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Canberra is derived from the aboriginal word “kamberra,” meaning “meeting place.” This is especially fitting as Canberra was created to settle the feud between Sydney and Melbourne, who both believed their city deserved to be the Capital. Geographically, Canberra is just about halfway between the two major cities and has a climate similar to that of the Rhône Alps. Although politics are the reason for Canberra’s inception, Canberra has quickly grown into a special place to visit for Winetravelers, history buffs, and city slickers alike! Millions flock to Canberra each year for the countless national museums and architecture.
Take a Wine Tour in Canberra
The wineries, though spread-out, are all about an hour outside the city center and produce high-quality noteworthy wines, with not a single corporate-owned winery in the bunch. Instead, each estate is family owned and most are not even exported! In addition to the outstanding wineries, there are a few other stops within Canberra that a Winetraveler may find intriguing: a truffle farm, a cork forest a rock garden and so much more.
One winery is responsible for putting Canberra on the map: Clonakilla. Since planting vines back in 1971, John and Tim Kirk have been sending shock waves through the wine industry by offering Northern Rhône-style Syrah with small amounts of Viognier. In-fact, each row of their plantings of Shiraz has a vine or two of Viognier mixed in to the plantings. While this idea does not sound outlandish now, when it was first released, it was a shock to system. Not only is their Shiraz Viognier well-respected in terms of Canberra wineries, this wine is nationally recognized and highly awarded across the globe.
A visit to Clonakilla’s tasting room is a can’t miss while in Canberra. With recently remodeled facilities, Clonakilla is the type of place that makes you want to spend the entire afternoon. A seated outdoor area nestled in the vines, an expansive bar for tasting, leather couches, floor to ceiling windows overlooking the vineyard, and a fire place all lend to the exceptional ambienc. Each guest is greeted by a host and personally walked through the extensive tasting list. Glass pours are also available to purchase alongside a selection of local cured meats, cheeses, and chocolates.
Clonakilla’s backstory is nearly as interesting as their wines. The founding family owned a dairy farm in their homeland of Ireland. To honor their tradition and heritage they kept the old gaelic name for the farm, Clonakilla, when opening the winery. Outside of the famed Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier, they have succeeded in making several other noteworthy wines. Some favorites include a Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend for $22 AUD when purchased directly at the vineyard. There are many other wineries now established in the area near Clonakilla so a Winetraveler is sure to fill their itinerary with more than just one visit during their trip. As many seasoned wine lovers know, there are more factors contributing to the nuances of the wine and Canberra is a great place to see those factors up close and personal with activities like truffle hunting.
You heard that right, truffle hunting in Australia! Truffle production is a painstaking process that takes about four to seven years to yield a single truffle. The inception of the truffle involves planting a special type of oak or hazelnut tree with inoculated roots. The hope is that the inoculation yields truffles; however, like all naturally occurring growths, many of these inoculations do not stick and the farm is left with beautiful trees and no truffles. Hence why truffles are so sought after! The Truffle Farm in Canberra, open to visitors during the “truffle season” of May-September, has been able to cultivate these prized fungi in the unique cool climate of Canberra and you’re welcome to join them.
There are over two hundred truffle farms in the cooler regions of Australia and of all Australian truffle farms, The Truffle Farm Canberra allows visitors. Guests can hunt with the farm’s very own truffle hunting dogs and an expert guide through pre-arranged appointments. The Truffle Farm even has an onsite chef, so when planned accordingly you can enjoy the fruits of your labor and have a brunch or degustation lunch immediately following the truffle hunt!
If you still have your hiking boots on and are looking for some more ground to cover while in Canberra, look no further than the Cork Oaks Forest. Cork dorks if you will, can see the very Cork Oaks (Quercus suber) that are grown and cultivated to make wine corks! These special fire-resistant trees, traditionally found in Portugal, were planted here in 1955 as a part of the Lindsay Pryor National Arboretum. This forest was originally created in the 1920’s to support the country with necessary supplies for both world wars, but by the time the required planting material arrived into Australia, the hard wartime had passed. Today the tress are only harvested for cork every ten years with many collaborations between the local wineries.
While in the area, feel free to take a short walk down the hill from the forest to admire the National Rock Federation Garden. The National Rock Garden a free exhibit, open day and night, sits outside of the Linsday Pryor National Arboretum. It is literally a collection of boulder sized rocks, all specific to Australia with a few dating back hundreds of millions of years. Why would a Winetraveler be interested in these rocks? Terroir of course! These rocks contribute to the soil types in the different regions within Australia. The fascinating part is the details are included for each rock from age, to composition to origin.
