Restaurateur Peter Bartholomew and winemaker Mark Walpole revive vineyard
Nobody knows quite how old this pear tree is, but it has probably seen at least 150 summers. A little further up the hill another pear tree and a mulberry of similar age stand proud in the setting sun. Filling the space on the slope between the old trees is a brand new vineyard, mostly shiraz, some viognier and chardonnay. It was planted last year, the 19th-century way, each vine tied to a single hardwood stake.
This is history reborn. Back in the 1860s a Frenchman named Ambrose Granjoux had a vineyard on this exact spot on the edge of Beechworth Gorge in north-east Victoria, planted in the same way, vines on single stakes. Granjoux was one of the first vignerons in the region, and his wine – made predominantly from “scyras”, a synonym for shiraz – was, according to accounts at the time, “as fine as you can find in the colony”, with “a spicy flavour like we have never seen before”.
A panoramic photograph of Beechworth taken from the top of the church on the other side of the gorge in about 1870 clearly shows the Granjoux vineyard. And there, in among the single-staked vines, if you look very carefully, you can make out two young pear trees and a mulberry.
The vineyard in the picture is surrounded by a stone wall, with a small stone winery in the top corner. The winery had been partially destroyed by fire a couple of years before the photo was taken; a century-and-a-half later, the ruin and much of the wall is still there, waiting to be restored.
Reviving Granjoux’s vineyard is a passion project for the new owners of the property, Melbourne restaurateur Peter Bartholomew and his partner Donna Pelka, and their viticultural consultant, Beechworth vigneron Mark Walpole.
Helping shape the future
Walpole has spent much of his career thinking about, and helping to shape, the future of wine in Australia. As viticulturist for Brown Brothers during the 1990s and early 2000s, he encouraged grape growers in the Victoria’s north-east and further afield to plant non-mainstream Mediterranean varieties such as sangiovese, nebbiolo and tempranillo, making a compelling case for the suitability of these grapes in a changing climate.
At his own Fighting Gully Road vineyard in Beechworth and at his small family vineyard at Whorouly in the Alpine Valleys region to the south, Walpole now practises what he preaches, making outstanding wines from lesser-known grapes (reviewed here), as well as from conventional varieties such as chardonnay and shiraz.
Walpole’s family have been at Whorouly since the 1880s and he is increasingly interested in its history. Every year he picks fruit at Whorouly from trees planted by his great-grandfather, given to him by Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne. And the back label of the aglianico acknowledges the Jaitmatang Aboriginal people on whose country the vines are planted.
Driven by this fascination for the past, Walpole has spent countless hours combing through newspaper archives, unearthing gems of stories about Beechworth’s early vignerons, stories he might one day turn into a book.
His research led him to the property on the southern side of Beechworth Gorge with its ruined cellar, stone wall and old pear and mulberry trees, tantalising remnants of its 19th-century past. Ever since, he’s been dreaming of bringing Granjoux’s vineyard back to life. In Bartholomew and Pelka he has found willing partners to make that dream come true.
What to look for
FIGHTING GULLY ROAD ROSE, 2017: Beechworth $25
A lovely expression of the pale, dry rosé style, made from sangiovese grapes, wild fermented in old barrels: a hint of salmon hue, delicate aromas of white flowers and redcurrants, a touch of creamy texture on the tongue, and a fine, mouth-watering savoury finish.
FIGHTING GULLY ROAD PETIT MANSENG MOELLEUX, 2017: Beechworth $32
Brilliant sweet wine made from golden, late-harvested petit manseng grapes, gently crushed, slowly fermented, then aged on lees in old French and new Acacia barrels. It is beautifully luscious, full of juicy nectarine and melon flavours, but bracingly fresh and lively, too.
FIGHTING GULLY ROAD AGLIANICO, 2015: Alpine Valleys $45
This is made from aglianico grapes grown on unirrigated vines trained on individual stakes – a very old, labour-intensive form of viticulture that produces low crops of intensely flavoured grapes. Lots of dark berry flavours here, wrapped up in fabulous, firm, fine-grained tannins.