Victoria’s Pyrenees form a special appellation in the foothills of Australia’s great Dividing Range. An increasingly well-known cool-climate range of vineyards poised between the old gold-mining towns of Avoca and Elmhurst.
In 1836, European exploration started to map the advantages of the Pyrenees region of western Victoria, and viticulture was introduced soon after. By 1890, there were vineyards at Avoca, Landsborough, Moonambel and Amphitheatre but these were all wiped out by the looming phylloxera plague, and not replanted for half a century.
In 1963, planting recommenced with a joint venture between the Australian Nathan & Wyeth group and the French Remy Martin. With many years of premium wines, still and sparkling, to its credit, this venture has now matured into the well-known Blue Pyrenees. Many other well-known wineries have followed, including France’s Goelet family with Taltarni, the Jones family at Dalwhinnie, the Barrys at Mount Avoca, the Bazzanis at Warrenmang, the Robbs at Sally’s Paddock and the family Summerfield. Glenlofty was established in 1995 (moving from corporate to family ownership in 2010) and has been recently followed (next door to Glenlofty) at its Domaine Tournon by renowned Rhone market leader Maison M. Chapoutier.
Reportedly, Michel Chapoutier exclaimed “Greatness is possible” when he analysed the terroirs of the Pyrenees. Glenlofty shares this view, and is totally committed to it as a team.
Pyrenees premium red wine reputations have been won across the world, and not only with Shiraz, where the Pyrenees duality of richness and elegance wins frequent comparisons with the outstanding wines of the northern Rhone, like Chapoutier’s famous Hermitages and even the fabled Cote-Rotie. Pyrenees shiraz is very different from Barossa and even Heathcote wines.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also widely planted, and further work is being done with other red varietals. Glenlofty has uncovered real potential with its Nebbiolos and will continue to invest in crafting wines which develop this unusual terroir’s transmutation of Piedmont’s noblest (but most difficult) grape variety.
Today, the Pyrenees is well entrenched as a premium wine producing region, especially Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Little wonder then that the Pyrenees and its next-door neighbours attract international enthusiasm like this:
Victoria continues to be Australia’s center for innovation and experimentation. Home to some of the country’s brightest young winemaking talents, I am repeatedly impressed not just with the overall quality of wines coming out of this region, but the individual expressions. This vast region has much to offer in terms of incredibly diverse terroirs, including patches capable of producing wines that reach the absolute pinnacles of greatness. But such vineyards can malinger into insignificance unless they are managed by people with real vision. It is this combination of incredible viticultural potential and the dedication of inspired winemakers that continues to make this region Australia’s region to watch.
Lisa Perrotti-Brown, MW in E Robert Parker.com August 2012
Geology and soils
The ancient soils of the Victorian Pyrenees were formed during the Palaeozoic period – between 245 and 544 million years ago. After the “Cambrian explosion” of invertebrates, vertebrates, bony fish and plants to the sudden disappearance of 90% of all living species, and after 400 million years of slow geological decay, Glenlofty’s soils are predominantly formed from non granitic rocks and sediments, ranging fromancient river beds of loose fluvial gravel or sand and silt to hills of red textured soils of sandstone and siltstone.
The hills and valleys of Glenlofty’s home terroir are part of the Upper Wimmera River catchment on its eastern flank. Glenlofty’s vineyards are drained by the Glenlofty Creek which nourishes the Wimmera River. Lower down, as at Glenlofty’s Decameron vineyards, we have predominantly sodosols such as the yellow, brown and red sodic soils which have a fine sandy loam topsoil approximately half a metre deep. Grape vines grow readily in these varying soils when water is available but yields are generally lower than in more fertile and less arid regions.
The Glenlofty vineyard itself, although assailed from year to year by problems with frost attack, was originally selected because it offers a microclimate ideal for cool climate grapegrowing and winemaking, coupled with ancient leached soils which encourage the vines to send their roots down very deeply in search of nutrients. The low and variable rainfall adds further stress on the vine, encouraging concentration of fruit compounds in the final juice of the grape.
Victoria’s Pyrenees enables cool-climate winemaking because its inland location leads to low midsummer relative humidity and large daily temperature ranges in Spring and early Summer.
Glenlofty’s vineyards show a range of microclimates, which mitigate against the risk of frost and allow extended ripening hours before vintage.