But we’re here for the wine as well and it’s important to note that many of the regional wineries have a limited distribution owing to their small size, so taste and buy while you’re here! A few options to enjoy these stunning wines include a trip to the winery or a locally-focused restaurant in a near-by major city such as Canberra, Sydney or Melbourne. Here’s a few favorites:
More Canberra Wineries To Explore
Helm Wines was started by Ken Helm in 1974. With his German roots, there was no question, his plantings would be predominately Riesling. Ken, who quite literally wrote the book on Riesling in Australia, has done more than just about anyone to create a name for the grape in Australian wine culture. He even created a yearly international competition which invites some of the best sommeliers and industry judges in the country to taste and rank Rieslings from around the globe.
A visit to Helm winery starts with a drive up a long country road with no other homes in sight. You’ll know you’ve reached the place when you come upon a tiny heritage listed 1888 Toual Schoolhouse. It is tiny, and dotted inside with publications, awards, and other curios from the wineries esteemed history. While formal classes are no longer taught here, class is always in session in the tasting room as Ken himself can be found regularly walking guests through his wines and extensive research into the various Riesling clones found in Australia. Even on a day when Ken is busy with another aspect of the business, a Helm family member is typically there to give you walk you through the Rieslings and a few other of the estate’s wines including a particularly delicious Cabernet/Merlot blend.
Ken Helm’s Book: Riesling in Australia
Eden Road Winery
Eden Road Winery is a favorite cellar in Murrumbateman with accolades for its rustic space. Having been established ten years ago, the Eden Road team is beginning to find their stride with great potential, offering a wide range of wines, with grapes sourced from both their estate and the nearby Hilltops, Gundagai and Tumbarumba appellations. With a recent change in labels and winemakers the friendly tasting staff can assist with all questions and the head winemaker, Celine Rousseau, is bringing her time tested and awarded winemaking skills to the table. With classical training in Champagne and Bordeaux, Rousseau’s talents are evident with the quality of wines being produced at Eden Road.
Lark Hill began as a husband and wife team back in 1978. Now the winemaking responsibilities have been passed on to their son who has taken over the family’s business. Lark Hill focuses on organic and biodynamic farming practices. They have a real keen palate for naturally high acid wines. The location is further south than most other wineries in the region and the climate is cooler with a higher level of altitude making the natural acidity more easily obtained. The original winery now serves as the tasting room, accompanied by rocking chairs and friendly cat, paving the way for a newer, larger space to make the wine. Lark Hill has made a name for themselves by being the first winery in Australia to produce wine from the prized Austrian varietal- Grüner Veltliner, back in 2009. They purchased some property from Clonakilla recently to expand their types of wines offered. Lark Hill has a 2009 vintage sparkling brut made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that spent six years on its lees. Their Viognier is a lovely combination of richness and elegance, with the lifted florals you would expect from the varietal.
Canberra is a lovely place with less than a half a million residents making you feel like you have the city all to yourself! Enjoy plenty of native Australian wild life around and keep your eyes open for the unexpected.
Planning a Visit
- Hours: Weekdays 11-4 and Weekends 10-5
- Address: 3 Crisps Lane, Murrumbateman NSW
- Phone: +61 (02) 6227 5877
- Price: $5 per person, waived with purchase. Groups greater than 6: book ahead.
- Hours: Thursday – Monday: 10am- 5pm
- Address: 19 Butts Rd, Murrumbateman NSW 2582
- Phone: +61 (02) 6227 5953
- Hours: Wednesday to Sunday: 11am – 5pm
- Address: 3182 Barton Hwy, Murrumbateman NSW 2582
- Phone: +61 (02) 6226 8800
- Hours: Daily 11- 4pm, Closed Tuesdays
- Address: 2 Joe Rocks Road, Bungendore NSW 2621
- Phone: +61 (02) 6238 1393
- Address: 23 Mount Majura Road,CANBERRA ACT
- Phone: +61 (04) 0048 3082
- Price: Starts at $60 Per Person
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org to book the tour
- Address: Barrenjoey Dr, Australian Capital Territory 2602
- Phone: +61 (02) 6271 2888
- Email: email@example.com
- Address: Near the western end of Lake Burley Griffin and is accessed from traffic lights on Lady Denman Drive
- Phone: +61 (02) 9290 2194
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org