Geelong is an Australian wine region in the south-eastern state of Victoria. It’s located 75 km southwest of Melbourne, which it shares access to Port Phillip Bay with.
Geelong is divided into three sub-regions: the Surf Coast and the Bellarine are maritime areas on the Indian Ocean and Port Phillip Bay respectively, while Moorabool Valley is located further northwest, inland.
A distinctive mark of the region is its boutique, hand crafted wines, which are produced by small, family owned winegrowers.
The birth of wine industry in Geelong goes hand in hand with the Victorian Gold Rush, which occurred between the 1850s and 1860s and triggered a significant social and economic development around the area of Melbourne.
The Swiss-Italian settlers from Ticino establishing in Geelong during those years were driven by the economic boom in the area, with the region growing over the years to rapidly become one of the largest in the country. The state of Victoria itself was producing half of all wine of Australia.
When the infamous phylloxera epidemic was threatening to destroy traditional European wine production and supply, Geelong based investors, such as David Pettavel, one of the first settlers, saw the devastation as an opportunity to export to the continent, particularly the United Kingdom.
Sadly, history doesn’t lack irony. In 1875, only a few decades after the birth of its wine industry, phylloxera came to Australia, via Geelong, and the vineyards were wiped out.
In the following hundred years grapevines were not replanted as it was more convenient to invest in other agricultural industries. This led to the region being forgotten for a large portion of the century regarding wine production.
A renaissance, however, blew in Geelong during 1960s, when Darryl and Nini Sefton planted a new vineyard in Moorabool Valley. It was the first one replanted after the epidemic and it represented a milestone and a symbol of re-birth for the region. In Idyll estate, those original vines still remain to this day, alongside many redeveloped ones.
This idea of re-birth is actually key in the current winemaking of the region. As several young entrepreneurs became winegrowers, they could experiment widely without being constrained by conventions and corporate mentality.
Small size brings agility, and today Geelong is a gem in Australian scene, showing off a “boutique” approach, where family owned operators maximise their wine’s potential by hand pruning, hand picking and hand crafting, allowing the region’s identity to grow.
One peculiarity of Geelong is its ranging climate, shifting from the maritime features of Bellarine and Surf Coast to the more continental Moorabool Valley. The region is generally cool, which implies extended ripening periods.
Precipitations are not particularly high and are usually concentrated in winter and spring. For this reason, winegrowers often must switch to irrigation during dry years. Among other challenges, Geelong can be exposed to frost in winter and extreme heat in the summer, with annual threats of bush fires.
Its proximity to the ocean has a strong impact on the region being hit by constant, cold winds from Antarctica, even more prevalent during spring and summer, which helps minimise vine diseases.
With about 60 vineyards and 1,243 tonnes of grapes crushed in 2017, Geelong is a very tiny part of Australian production. It barely accounts for 1% of the total, loyal to its “boutique” characteristic.
However, the focus on quality is evident when we look at its value per ton. While the average for Australia is about $600, Geelong’s averaged just under $2,000 in 2017. This is particularly evident in red grapes, where 59% of the production is above $2,000 per grape, the highest range in Australian classification.
The region highlights a slight preference for red grapes production (57%) compared to whites. There are many different varieties in a region naturally prone to experimentation, although Geelong has its favourites.
Within the reds, Pinot Noir is the most popular grape, covering 54% of red grape vines and over 30% of the total in the region. Then we have Shiraz, 39% of reds and 22% of the whole.
For whites, there are Chardonnay (54% within whites, 22% within the whole), Sauvignon Blanc (28% and 12%) and Pinot Grigio (9% and 4%).
Critic James Halliday once wrote that the unifying feature in all of Geelong’s wines is their strength, depth of colour, bouquet and flavour. Those features are most certainly influenced by a climate that, due to the long growing season, develops more complexity and depth.
From a grape perspective, Pinot Noir wines commonly express plums, tobacco, violets and strawberries. The Shiraz offers dark cherry fruit with persistent tannins. Within whites, Chardonnay can be strong and complex, depending on the sub-region it’s grown. Bellarine’s wines are commonly simpler and more accessible.
The Farr estate is one of the most interesting producers in Moorabool Valley. It was purchased by the Farr family in 1994, and the property develops along a 130 acre farm, 36 of which are dedicated to vines. Nick and Gary Farr run the estate, but they like producing different wines according to their personal beliefs. Farr Rising is Nick’s baby, while By Farr is Gary’s.