The Grampians

picture022

Some 500 million years ago the eastern edge of the ancient Australian continent (part of Gondwana) was located near where the Grampians sit today. The Grampians ranges are the remnants of an extensive river, dune and beach system that fringed the edge of this ancient continent. To the east of this was an open ocean floor that gradually filled with sand and mud eroded from the ancient Gondwana super-continent. The ocean floor and overlying sediments were eventually uplifted and plastered against the ancient Australian landmass by a series of mountain building events between 440 and 385 million years ago.

The Grampians encompass a series of roughly north-south oriented parallel ranges of tilted sandstone. They rise abruptly from the plains to approximately 1,000 metres. The highest peak is Mount William at 1,168 metres above sea level while the surrounding plains range from 200-300 metres above sea level. The Grampians join the southern end of The Great Dividing Ranges that run perpendicular heading eastwards before curving away through central Victoria.

The most common and dominant landform feature in the Grampians Park is the cuesta. The cuesta is a distinctive landform in which a long gentle upward slope ends in an abrupt escarpment from various angles they resemble ocean waves. When viewed from the south east during summer sunset the effect is breathtaking. Throughout the tilted sandstone igneous intrusions occur in the form of sills and dykes many of these have created waterfalls and exposed ledges, some are used as walking tracks.

The Grampians sediments are mainly fine to coarse sandstones with some finer mudstones and silts-tones. Many sedimentary deposits have high silica content, large amounts of chert (an impure form of flint/quartz) and found in abundance on Mount William. Weathering of igneous rocks has resulted in the granitic hills and plains containing ferrous buckshot, quartz rock and also weathered metamorphic material.

The Grampians viticulture and winemaking region roughly aligns along the Moyston Fault and extending eastwards towards the Avoca Fault. The region from west to east is approximately 50 kms. and north to south approximately 40 kms. Most of the commercial vineyards are planted within the Moyston Fault area roughly encompassed around Great Western fanning southwards to Moyston and eastwards to Ararat. Further to the east aligning on the Avoca Fault are the vineyards around Mount Langi and Glenlofty.

DSCN2436

Within the Grampians region the soil composition varies slightly, the depth of nutritious topsoil is the greatest variable but apart from that the deeper horizons are fairly similar. There are several unique sites within the region for example high up the steep eastern slope of Mount Ararat vines grow in very rocky ground comprising mostly of green-stone (a modified basalt). Generally though the better vineyard sites comprise red loam over clay, apart from being good ground it has fine water holding properties.

Traditionally the area has produced good farming land suitably for sheep and cattle grazing. Planting to oats for hay and chaff for feeding work animals such as horses and bullocks, wheat for flour and barley for food and brewing. In more recent times oats, canola, triticale, and a little bit of wheat are grown along with peas and other legumes. The amelioration of soil with scientific fertilizers and using more suitable plant varieties has enabled a wider range of crops to be produced however some are unsuccessful due to frost and/or lack of available soil moisture at times.

Viticulture has been practiced in the region for more than 150 years, in the beginning mainly small vineyards were grown and the wine produced was sold to satisfy the local demand. The tough physical and economic challenges of these early pioneering days took their toll on many farmers. Today remnants of old cellars and presses can be seen tucked away in the hills between Great Western and Moyston. The surviving vineyards from around this period are Best’s and Seppelts both still produce wines from the early vineyards which are over 150 years old. Something unique to both of these wineries is their underground cellars, Seppelts being far more expansive than Best’s both show the soil profile well in particular the silt/clay strata in which the cellars are dug. Great Western is low lying by comparison making it frost prone, generally the yields are low and the grape quality very high. In areas of Best’s there are old sediment deposits from the Concongella Creek, the vineyard planted on these areas produces some of the finest Shiraz and Pinot Meunier wines in the region. The Seppelts Great Western Shiraz (also Sparkling Shiraz) and Best’s Thomson Family and Bin ‘O’ Shiraz are Grampians classics.

There are many vineyards planted along the hills of The Great Dividing Range just south of Great Western right through to Ararat. Seppelts, Bests, Montara, Mount Ararat and Fratin Brothers grow vines here all produce extremely good fruit.

DSC03587

If you travel along the Western Highway heading toward Great Western you will find the vineyards of Westgate and Kimbarra vineyard planted to Shiraz, Cabernet sauvignon and Riesling, it was originally planted by the Dalkin family in the 1960’s the site produces superb Shiraz which is sold to several local wineries including ourselves. More recently other vineyards have been planted nearby, one in particular planted by the late Kym Ludvigsen is an example of meticulous planning and design the fruit quality is also excellent. In the other direction at the eastern edge of the Grampians region Mount Langi Ghiran and Mount Cole rise along the Avoca Fault nestled amongst The Great Dividing Ranges. This area is technically closer to the southern Pyrenees rather than the Grampians, the climate is significantly cooler than both the Grampians and Pyrenees and ripening can be up to three weeks later which results in very intensely flavoured wines being produced.

The formation and gradual weathering of the Grampians over millions of years has created a diverse region of meso-climates. Together with the suitable climate and soils the Grampians Viticulture and Winemaking Industry produces some of Australia’s best wines and does it consistently. The region has beautiful vistas and offers the thousands of visitor that come to the area each year a memorable experience.