The areas surrounding the national capital of Canberra, which is cold in winter and warm in summer, have emerged as gourmet destinations in their own right. The Canberra region is dotted with more than 30 wineries (many of which are actually in NSW), including two that rank among the best in the country: Clonakilla, which put the shiraz viognier blend on the map in Australia, and riesling pioneer Helm Wines. Close to 30 Canberra region wineries get a tick of approval in the 2016 Halliday Wine Companion, including fast-rising names such as Capital Wines at Gundaroo and biodynamic producers Lark Hill, Eden Road Wines and Nick O'Leary Wines. The vineyards stretch from Mount Majura vineyards on the outskirts of the city to outposts near Murrumbateman and Bungendore. The range in terroirs ensures a wide selection of grapes are grown here.
The Clonakilla Wines Chief Winemaker/CEO shares his insider's guide to the best of the Canberra region.
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It may come as a surprise to find that there are 140 vineyards and close to 35 wineries within 35 minutes of Canberra city centre. The regions surrounding the national capital offer a wide variety of styles, rustic cellar doors and several eateries. Wine has been made here for more than 170 years – early European settlers established small vineyards and farms in the Gunning/Yass region - but more recently the cool-climate styles have been highly acclaimed. A number of scientists, many from the CSIRO, experimented with establishing small blocks; Dr Edgar Reik at Lake George and Dr John Kirk in the Murrumbateman vineyard he named Clonakilla.
The district’s vineyards now cover a large altitudinal range of 300 to 800 metres. Shiraz viognier blends, as pioneered by the Kirk family, and dry rieslings are among the most prominent styles. Winery names worth looking for include Clonakilla, Lark Hill, Eden Road, Helm, Capital Wines, Lerida Estate and Mount Majura.
The Clonakilla cellar door (a new tasting facility is due to open in the first quarter of 2016) gives an insight into the wine history of the Canberra region. When John Kirk planted the first vines in 1971 he had no idea that his vineyard would be celebrated as one of the best in the country.
At Helm Wines, where veteran winemaker Ken Helm sometimes produces four rieslings each year, the rustic cellar door is a former school hall once used for Temperance Union meetings.
Set in the hills overlooking Bungendore, the Carpenter family's Lark Hill produces internationally acclaimed biodynamic wines – and is also home to one the finest restaurants in the region.
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