An annual festival held at the botanical gardens in Castlemaine, the event is home to more than 20 winemakers. The region, famous for a 19th century gold rush is known for its prosperous, deep soils and long hours of summer sunshine.
Between 1850 and 1900 there was more gold found in Bendigo than anywhere else in the world. The city is literally built on gold, gathered from the rich gold-bearing quartz reefs. In 1856, not long after the gold rush, the first grape vines were planted. The tens of thousands of hopeful diggers that came from all over the world to seek their fortunes brought with them an obvious lust for gold, but that was not all. There was an enormous European wine and food knowledge that came along with the diggers. In a matter of a few years the judges at the 1873 Vienna Exhibition are said to have been in disbelief of Bendigo’s early Hermitage claiming that “no Colonial wine can be that good”!
While Bendigo’s gold rush remains an intrinsic part the regions history, the focus has shifted to its rich, ripe red wine varietals. Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon undoubtedly are the mainstay of the region, but it is not all that central Victoria has to offer. Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Semillon, Riesling and Chardonnay make up the variety of wines that represent the region.
The winemakers festival, held on Easter Monday was a popular choice amongst both locals as well as Melburnians like myself that had made the trip up especially. With the weather always being a huge motivating factor in how a festival turns out, bursts of sunshine ensured the mood was good on what was a rather brisk afternoon.
Patrons seemed keen and eager to try the wide selections that producers had on offer. Olive oil, dukkah, jams, chutney and preserves broke up the monotony of the numerous wine stalls allowing visitors to enjoy a variety of local produce. Food stalls were also a plenty. Notably, Chinese ‘dim sum King’ Joe Lam and his partner Rebecca Ma’s Taste of the Orient had setup shop, but unfortunately their signature pork buns, famed to be the lightest and fluffiest by Epicure author Richard Cornish, were not on offer. The queue was intimidating and while I had a picnic basket in tow, how could I resist partaking in the local delights. I sampled their king prawn wontons and pork and carrot dim sum. Both good, but nothing extra ordinary. The Japanese mayonnaise dolloped out with every order had me wondering – dim sum is great with a bit of soy sauce or simple chilli condiment, but why Japanese mayo for crying out loud?
While there were the customary extra large paella pans frying off, a tex mex stand offering tacos and the like, Turkish Gozleme, the ones that caught my eye were the Maldon Yabby Stand and Smokin Barrys. I was most curious of the yabby puff. Delicate yabby flesh mixed with potato and encrusted with puff pastry, it proved to be rather chore some to eat (too much potato filler). A complete sucker for pulled pork, Smoking Barrys got me with the smells wafting from the stall, but on second glance the food coming away in passer-by’s hands looked overly dry.
On the whole the day was a bit of fun. The music was good, but would have been better if the live band continued without taking so many breaks. And at $30 a pop I expected more than just complimentary tastings, perhaps a coupon to go toward a glass of wine would have put a smile on my face.
Balgownie Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 08
Deep and intense with bursts of dark berries and chocolate with oak coming through the middle to finish.
Water Wheel Bendigo Shiraz 09
Aromatic on the nose and palate with a deep ruby tinge. Packed with full spicy tones providing lots of warmth.
Turners Crossing Viogner 10
Soft and clean on the palate with luscious buttery notes and dried fruit.
Ambience Buzzing atmosphere with people there to taste, enjoy and have a good time. Great location with lots of activities, if you had little ones (face painting, bubbles etc and lots of place to run around).
Service The shuttle bus that ferried us the 35 kms between Bendigo and Castlemaine (included in the ticket price) was wonderful, allowing visitors to really get stuck into the wine experience.
Food/ Wine I did bring along my own lavish picnic. Had I not, I would probably have been rather disappointed. Where the wine was concerned there was no lack of enthusiasm from the makers to show off their wines and talk a little bit about what they do best.