The Canberra District wine region is predominately in New South Wales on the fringe of Australian Capital Territory. Canberra District wineries first emerged in the 1970's, following the first plantings by Canberra District wine pioneer, Dr Edgar Riek. Riek was followed by Dr John Kirk, who first planted vines at Murrumbateman, naming his vineyard Clonakilla.
The Canberra District wine region map stretches some distance and across a variety of elevations, soil types and two distinct vineyard areas. Canberra District wine is known for its high quality and cool climate expressions. Canberra District wineries are typically small, boutique operations, many of which were founded by local civil servants, academics and scientists from CSIRO.
The region is proximate to Canberra city itself, and enjoys good local and tourist trade, bolstered by its growing reputation as a significant hub for some of New South Wales’ most exciting fine wines.
Where is the Canberra?
Canberra is inland from Australia's southeast coast and is the nations capital. Canberra District wine region is located north of Canberra’s central CBD with most wineries less than an hour’s drive from Canberra city. Sydney is approximately a three-hour drive from Canberra District wine region. Many wineries are easy to reach from the Federal and Barton Highways.
Canberra District wine region is decidedly cool climate, with a high diurnal temperature range that sees an oscillation between hot summer days and very cool nights. The region is continental in its climate, and vineyards are planted at between 300 and 800 metres above sea level. Spring frosts are common, as are summer and spring droughts, while the harvest season itself is generally quite cool.
Unique Characteristics of Canberra
Canberra District wineries are known for their cool climate wine styles, particularly medium bodied, savoury Shiraz and crisp, age-worthy Riesling, which are arguably the regional hero varieties. Other Canberra District wine varieties of significance include Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, both of which are planted to relative volume in the region.
Red wines tend to be medium weight and show black cherry, anise and spice characters, with occasional herbal inflection. White wines tend to show cooler climate affectations, including citrusy acidity and light herbal notes. An increase in ‘alternative varieties’ is also notable, though off a smaller base with Tempranillo, Grenache and Viognier as highlights.
Wines to try from Canberra
The Canberra District wine region is renowned for fine Shiraz and Riesling, but older plantings of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon are also noteworthy. While the Canberra District wine style has evolved since original plantings in the 1970's, it is clear that regional stars of medium bodied, spicy Shiraz and linear, acid-driven Riesling have proved to be halo varieties for the Canberra District wine region.
Nearly all Canberra District wineries work with plantings of Shiraz grapes. Shiraz and Viognier co-fermentations emulating the wines of the northern Rhone Valley are also commonly found. The styles tend to aptly reflect the coolness and continental influence of Canberra District wine region, being lighter in body, showing currant, black cherry, spice and licorice character. The wines often have silky texture and delightful length of flavour and tend to cellar mid-term.
Canberra District wine region produces arguably some of Australia’s best Riesling wines. While Clare Valley, Eden Valley and Great Southern might argue against that statement, it seems that the roll call of fine, age-worthy Riesling has been a staple of Canberra District wineries almost since the inception of the region. Wines tend to be in the green apple and citrus spectrum, with medium volume of perfume and soft yet racy acidity.
Must See Canberra Wineries
Canberra District wineries were first established by Dr Edgar Riek on Lake George, and in Murrumbateman by Dr John Kirk. Riek’s Lake George winery had a proud early tradition of fine Pinot Noir, while Kirk’s winery, Clonakilla, has set an Australian and international benchmark for cool climate shiraz, specifically with their Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier wine.
There are many notable smaller wine producers in Canberra District wine region, particularly since the dissolving of the Hardy’s winery and vineyard. Canberra District wineries of note include:
- Eden Road - Collector
- Ravensworth - Lark Hill
- Mount Majura - Lerida Estate
- Nick O'Leary Wines - Redemption
Key Canberra Wine Event
Canberra District Wine Harvest Festival
Canberra's celebration of the new vintage with cool climate wines, entertainment and great food. Local wineries offer a variety of tasting adventures, music, artwork, delicious food and the opportunity for a great weekend out in Canberra's country. Visitors enjoy guided tours of vineyards by the actual owners and are able to taste the latest innovative wines from each. A great oppurtunity to meet some of the makers of Canberra's nationally and internationally recognised wines at their own cellar doors. Usually takes place over the second weekend of April each year.
The future of Canberra Wine
The Canberra District wine region is in a privileged position physically, and in the status of its premium wine offering. Proximity to Canberra city has meant that wine tourism, both cellar door and winery restaurant focused, has flourished, and shall continue to support and enhance the region.
Younger generation wine producers, like Nick Spencer of Eden Road, Nick O’Leary of Nick O’Leary wines, Bryan Martin of Ravensworth, Alex McKay of Collector wines, have created a small subculture of fine wines within the general wine offering of the region. Their enviable position and current status will pave the way for more boutique producers to ascend the fine wine rungs, and to do so with some healthy experimentation. The Canberra District wine region is set to produce even more thrilling wines as new varieties, better vineyard management, and more new-generation wine producers collude.