at the cellar door, while the spirits side came about after trying to make sanitiser during Victoria’s first lockdown, which made it easier to gain distilling permits later. Counterintuitively, the pandemic gave them some space to breathe, renovate the property, and plan ahead, with Pieter quitting his job in late 2021 so they could focus fully on their business. This is also probably the only winery in Australia where you can meet a pet emu, named Chappie.
Suffoir offers a large range of beers and spirits, as well as a ‘non-traditional’ pinot noir. The stout is full of delicious dark chocolate, coffee and smokey flavours, while the pinot noir gin was my favourite spirit, all cherry, raspberry and citrus, ideal in cocktails.
Jennifer and Andrew Lacey credit pruning vines in Israel in 1993 with their foray into grape-growing. Having both come from farming families, they wanted a tract of land but had no intention of becoming winemakers. Pierrepoint Wines (pierrepointwines.com.au) was established after planting vines between 1998 and 2000 – specifically, pinot noir, pinot gris and chardonnay. Issues with water and drought meant many chardonnay vines died, however, these were replanted in 2002.
If that wasn’t difficult enough, contracts with a major wine corporation started being cancelled in the early 2000s, so they were left with few options and decided to delve into winemaking themselves. With Andrew working full-time as a town planner, Jennifer studied winemaking alongside Peter Dixon, formerly of Henty Estate. In the meantime, they employed Provenance Wines to make the wines, as they “didn’t have time to be winemakers” due to their many commitments, while selling their fruit to other wineries. In 2021, winemaking duties were taken on by the irrepressible Owen Latta from Latta Vino in Ballarat.
Susan Cooper, a Melbourne gal with a passion for horses and a desire to live on the land, married and moved to Howqua near Eildon in her early 20s. Here she became a “complete hippy”, milking cows, growing veggies and residing in a mudbrick house. Years later, Cooper moved to Yea and worked as a secondary teacher, yet the desire for more land and to do “proper farming” was still there.
In 2003, she bought a property in Casterton that was absolutely ideal, with a young cabernet vineyard and enough space for horses, sheep and cattle. “Knowing nothing and learning the hard way” was her approach in the beginning, as well as gaining assistance from the Henty Winegrowers Association to help her to create Wando Lodge (wandolodgewines.com.au). While Cooper does a lot of the vineyard work, she employs someone to turn the grapes into wine. Sue Bell, from Bellwether Wines in Coonawarra, is her current winemaker, chosen because of her sensitive approach. Wando Lodge usually releases two wines each year: a red from estate fruit and a white from fruit sourced elsewhere.
2021 Basalt Pinot Gris shows searing acidity and a medium body with lovely aromas and flavours of apple and asparagus.
2019 Basalt Great Ocean Road Pinot Noir, a delightful mix of fruity and savoury characters (cherry, pepper, bramble) and a medium body and bright acid, giving the wine a nice balance.
2021 Basalt Pink Prosecco, dry and fruity, is a nice summer wine.
2019 Bochara Gewürztraminer. Luscious aromas of lychee, pineapple and citrus and resonant acidity.
2018 Bochara Pinot Noir shows black cherry, raspberry and mushroom on the nose and has a savoury palate with crisp acidity.
2020 Crawford River Riesling is a little muted in the nose at present, but it’s alive and full bodied on the palate and will cellar marvellously.
2016 Crawford River Cabernet Sauvignon has elegance, texture and concentration, putting many more expensive cabernet sauvignons to shame.
2017 Herrmann Wines Pinot Rosé is silky and flavourful, with bright cherry, meat and mushroom on show, and nice acidity.
2017 Herrmann Wines Pinot Noir is all black cherry and earth, with high acidity and a saline finish.
2019 Hochkirch Tarrington Vineyard Pinot Noir, is bursting with delicious black and red fruits.
2019 Hochkirch Syrah, is full flavoured and silky with a lovely balance between fruity and savoury characters.
2021 Pierrepoint Pinot Gris has an attractive mix of apple, pear, blossom and nectarine characters, and a lovely silkiness matched by good acid.
2019 Pierrepoint Lacey Dessert Pinot Gris starts with honey, blossom and pear, with balanced sweetness and acidity, and a medium body.
2018 Suffoir Pinot Noir is rich in colour and red-fruit flavours, with a silky palate and bright acidity.
2021 Wando Lodge Wrattonbully Chardonnay is a beautiful mix of citrus, stone and tropical fruits, with lots and lots of palate texture.
2018 Wando Lodge Cabernet has a light touch but with concentrated flavours of black fruit, truffle and chocolate.