Words by Richard Cornish Images by Phoebe Powell
This Labour Day long weekend, head to Rutherglen and explore this beautiful 160-year-old wine region on the Murray River. Winemakers of Rutherglen are urging people to put this fun two-day event in their diary to help businesses that were affected by bushfire and smoke this summer. That said, the fires stayed well away from Rutherglen and recent heavy rains have cleared the smoke and brought a green tinge to the countryside.
This celebration sees this much-respected and welcoming wine community open up their vineyards and wineries like never before. Eighteen wineries are taking part, offering behind the scenes vintage tours, wine masterclasses, art and wine tours, lakeside picnics, live music, food and wine matching masterclasses, even a morning vineyard yoga session at Scion. “We look forward to welcoming everyone with warm smiles on this special long weekend,” says Sally Brown from Scion. “It’s been a challenging summer for our region and your support will go a long way.”
Tastes of Rutherglen sees the wineries pouring their delicious wines for tasting as usual, so visitors can experience the ethereal Rieslings, powerful Durifs, full-bodied Shiraz and Rutherglen’s globally recognised fortified wines. Added to this, wineries are teaming up with local chefs who have created special dishes from regional produce to match back with the wines. At the castle-like All Saints Estate, you can try a plate of charcoal-grilled sardines with a crisp Riesling. Or you could be enjoying a plate of crisp local pork, cooked by award-winning chef Briony Bradford at Jones Winery & Vineyard with a glass of their Jimmy’s Block. Or perhaps sit by the river, watching the turtles at Pfeiffer Wines with a glass of Tempranillo and a plate of spicy lamb tagine. Meanwhile, at the historic cellars of DeBortoli Rutherglen Estate, they will be serving a rich chicken and pork terrine matched with Fiano, prepared by the chef of their award-winning restaurant Tuileries. All wineries are offering between two and four different food and wine matches. “Rutherglen is becoming recognised for the excellent food we serve alongside our wines,” says Mandy Jones of Jones Winery & Restaurant. “We really take pride in what we grow locally and we are fiercely proud to put that produce on the plate in our restaurants.”
Running between the wineries all day Saturday and Sunday is a non-stop bus shuttle that also stops in the heart of Rutherglen. Book a room, leave the car and let someone else drive you around. There are also buses servicing the towns of the region from Beechworth to Albury to Wangaratta.
Each day the wineries are offering rare insights into the culture and traditions, some seven generations old, behind the winemaking process. It could be a tour of Warrabilla Wines as they crush and ferment grapes to make their big bold reds, or an insight into the luscious fortified wines Rutherglen is synonymous with at Chambers Rosewood Winery, or even a sneak preview of the new exclusive range at Cofield Wines.
What you will understand when you come to Rutherglen is that this is not just a wine region; it is a wine community. It’s a place of mostly small family-owned wineries, some of them generations old, where you can still meet the winemakers and learn from them face to face.
That is what Rutherglen is about. On the Friday night before the big weekend drop by Scion just outside the Rutherglen township and kick back with cocktails and handmade wines with young winemaker Rowly Milhinch. (He makes a really delicate Durif in the French style). That same night Anton Thirkildsen from Valhalla Wines will be spinning discs from his vinyl collection and pouring wines from his collection.
While the festivities wrap up on Sunday afternoon, Rutherglen’s cellar doors will be open for business for more tasting and sales on Monday, Labour Day. Rutherglen is also home to some iconic pubs with sprawling verandahs, wine bars such as Thousand Pound, and the sensational pie shop Parker Pies. This is a dining destination with the award-winning restaurant at Jones Winery, The Terrace at All Saints Estate, Taste at Rutherglen a la carte restaurant as well as some exceptional atmospheric dining at the wineries throughout the year. With brilliant accommodation from farmstay to five stars, this long weekend is a great time to fall in love, or re-unite the romance with Rutherglen.
WHAT: Tastes of Rutherglen
WHEN: 7th-8th March
MORE INFO & TICKETS: tastesofrutherglen.com.au