Wine / Amid the vines of beguiling Beechworth

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THERE was a late ’60s-early ’70s campaign by Brylcreem to woo men back to their hair product. They knew they were fighting the long-haired louts and to survive they had to do more than hang on to the older generation who had used their product as a rite of passage, where it most likely held in place the ducks-arse haircut.

Richard Calver.

The slogan was: “I came back.” The advertisement ended with a pretty girl running her fingers through the pretty boy’s hair and huskily saying: “And I’m glad he did.”

I tell you this as a testament to the power of advertising to purloin a phrase and to say: “Beechworth, I came back”. If only I could toss my fulsome locks after saying that. I also sadly recount that there is no model lovingly rubbing my head and saying that she is glad of that. But I am.

Just after Christmas a mate and I undertook the Tour de Vines from Beechworth to Bright. It was a great bicycling and wine adventure with fine food and scenic splendour over three nights. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a lazy, downhill journey on a bike that is not too taxing and where the food is top notch and the wineries organised and friendly. It is only 30-40 kilometres a day of biking so the tasting of wine is well facilitated.

The first stop on the tour out of Beechworth is to the Pennyweight biodynamic winery. But we arrived there too early for tasting on the first day and part of the reason for the recent return trip was to explore this winery’s list.

Lunch was at the Gapsted Winery, which is on the rail trail just after the only uphill stretch of the trip at Taylors Gap. The day was hot and after drinking copious quantities of water, the three wines we tasted with the lunch platter were well made with the prosecco just right for the ride: fun, unobtrusive and dry.

That afternoon we rolled into Myrtleford. The winery there, Michelini’s, produces a very palatable moscato that is only $15 a bottle – another great picnic wine just right as a sweet complement to the end of a day’s exercise.

The next day lunch was at the Ringer Reef winery where a terrace embraces a valley view towards Bright and Mount Hotham. The view took my breath away more than any of the placid cycling. We went through their list with Julie Holm, the female part of the dynamic duo that produces well-made wines from their own or neighbouring vineyards in Porepunkah. Again, the nature of the tour pointed me towards the lighter wines with the rose especially refreshing in the Ovens Valley heat.

The Pennyweight 2014 Beechworth Pinot Noir, with its lingering red fruit finish.

On our last night in Bright the heavens opened. We left the bikes under shelter and wandered into Walker Brothers wine bar. It is in a cellar in the middle of town and their local list is extensive, although by that stage a glass of beer was the most inviting end to a bike ride.

Beechworth has many similarities with the Canberra wine region, as Stephen Morris, the winemaker at Pennyweight told me on my recent return to the town. The climate is linked to altitude and the risk of frost in both areas is high with smaller but quality yields. The prices are higher but that goes with quality.

As I sipped on the Pennyweight 2014 Beechworth Pinot Noir, with its lingering red fruit finish, I agreed with James Halliday that this place is a vinous El Dorado. I’ll come back.


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Richard Calver
Richard Calver walks, talks, thinks, drinks and writes passionately about wine, especially the wines of the Canberra region.

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