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The Canberra Wine Region

The Canberra District wine region incorporates the majority of vineyard developments in the northern part of the Australian Capital Territory and the adjoining area of New South Wales. The pioneer of the region planted the first vines in 1971. The Canberra District is formed by two areas of vineyards. The climate is one of extreme highs and lows, and irrigation is desirable to maintain a consistent yield.

The region is currently home to around 40 wineries and most vineyards are relatively small, Shaw Wines vineyard being the largest at 85 acres under vines. The main wine styles include Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Canberra is Australia’s national capital city and provides a plethora of enticing food, wine and tourist attractions.
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Climate

 

With the constant threat and frequent occurrence of spring frosts, recurring droughts in spring and summer, a high diurnal temperature range (cold nights and hot summer days), and a generally cool harvest season, the region has one of the most strongly Continental climates in Australia. Nevertheless, it is here that Riesling, Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and quite often Pinot Noir all produce wines of considerable personality. Some of the region’s vineyards are planted on near-alpine slopes and cool autumn temperatures contribute to typical cool-climate wines, tending to the austere and elegant. Lower down the slopes, spilling into New South Wales, winemakers create fine, full-flavoured Chardonnay and Shiraz.

Soil: The topography of the region is quite varied, with undulating hills and distant views of the Snowy Mountains forming a picturesque backdrop to many of the vineyards. Slope, aspect and air drainage are all important. Soils in the district are typically brownish, shallow clay loams, often overlying shale or clay with a pH ranging from neutral to mildly acidic.

Wines

 

Riesling: For some of the wineries, Riesling vies with Chardonnay as the most important white wine, showing similar personality and characteristics.  The majority are made in a crisp, gently toasty, dry style, with sweeter styles less favoured. However, in the warmer years, more tropical characteristics appear. Modest yields ensure that the wines age well in bottle for up to a decade.

Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon: Attractive, moderately herbaceous wines are made from these varieties.  They are frequently blended, but sometimes Sauvignon Blanc appears alone.  The wines have good structure and the cooler vintages generate the best flavours.

Cabernet Sauvignon: As with all the wines of the region, varied climatic conditions from one vintage to the next and differing approaches in the winery make generalisations about style more than usually hazardous. Sometimes made as a single varietal wine but increasingly blended with Merlot, Cabernet’s overall weight and extract varies from light, leafy and minty to rich, concentrated and chocolatey.

Shiraz: This is a variety which is starting to come into its own as part of the general resurgence of interest, with several wineries producing spectacularly good examples that are redolent of spice, black cherry and white pepper.

Vital Statistics

 

Canberra: Map coordinates: 35° 0’S,
Altitude: 500 – 850 metres (1640 – 2788 feet)
Heat degree days,
October-April:
1410 (cut off at 19ºC (66.2ºF), otherwise not adjusted)
Growing season rainfall,
October-April:    
360 millimetres (14.1 inches)
Mean January temperature: 20.2º C (68.3ºF)
Relative humidity,
October-April, 3 pm:
Average 41.5%
Harvest: March – April
If you've never tried wines from Canberra District, Hilltops and/or Tumbarumba, all in the southern part of NSW around the city of Canberra, you are truly missing out on some of the most exciting new wines coming out of Australia today. Lisa Perrotti-Brown, MW, Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate.